The truth about fear (and how to conquer it)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear. That may be obvious to some of you. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how insidious it can be. Here’s a few definitions of the word insidious:

  • “causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed”
  • “awaiting a chance to entrap”
  • “having a gradual and cumulative effect”
  • “developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent”

I really like that word “insidious” because it describes the active, thinking, moving parts of fear that seem so real. I often feel like my fear is this sentient being inside of me actively working against what I’m trying to do.

The other picture that comes to mind is that of a leaky dam. Every time I fix one hole in the dam, two more spring up without me noticing. I will conquer one fear only to realize a few weeks later that I’m avoiding two other things because of fear.

Here’s a few ways fear has affected me in the past week:

  • I didn’t respond to a request from a big name author because I was afraid I’m not smart enough to help.
  • I considered bailing on a get together because I perceive the people going as way more successful than me.
  • I spent a good amount of time wondering how I could shutdown this 10k Experiment without anyone noticing because I’m afraid I won’t hit my goal.
  • I’m putting off writing my talk for an upcoming conference because I’m terrified of doing it.
  • I procrastinated finishing a big project because it means I’ll actually have to try and sell it and it might fail.
  • I started and stopped two other blog posts because I was dodging writing this one which wasted a good hour of writing time.

That’s just from the past week. And that’s just the ones I remember. Or the ones I’m willing to share publicly.

Those that love us and support us can easily tick off all the reasons why we should be confident and will succeed. And that’s helpful. But we know the “truth”. We have a list of reasons why we’re not good enough, won’t succeed and deserve failure. It’s a long list. An easily recitable list.

Our fear loves to read it to us.

However, looking back over the last fear years as I’ve grown my business, I’ve gotten to work with over 100 amazing authors, released a book and continued building a following. I’ve realized that the vast majority of what little success I’ve had is due to learning methods to keep fear from being a barrier.

The following are the truths and methods I’ve learned to keep fear from stopping me in my tracks.

The truths about fear

1. Everybody deals with fear.

Pick the most successful, confident, established author that you can think of, and I promise you they fight their own fears. I have worked with authors from every level of success and seen each of them struggling with it.

Your fear doesn’t make you weird. It makes your normal.

2. Your fear will never completely go away.

That insidious little imp is here to stay.

The only thing to do is learn to work through it and use it the best ways that you can. If you are waiting to start until you feel like you’re good enough or smart enough, that day will never come.

The methods for minimizing
the effects of fear

Or, how to cage that little imp and keep him from destroying your life.

1. Admit your fear. Give it a name.

We like to take our fears and cover them up with something less ugly. I’m not afraid to turn in my manuscript, it’s just not quite ready yet. I’m not afraid to email that person, I just already know they’re going to say “no”. I’m not afraid to try again, I’ve just failed in the past so I know what will happen.

Come on! Tell yourself the truth. You’re not accomplishing anything by lying to yourself.

I’m afraid my manuscript isn’t good enough. I’m afraid they’ll reject me. I’m afraid of failing again and looking like an idiot – again. You’ve got to call fear what it is. It loves the dark, so as long as it remains there, it keeps it’s power. As soon as you expose it to light, it’s power starts getting stripped away.

Let me be clear on two points:

  • It’s 100% ok to be afraid.
  • It’s 100% not ok to act like you’re not afraid.

Once you name your fear, you can do something about it. Start here…

“My name is Tim, and I’m a fear-aholic.” (Say “hi” in the comments)

Now it’s your turn.

2. Play out your worst-case scenario.

Once you’re able to look at your fears, name them and expose them to light, now you can do something about them.

The first step is to play out the worst-case scenario game. If your fear actually happens and it happens in the worst way, what are the results?

Sure, some fears have catastrophic outcomes. The worst-case scenario of getting on an airplane is hard to come back from.

However, most of our fears have extremely benign consequences.

I’m afraid to turn in my manuscript because it’s no good. Worst-case scenario: my editor and early readers kick it back to me with a lot of changes that will make it better. I have some extra work to do.

I’m afraid that if I try again, I’ll fail again. Worst-case scenario: I end up where I am now.

I’m afraid of emailing a query letter to an agent. Worst-case scenario: They say no. If we’re having the proper experimental mindset, we know this is just information that we can use for the next try.

I’m afraid of publishing my book. Worst-case scenario: Nobody buys it. Scratch that. The worst-case scenario is people buy it and every single one of them leave a 1 star review.

If you run out the worst-case scenarios – the things you know probably won’t happen but maybe, if everything goes wrong, could happen – you’ll often find there’s not as much to be afraid of as you thought.

To clarify, I do believe there are legitimate fears with legitimate consequences. Putting our work out into the world is a scary business. Asking other people to be a part of it is even scarier.

But what I want to point out is my third method.

3. The real fear is of doing nothing.

What would the 90 year old version of yourself say?

Mine wouldn’t say anything. He’d just cane-whip me for letting what other people might think and petty fears stop me from doing my meaningful work.

But seriously, if you picture yourself nearing the end of your life and looking back, what will be important to you? It’ll seem silly that we didn’t go after our dreams just because they might fail. We’ll be sad that we let time slip through our fingers.

This is my overarching fear. This is the real fear. It trumps my little impish fears and allows me to keep working.

4. Start small.

You’re not going to conquer all of your fears the first day you start naming them. Instead, start taking baby steps towards beating your fears.

If your fear of showing your writing to other people is stopping you from writing at all, then write only for yourself and promise yourself you won’t ever show it to anyone.

If you’re afraid to start sending your query to agents, send it to three trusted friends to get their feedback. Then send it to one agent – the one you care the least about representing you.

If you’re afraid to put your book for sale on Amazon for the whole world to see, just sell it on your website to people that already read and like your blog.

Often, our fear of something happening in the future stops us from ever starting. Instead, back up, figure out one step you can take towards your goal that is still a good way from that worst-case scenario, and start there.

It’s hard

One of my fears(!) in writing this is I’ll be perceived as glossing over your fear, assuming it’s no big deal. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I know fears are real. And they’re big. And everyone fights their own demons.

But I also know that fear is what holds us back from doing what we were put on this earth to do.

Remember that you’re not alone in your fears. Everyone has an imp wreaking havoc in their mind. But you can minimize the damage and work through it. Consider the worst thing that could happen and ask yourself if the 90 year old version of yourself would agree that’s a good reason to stop and play it safe.

We all have our work to do. We all have our fear fighting against us.

We all can conquer it.

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