Teaching Our Kids to Embrace Fear

Teaching Our Kids to Embrace Fear

It’s commencement season. Caps. Gowns. Tassels. They’re everywhere. The news. Your social media feeds. So too, the graduation speeches. Clips of recent speeches. Clips from throw-back speeches. All providing a huge dose of optimism to those beginning new lives. Free from the protection and constraints of formal education.

It all had me thinking about what one piece of advice I wish I’d gotten at graduation. 

Ultimately, it came down to this. The one thing I wish someone had told me 30 years ago is that you’ll never completely conquer fear.

I’m not talking about acute fear. The white knuckle, feel it in your stomach, hear it in your voice type fear.

No, I’m talking about the more subtle, chronic fear that seeps into your mind. Undetected. Holding you back. Slowing you down.

You know, the fear of failure, or success. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being seen. Or, being rejected.

It’s the type of fear that when you’re young you think comes from inexperience. Like, the butterflies you feel on the first day of classes. Or, in track, when you wait for the starting gun. Or, as you answer the first few questions on a final exam. 

The more times you experience these things, the more you expect and understand the butterflies you feel. Sometimes, you do things so often, like take exams, that you stop even noticing nerves at all.

This all creates a false sense of security. A sense that nerves, or butterflies, can be tamed with experience. With training.

So, as you age, you find yourself surprised by fear whenever it resurfaces. In fact, sometimes, you don’t even realize that the root cause of a problem is actually fear.

Even more problematic. The symptoms of this persistent, chronic fear are not butterflies. Not nerves. Rather, the symptoms vary. Maybe it’s paralyzing, leading to procrastination. Or it’s frustration and anger. Or sadness and tears. It’s all very sneaky. This grown-up version of fear. 

And, for some reason, we never talk about it. We celebrate greatness. And, success. We talk about hard work. Having dreams. But, we never talk about how working through fear is a part of the process. A part that takes its own work.

We talk as if believing in yourself, having a dream, a vision, is a one time event. We make it seem as if it’s as straightforward as setting a goal and then taking the steps to achieve it.

In reality, it’s far more complicated. You can set a goal, take the first few steps and then suddenly find yourself unable to take the next one. You have reasons. They seem logical. To you. 

But, when confronted by a friend, or a spouse, the logic breaks down. You find yourself in tears.

That’s fear. That’s the chronic type of fear that we never really talk about.

And, our silence gives that chronic fear greater leverage. Our minds can tell us that we’re the only one who’s afraid. That nothing great was ever accomplished with fear. Causing us to conclude that we’re not worthy of our dreams.

If there’s any one thing that all my years of reading, researching, helping, and doing has taught me, it’s this. Everyone’s afraid. Every single one of us has to overcome our own chronic fears in order to pursue our dreams. 

I just experienced it. Again. I wanted to add videos to the resources I offer tomorrow’s workers, and their parents and teachers. I thought it would be easy. After all, I have absolutely zero fear about talking to people. I’ve counseled thousands of people. Cross-examined hundreds. Delivered tons of opening statements and closing arguments. I’ve taught classes in a men’s prison. And, I’ve delivered educational lectures to attorneys.

But, add the element of knowingly recording anything that I have to say, and suddenly I’m frustrated, a bit angry. I’m stomping around like a child throwing a tantrum at the grocery. 

And, I knew exactly what it was. Fear. But, yet, it was still work. I couldn’t snap my fingers and make it go away. I had to lean into it. Know that being outside my comfort zone was the best thing for me, and my business.

These are lessons we should be teaching our kids. We need to be honest about the fact that fear is real. Fear is natural. You don’t outgrow it. You never get to a point where you’ve out succeeded fear. It will always be with you.

By talking about it, we teach our kids to acknowledge it. To embrace it and use it to their advantage. As the artist Lisa Congdon says, give fear a bear hug.

And, if ever there was a time to call out fear, it’s now. Workers of the future will need to be more creative and innovative. They’ll have to put themselves and their ideas out there for everyone to see. In ways that will put their egos at greater risk. They’ll repeatedly encounter fear.

But, with all this comes ever greater opportunity. Opportunity to participate in building something new, in solving the unsolvable. Opportunity to share one’s gifts. One’s thoughts. Or, art.

To take full advantage of this age, this era of opportunity, requires courage. It requires an ability to fully live with fear. To know that it’s there. That it never goes away. That it cannot be beaten. It can only be embraced. And, once won’t be enough. It’s a constant. Like maintaining good health. It requires attention and effort.

To fear is not to fail. Fear simply means you’ve stepped outside what’s known and comfortable. Not one person has ever accomplished anything great without first being uncomfortable. Without first being afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s just not okay to give in to it.

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