As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about fear.
Specifically, the fears my main character wants to avoid at all costs. Because those fears are what the plot must force her to confront and (hopefully) overcome.
In any great story, the biggest obstacle the main character must overcome is not the bad guy but her own inner demons.
I suspect the same is true in real life.
So I decided to think about my own fears—everything I could think of that caused even a twinge of fear in my gut.
My list of fears
The first few items were easy:
- Rattlesnakes (Yes, I’ve met them in the wild.)
- Strange noises when I’m alone in the house at night
- Getting off the ski lift at the top of a mountain where the wind is howling and the surface is mostly ice (Some of my most terror-wrought moments involve skis, wind, ice, and steep.)
Then I pushed into more personal territory:
- Making phone calls to strangers (Most introverts hate this!)
- Large crowds (another introvert thing)
- Committing a major fashion faux pas (always a possibility looming on my personal horizon)
- Being late
A little more soul searching pushed me even deeper, to fears that affect my identity:
- Being thought stupid
- Having my emotions manipulated
- Situations where I’m forced to be assertive or aggressive (anything from driving in the city to dealing with a customer service issue)
- Having my creative efforts ridiculed
And so on.
Being an engineer, as the list took shape I began to analyze it for patterns:
- I do not like situations where I feel out of control, either physically or emotionally
- I do not like feeling out of place
- I have a strong fear of failure in certain areas—particularly the areas I consider my strengths
What is the point of this exercise?
To make myself feel miserable? To discover what a paranoid and dysfunctional person I am?
So long as I don’t stop with the list…
Some of my fears are legitimate responses to actual danger (spiders, rattlesnakes, the zombie apocalypse). But the rest? Are they as legitimate as my emotions tell me?
As I look over my list, I need to ask myself these questions.
- Which of these fears are keeping me from being the best version of myself?
- Holding me back from pursuing my dreams? (Fear of failure)
- Preventing me from being my authentic self? (Fear of looking stupid or not fitting in)
- Whispering, “Don’t risk it!”—In a relationship, a new hobby that might be fun, a creative experiment, a job change. (Fear of failure again)
- Might I be basing those fears on false assumptions? Perhaps my fear of looking stupid is based on the mistaken idea that “Making a mistake = I am a failure.” Maybe my fear of feeling out of control is based on the assumption that it’s possible to be in control at all times. (Ha!)
- How can I change my assumptions to a healthier mindset that will allow me to overcome my fears? Perhaps I should switch my mindset from “Mistakes = failure” to “Mistakes are par for the course and will always teach me something that will help me improve.” Perhaps I should adopted the concept I found in a Ted Dekker book, that fear of feeling out of control comes from putting my trust in the wrong things—ie. on anything other than God.
So here’s the thing:
We humans need to face our fears just like fictional characters do. Because until we face them, we’ll be stuck within their limitations, and we’ll never reach our true potential.
Maybe it’s time for you to sit down and make a list of your own fears.
You might learn something that can open a new door of possibility.