Fear and How to Use It

Fear is a gift. I’m not talking about fear of fire or heights - the common sense, life-saving fear. I’m talking about the ego-based self-talk kind of fear that tells you to move away from discomfort. We all know this inner voice. It tells us that status quo is good, it’s safe. Stick to security and avoid the unknown. Yet the unknown is the space of pure potential.  I’ve learned to trust in fear as a sign that I’m heading in the direction of growth and purpose.

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Very early in my career, I began to use it as fuel.   I left a secure University position with benefits and a pension to take a one-year contract with an NHL club (a dream position as an avid sports enthusiast.) Are you sure about this?, they said.  It’s so hard to find a pension these days. Free education for yourself, your spouse and future kids they continued. I not only pursued the opportunity but managed to turn a one-year maternity leave contract into nine wonderful years, full of growth and lasting friendships. 

However, at the 8 year mark, status quo started creeping in. I wasn’t sure I had much more to offer. Seeing the changes coming about with the digital economy, I wanted to make a difference for other organizations. I thought often about launching a business. 

But I was scared. Scared to leave the comfort of the known. The security. The prestige of holding a coveted NHL position. We had a new house to pay down,  a 4 year old and 13-month old twins. 

Internal resistance to change was at its max. 

So my ego came up with a massive distraction. Why not run my first marathon?  This was something I couldn’t ignore. This was a major commitment that would take hours of training a week. Looking back,  it was clearly a strategy to avoid the bigger, pressing issue of career path and internal purpose. So for the next 9 months, with a young family and a demanding job, I trained 4 to 5 times a week.  It was a fantastic experience and I loved every minute of the journey (except for running through the coldest Ottawa winter in history) but aside from that, it was a clear strategic delay for the bigger decisions that had to be made. Resistance and fear will do that. 

When I finished the marathon,  I had to face it, time to move on. You’re leaving a dream job, to launch a Digital Transformation practice? What the hell is that? they said.  I joined a management consulting firm to focus on disruption, consumer behaviour and study the impact on business and culture.  At the time, the term “digital transformation” was not a hot topic of conversation. It was a bit of an uphill battle but I knew I was on the right track, even if ahead of the market a little. 

After nearly three years, I couldn’t quiet the inner voice that told me to own my schedule, my life, call the shots and make the decisions.  Instead, I decided I needed more credentials and took a Digital Enterprise Certificate from Columbia University for the next 8 months. Ok… that’s done. “Become the CEO of you, once and for all. Make a difference” said the inner voice. I had a healthy 6 figure salary and wonderful people to work with. And I left. Finally. 

No safety net, no savings. Just fear and healthy confidence in my network and the value I could provide. I launched Differly inc. a year later - now with a group of 10 outstanding collaborators -  and have been living in healthy fear ever since. I say healthy because I now recognize resistance for what it is: an indicator, a guiding light towards what’s important to growth. If it means nothing to you, you won’t have any fear. 

What scares you?  “Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, resistance will unfailingly point to true North - meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing… The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.   

Once you start moving, the fear subsides and a beautiful thing happens. Momentum, wonderful coincidences and events conspire and contribute to your growth and success. Fear will never fully subside. Do it anyway.