I recently experienced a situation which reminded me about the power of fear. Our lights needed to be replaced in the gym, and unfortunately for me, that meant climbing 2 stories up to reach the lights. We had to find a ladder tall enough and safe enough to get someone up there.
Given my recent surgery, I asked some of the other business owners to help go up the ladder. Unfortunately, none of us are big fans of heights, including me. Clearly, the fear of heights was stopping other people from doing what was needed to be done. So… up I went. It was not comfortable, I don’t like the heights as much as the next person. Yet, up and down I went several times.
Then, I hear one of them say, “Oh, but I’m scared of heights.”
I reply, “Dude, I’m terrified! But I am still up here.”
They said, “You’re a soldier. Soldiers do not fear.”
This is, of course, nonsense because the common sense in the army is that you don’t want a soldier with no fear because those are usually the soldiers who get other people killed. Either that or they go on suicide missions and usually die in the process of taking out an enemy encampment, which earns them some kind of post-death award. Which doesn’t do anything…
Unfortunately, I don’t think I would get a post-death award for falling off a ladder.
You need fear. Evolutionarily, fear is a survival tool. Fear can be a useful tool to remind you that you are mortal, yes you can get hurt or die, and that whatever you’re afraid of is potentially dangerous. Fear of death is reasonable. However, not everything will kill you! The litany against fear in Frank Herbert’s Dune illustrates the best example of the power of fear and the even greater power of facing fear.
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Ultimately, the greatest fear is… not knowing. The unknown is the most terrifying thing to everyone. Fear of the unknown is a fear that can freeze even the strongest of us. Thus, because the fear response is so engrained in our biology, we’re scared of things that don’t technically logically need to be feared. Going up the ladder feels scary because it’s high, but it is quite safe in reality because there are two people holding the ladder and at least five other people watching.
Being a soldier didn’t make me any less fearful of a situation, it just gave me the ability to learn to face my fears. I don’t forget about fear. I’ve simply learned that sometimes, even when you may be scared, a job still needs to get done. Some people are more accepting of fear than others, but it is not an excuse not to move forward.
In the end, life is about moving forward and getting things done. Sometimes, that means facing your fear. Maybe as a species, we can’t out-logic fear yet. But we can face it. Fear is not an excuse to stop moving forward. Know fear, use fear, and keep moving forward.