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How to partner with your fear when you’re taking a risk

I was talking with a client the other day who was considering making a big change. They really wanted to go for it, but they were also feeling a lot of fear. This is such a common situation! 

So today, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about fear and risk-taking. 

First, a story.

A while back, I tried something I’d never done before: our local ropes course. Have you ever done one? You strap into a safety harness, climb up into the trees, and set out to make it through an obstacle course of rickety-feeling, swaying bridges from tree to tree. 

Now, I am not a physically daring person. In elementary school, I never could figure out the monkey bars. Plus, I’ve been scared of heights my entire life. But something in me wanted to give this thing a try. I wanted to take a risk, do something kind of bold, and discover what it was like to be up there in the trees. 

Was I scared? Oh, heck, yeah. I really don’t like heights.

And was I embarrassed about being scared of even the “junior course,” when I saw scads of small children gleefully clambering 20 feet above my head with seemingly no fear? Oh gosh, yes. 

But I gave it a try anyway. Something in me wanted to do this, in spite of my fear.

I was by far the slowest person on the course that afternoon. Each step I took on those aerial bridges, I was scared and shaking. But also invigorated, and so excited that I was actually doing it!  

To calm my nerves, I sang familiar songs as I went. “Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo was my personal favorite that day. 

And I let many groups of happy kiddos pass me on the platforms in between rope bridges. They ran through at top speed, while as for me, I took my own time and let myself be very, very slow. 

When my feet finally touched the ground at the end, I was so proud of myself! I had done it, in spite of my fear. Or actually, it would be more accurate to say I had done it in partnership with my fear. 

Because here’s the thing:

When you’re taking a risk–whether a smallish one like my ropes course or a big one like my client was contemplating–fear is an essential partner in the process.  

How so? 

First: your fear contains information you need to keep yourself safe. It deserves to be heard and honored. 

In the case of the ropes course, my fear was absolutely correct that falling to the ground = bad! Now, in this case, there were lots of safety measures built in. I was clipped into a safety harness the whole time, so even if I had fallen, the chances of getting hurt were actually quite small. It felt riskier than it actually was. 

But in other situations, you may need to build in your own safety measures. Like, not quitting your job without a plan (unless you can afford not to work for a while, in which case there’s your safety measure!).

Second: Your fear is a part of you and, as such, deserves your kindness. So be kind to your fear. 

That may mean slowing yourself down to a pace your fear can tolerate. 

For me on the ropes course, that meant moving very, very slowly while people all around me were going faster. For you, it might mean slowing down to explore more options before you make a big change.

And finally, remember that fear is not a no

Unless you’re in an extremely dangerous situation (in which case, please ignore everything I’ve said here and just keep yourself safe!), feeling fear is not a reason to stop moving forward with a change. 

Fear is absolutely normal when you’re moving out of your comfort zone. When you’re on the verge of doing something big, it would be strange not to feel fear. 

But if you’ve listened to your fear’s counsel and laid your plans with care, go forward with confidence. And invite your fear to come along with you as an old friend, hand in hand. 

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