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What Are You So Afraid Of?

And are you sure it's really fear?

Samantha Villagran/FreeImages
Source: Samantha Villagran/FreeImages

“I think it’s an introvert thing,” my friend said when we were discussing an uncomfortable work-related situation she was concerned about. “I’m afraid of looking foolish.”

I nodded. Yep. I definitely relate. I’m also afraid of looking foolish. Terrified.

Which is actually kinda foolish. I have to wonder: What might this fear of foolishness be preventing me from accomplishing? Personally and professionally?

With this in mind, I opened professional coach Beth Buelow’s terrific new book The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms and jumped directly to the chapter, “Fear, Doubt, and Other Icky Stuff.”

In it, Beth describes attending an all-day business expo. “As the day went on,” she wrote, “I noticed a common theme among many of the speakers: Be fearless! … When we discussed that day what’s most needed in business the answer was to be fearless! When doubts creep in, we’re supposed to be fearless! And the best way to get over our fears is to be fearless!

Beth doesn’t buy that, comparing it to “a pep-rally slogan that fires up my energy just in time for the big game, but then leaves me stranded at the end.”

Indeed. It’s all very well to say be fearless—but is that even possible? Emotions are not under our control. We feel what we feel.

But what we do control is how we respond to those fears. Or, as author Susan Jeffers titled her 1987 classic self-help book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway recognizes that fear exists,” Beth writes. “The phrase helps us move through our introvert desire to fly solo, to limit networking to the bare minimum, to stay quiet when we ought to speak up. When we allow the fear to be seen and heard, we’re also quicker to notice when we’re making excuses (including playing the introvert card).”

Rather than feigning fearlessness or allowing fear to limit us, Beth advises us to dive headfirst into fear, to get to know it, to look underneath, behind, inside it.

Some of Beth’s suggestions for doing this:

Identify what the fear is protecting. It’s most likely something important to you, like a relationship; your self-identity (I am not a foolish person!); a deeply-held belief; the viability of your business. Try tapping into that beloved value to see how it can talk down the fear. Can the love you feel for whatever it is reassure the fear that you hear it, but can handle whatever happens?

Look for your FUDs. FUD is an acronym for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Some of the FUDs Beth has identified among introverts: I can’t handle rejection. I’m not a good schmoozer and am terrible at sales. I’m showing up in all the right places and nothing’s happening. I don’t have the energy to keep putting myself out there.

Do a reality check, preferably talking about your FUDs with someone wise.

“It’s transformative to experience the power and clarity that comes when we’re able to pull the FUDs off the hamster wheel of our internal processing and into the light, where they rarely stand up to scrutiny,” Beth writes.

Does sticking my neck out sometimes and risking looking foolish make me a foolish person? When I look at it in the harsh light of reality. No, of course not. And even if some people see me as foolish, others will see me as brave. And I do like the idea of being considered brave.

Learn the difference between fear and discomfort. “Discomfort is a feeling of uneasiness or distress. It’s often just the residual ickiness that fear leaves behind, and the only way to wash it off is to move into action,” Beth writes.“If we tease them apart, there’s a big difference between something causing uneasiness and something being dangerous or evil. There is no danger in picking up the phone or attending the event. No great evil will emerge if you speak up in front of the group or initiate contact with a prospect.”

I adore this nugget of wisdom. Of course. Just as people often confuse introversion and shyness, we also often confuse fear and discomfort. And to give up anything we truly want in life to avoid mere discomfort…how foolish is that?

My favorite explanation of the difference between shyness and introversion is that shyness is fear (I want to interact with people but I’m afraid) and introversion is motivation (I don’t really care about interacting with people). The trouble is that, with socializing, networking, picking up the phone, and a thousand other things, discerning between fear and motivation isn’t easy. It can take concentrated effort and serious thought. Which is good news, because serious thought is, of course, one of the things that introverts do best.

So what are you afraid of? Are you sure?

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