“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Within each of us lives many truths. Sometimes our truth is another person, other times it’s a calling, and occasionally it’s as simple as a really good book. When we connect with a person, place, or idea that sincerely speaks to us – it resonates on a spiritual level.
It’s the certainty we feel in some decisions, and it’s the nagging sense of unfinished business we feel with others. Sometimes our truth is clear and uncomplicated. We know it and feel it in our bones.
But that’s only sometimes. While our truth can be an echoing battle cry emboldening us to action – it can also be a muted whisper. When it comes to knowing and listening to myself, too often I’ve let noise drown out my truth. Whether we call our truth our purpose, intuition, gut, or even our ambitions, how often do we listen to ourselves?
Our truth isn’t the only voice that speaks to us. I’ve found our fear speaks to us the most often, and it is the voice that we are most tuned in to.
Our fears take several forms: insecurity, anxiety, stress, even phobias. And while fear is inherently off putting, it is also completely essential. Fear has been the key to our self preservation; it’s how we as a species survived. That voice that says “Mm… Better not,” kept our ancestors safe by helping them avoid danger.
It’s that same tendency towards self-preservation that pushes us to try our best, keeps us away from dubious street vendors, and stops us from giving our number to that questionable guy at the bar.
Unfortunately that same voice is the one that says we shouldn’t volunteer for that big project, that we can’t leave the job we’re unhappy in, that if we try we will fail.
While fear is the voice that kept our ancestors in their caves safe and away from harm, it is also the voice that quarantines us into our comfort zones today. It’s how we’ve been hardwired.
And while it’s important for every person to take the time to understand themselves, their truths, and their fears – it’s especially important for us women. In her Slate Article “Nervous Nellies” author, Taylor Clark, breaks down the complexity of women and fear beautifully. “Girls don’t start out more anxious than boys, but they usually end up that way… Women, according to countless studies, are twice as prone to anxiety as men. And research confirms—perhaps unsurprisingly—that women are significantly more inclined toward negative emotion, self-criticism, and endless rumination about problems… this difference is mostly the result of a cultural setup—one in which major social and parenting biases lead to girls becoming needlessly nervous adults.” Read more here. We see the realization of these fears reflected in statistics. There are fewer women entrepreneurs- fewer women in the work force – and significantly fewer women in positions of power. Women are much more likely to listen to their fears and drown out their truths.
A study of 30,000 women revealed the top reasons women don’t seek promotions:
- “I don’t want the stress/pressure”
- “I don’t feel like I would be able to balance family/work commitments”
- “I’m not interested in that kind of work”
- “I’m not sure I could be successful”
Three of these answers are based in anticipatory fear. C.E.O. Katya-Andresen, explains, as women “we are locking ourselves out of the C-Suite before we even knock on the door.” Read more here.
Even in success – we know women feel fear at much greater levels. See imposter syndrome.
So, in the moments when truth and fear intersect, when there is no clear answer, how do we drown out the noise? How do we begin to discern which of our many voices is speaking to us and if we should be listening?
Be intentional with yourself and your thoughts. Start with taking 5 minutes of your day to meditate. Try to clear your mind and find some zen. Mindfulness has been proven to not only increase productivity but to clarify your thoughts. Ah-Ha moments happen here, in your zen space. Use it to help you focus in on your truth.
Look in the mirror daily and affirm your worth. Often our fear manifests itself as low self-esteem. We believe we hold little value and this reflects in the opportunities we pursue, the salaries we request, and the promotions we demand. This fear eats away at our self worth and diminishes our ability to see ourselves clearly. By doing this small exercise you are able to shape your own narrative. Even if you don’t believe the words right away – you eventually will. Some of my own suggestions include:
“I am capable. I am smart. I can do whatever I set my mind to. I deserve to be successful. I am successful.”
This is especially important because the next time a challenge or opportunity presents itself- you want to enter it with the utmost confidence in your own abilities. When you’re more confident in yourself you’ll have a better sense of when your fear is talking or when it’s your truth.
It’s important to name our fears. When our fears exist without names they tend to become more menacing and loom over us. It’s the shadow effect. In naming our fears we are able to shed light onto our issues, understand their roots, and reclaim power. So, what are you afraid of? Failure? Judgment? Are your fears internal or external? Be specific. Once you’ve named your fears, examine the outcomes. Be real with yourself about what could and may happen – worst and best case scenarios. For example: Say you fail to deliver on a project – what does that mean for you? What are you risking? If you do fail, is it really as bad as it seems?
Feel, Pause, Feel
Give yourself some time to ruminate over your feelings when making decisions. If you feel anxious, then let yourself be anxious. Too often we police our emotions. It isn’t helpful or actually conducive to success. Let yourself feel – but then move on. Do something else, take a few days. Put those feelings, decisions, and worries on the back burner. Once you return to the thought, be critical and ask yourself which of your emotions are lingering – and what that means? Has anything changed? I often tend to worry about little things, and once I take time away from the process (even just a few hours), I find many of my concerns no longer relevant.
Embrace Your Fears
It’s not all bad. You’re still alive and reading this article – so we know you’re sense of fear and self-preservation works! Use your fears to check yourself and measure your development. If you know you are prone to be afraid of public speaking, put yourself in as many public speaking situations as possible. You’ll not only grow, but you’ll begin to overcome your fear. Are you afraid of failure? Use that fear as a motivator to work harder. Make it your ally. Knowing your fears allows you to compensate and adjust your life strategies.
There are very few indisputably right and wrong answers for each of us. Unfortunately, life is more complicated than that. If ever you are at the intersection of truth and fear, when both voices are speaking and the two seem inexorably entwined, take a leap of faith – whatever it may be. Try. I find, at least for me, truth often lives in the same space as hope, and that most things worth doing, scare us just a little.
This article was originally written for and published on Shenomics.com
About the Author
Misha Rahman recently uprooted her life in Boston to move to Bangalore, India and work with Shenomics. She is completing a professional certification in social enterprise through IDEX Accelerator’s Global Fellowship Program. She spends her days on facebook, twitter, and linkedin- also known as marketing and strategy. In addition to empowering women she is interested in conflict resolution and human rights work. Misha enjoys traveling, reading, and binge watching Netflix.