On Fear and Fearlessness

FearLately this quote has been making the rounds:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?”

But I’m not sure that’s the right question to be asking.

Sure, as a mental exercise it might be helpful…I mean, I’d love to be able to snap my fingers and climb Everest, or surf Mavericks, without going through the “Holy crap, this is really scary, I might die” phase. But am I actually going to do either of those things? Probably not. (Everest isn’t inconceivable, but my one surfing attempt made it clear that’s not the sport for me.)

Is there an alternative?

The Fear Isn’t Going Away

I saw an interesting speech recently where the speaker talked about being so terrified by her new role that she literally couldn’t sleep. She was up every night, worrying about what was going to happen to the company she was leading and fearing she’d made the wrong decision. At some point, one of her employees told her she was sure everything would be fine in the end, because this insomnia-ridden scaredy cat was “the most fearless person she’d ever known.” Hello, disconnect!

But I think that’s kind of the point — it’s not:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

(which implies that one magical day you won’t be afraid) but:

“What can you do even though you’re afraid?”

Let’s face it — law school (and being a lawyer) is pretty scary for most people. You’re in a new environment where you don’t really understand the rules, the system is set up so you have to compete with the people who’d otherwise be your allies, and your immediate successes, or failures, are very public.

It’s normal to feel intimidated. But — and this is a big but — feeling intimidated isn’t a reason to give in to your fear.

You Just Have to Do Things Anyway

I was at the ABA Women in Law Leadership Academy last week, and speaker after speaker said basically the same thing when asked how she’d succeeded: “I went way outside of my comfort zone and I dealt with the discomfort until I figured out what I was doing.”

Or, put more eloquently by Edith Perez:

Be brave, be strong, and figure it out!

So, the next time you’re feeling afraid to do something, take that as a good sign! It means you’re taking a risk, which gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.

Just don’t sit around waiting for the fear to go away. It’s not going to…so you may as well train yourself to deal with it. And act anyway!

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  1. I really liked the way that Marne Levine, VP of Global Public Policy, Facebook put it at the Ms. JD conference. She called it “being daunted.” For some reason the word “fear” has never sat with me really well. I think sometimes you need to be okay will being daunted — not sure you are going to succeed, but you are going to step-up and try anyway. Fear can be a good thing. It can make us cautious. But we need to be comfortable with stretching and growing and trying things we aren’t going to be good at (to me, different than fear). And we need to be able to move forward without focusing on failure (because hell, it might just happen anyway even if we do a great job).

    And one other thing I have learned from my journey into being an entrepreneur — it gets easier. If you are constantly putting yourself in situations where you feel daunted — you become less worried about feeling daunted! It makes it easier to put yourself out there and try new things.

    • Oh, I like “being daunted.” I think that’s more accurate, anyway.

      And I totally agree with you that it gets easier…as we’ve learned!

  2. Shelby VanHoose says

    Fear is a constant struggle in my life, especially now that I have decided to try for law school. I have the constant fear of being rejected everywhere and not knowing what to do after that. Law school is something that I want for my own special reason (mainly, I object the death penalty, and want to work with capital defendants on appeals). I think that over coming fear is going to be a difficult obstacle for me, although it is something I need to do as I grow older. I am hoping to conquer the LSAT this weekend (not be terrified) and get into law school at one of my top choices. By doing this I think it would help demolish some of that fear that I hang onto. Thanks for the inspiring words!


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