It’s common to decry fear as the enemy of success and fulfillment. I’ve done it myself more than once. But I think the common usage of the word can be a little too sweeping, and potentially lead to some counter-productive behaviors.
It’s not that fear is the thing that stops us.
At least it doesn’t have to. I’ve never done a new thing in my life without feeling fear, and all the best things were initially scary and new. It’s normal to feel fear when pushing yourself into new territory. It’s not the experience of the emotion of fear that holds us back. That’s part of moving forward. What I think people really mean when they blame fear for preventing personal progress is that our desire to avoid fear at all costs is the culprit.
Fear is not the problem.
It might be confusing if we said fear of fear is the real problem, but it’s not far from the truth. If we believe that experiencing the emotion of fear is the worst possible thing we can go through, we will do only those things that are not accompanied by that emotion. We’ll stay safe, stay home, stay in he comfort zone, only try what we’re already good at, only talk to who we already know. The avoidance of experiencing fear is a recipe for stagnation.
This doesn’t mean everything we fear is something we should do. Luckily, we have other tools besides raw emotion to help us make decisions. It does mean that things we know will be beneficial to us in the long run, via the use of reason, but that we still fear, should be pursued. In these cases fear is an indicator of opportunity. Things that scare us, assuming they can be rationally justified, are things that make us grow.
I heard a public speaking coach say that if you’re not nervous before every talk your heart isn’t fully in it and it won’t be good. Fear, like hard work, doesn’t feel good in the moment. But you can take heart in knowing that your experience of it is an indicator that you’re getting more out of your actions than if you feel complete and total security.
Fear can’t hold you back.
It’s an emotion, not an action. However, what will hold you back is the avoidance of fear.