The other day I encountered the question “What would you do if you were not afraid”? It made me wonder, how often does fear guide our decisions (directly or indirectly)? It’s something to consider, especially given that fear comes on a continuum. To put this continuum into context, consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, a simple guide that allows us to better understand where fear can disrupt us and how it presents itself. According to Maslow, our very basic needs are food, water and shelter; when these are not in place it becomes the focus of daily existence. The next level of need is about the security of the resources that come with keeping what you have attained in the first level safe; having the basics means you can build a family, gain employment and buy property to further ensure the sustainability of life. The third level is about love and belonging (both family and community), being accepted into social groups where we feel a sense of security – there is safety in numbers. This progresses to the fourth level in the hierarchy, the one where achievement and the esteem of others enables self-confidence and the ability to be valued for our accomplishments (which also helps to promote the items in levels 1 to 3 to new levels of fullness). The upper-most level, level five (the “pinnacle”), is self-actualization where we experience the realization of our full potential. It’s at the top for a reason, it is hard to attain, and once you do, it can be hard to hang on to as life constantly changes and new “pinnacles” emerge (or the original pinnacle disappears).
There are many ways to look at the things that make us human, but Maslow’s hierarchy is a simple and approachable base to start from. Inherent within it you can see where fear creates disruption and how, no matter where we think we are in that hierarchy, fear can come in at any level and undermine us. While many of us have the great fortune not to worry about food/water/shelter, and most of us consider ourselves a part of communities (starting with our own families) where we feel accepted and secure, it doesn’t mean that we will experience a greater absence of fear (although we certainly have that opportunity). Where you are in the hierarchy determines what is fearful to you and what that fear is on behalf of. As an example, you can only be afraid of the loss of a good job if you have one present in your life; what you fear will disrupt that relationship can come from any of the levels; from societal disruption (i.e. economic collapse or warfare) to the perception of your own skills (self regard).
How does fear stand in our way? How does it keep us from reaching our goals? There is a cost to fear that we may not consider in our day-to-day lives, but can be seen when we look at it in another context: flying. Since 9/11 the cost to travel by plane has increased, most noticeably in the amount of time needed to get on a plane, but also in terms of airport fees, etc. to pay for the infrastructure needed to process passengers in a way that is consistent with updated security measures. This is not to say that these are unneeded precautions, but the cost of achieving safe flight has gone up appreciably due to fear. Fear always has a price tag associated with it, both a societal and an individual one. Looking at it from the context of your own life, are there things you have resisted acting on due to fear? Things like going to see your doctor, seeking approval to start a project, asking for a promotion and/or a raise, letting that really great idea out of your mind and into the hands of others to see if it is as good as you think it is? If so, what is it costing you? What is it costing the people you care about?
Fear presents itself in many ways; anxiety, anger, shame, indecision, exhaustion…the list goes on. These are the emotions we carry with us when fear is present and they don’t support us being at our best, nor do they help us to be there for others in meaningful ways. Allowing ourselves to really feel our fear (and why it is present for us) is something we avoid as part of the human condition (constructively and destructively) but it is the key to unlocking it. At the bottom of every unmet expectation, fueling every unhealthy comparison, and silently shutting down our ability to access our full potential is fear. Knowing what is creating fear allows us to consider how we want to address it. Fortunately fear is not an ever-present factor for most of us, but it is universal and it lies somewhere in our lives impacting what we do (or don’t do), limiting our opportunities. When we let it, fear can persistently disrupt us from getting to the place in life where we achieve self-actualization; that place where we initiate new things, consistently stretch and improve ourselves, and actively pursue meaningful goals leading to a highly rewarding and enjoyable life. So the question remains, what would you do if you were not afraid? Is time to find out?
Carleen Hicks is a certified Integral Professional Coach™ and EQ-i 2.0 Practitioner. She uses a unique perspective from her experience as a Leadership Coach and HR Professional to help people reach their full potential. See more of her blogs on Everyday Potential at http://www.chhr.ca and check out her Resources page to find great books, blogs and web sites that support professional growth and development.