Does Fear Mean GO or STOP to You?

Accountability Authenticity Courage


Key Point: I’ve referred to my favorite definition of FEAR in the past: “False Expectations Appearing Real.” The best growth opportunities emerge when the “palms of our hands are sweaty.” I’m not talking about the absolute fear that is very real when our personal well-being is at risk. I’m talking about the fear associated with our insecurities and self-doubt. So here is a challenge: When you feel that latter type of fear… Step on the gas and go. What do you really have to lose?

When I was in my early 30’s I facilitated an executive planning session with the entire Dean’s Council of a major university. The best and brightest had this “kid” in front of them, walking them through a strategic session. When I was 18, I remember my first University of Alberta Golden Bears football practice and the gnarly, nasty seniors of the 1967 National Championship team wanting to stick my head deeply back into in my shoulders. In my 60’s, I had that same sweaty feeling doing my first radio interview after my book was published. Speaking in front on hundreds of people evokes the same response. So here’s the deal…I literally have hundreds of these “sweaty palm” examples, regardless of age and setting… And not all have gone perfectly, but you know what? They’ve all gone.

I’m so much better for “jumping in” and putting myself out there. To me, FEAR does mean GO… Not in an unprepared, stupid sense. I promise that nothing was guaranteed in every “risky” situation. But in every case it involved a level of self-authenticity and honesty connected to non-fatal risk. Fear is a great teacher. We really need its lessons to improve, become stronger, and build our self-confidence. This includes “getting back in the saddle” when we get thrown… And we will.

Character Move:

As I was thinking of this blog, I coincidently read Lara Galinsky‘s HBR blog, To Change the World, Fear Means Go, on the exact same topic. Her message really resonated. Especially her recommendations in the first three moves captured below:

  1. Acknowledge you’re afraid. Instead of swallowing or hiding your fear, and pretending you don’t have it, look at it. For instance, if you are continuously avoiding a particular activity or person, have the courage to ask yourself “why?” 
  2. Determine what kind of fear it is. Ask yourself: Is this a healthy fear that I need to pay attention to (is there a hungry bear on the path ahead of me)? Or is this a fear rooted in my own insecurities and self-doubts? It can be difficult to tell the difference at times, but if you really want to know the answer, pay close attention to what your gut says.
  3. Acknowledge it as a gift. If it is an insecurity-based fear, it could be one of the most powerful gifts you’ll ever receive. These fears are like a compass. They tell that you need to go towards what scares you.

 The next two are mine:

  1. Be really well prepared when you confront that insecurity-based fear. When facing a challenge that really stretches us and hits the fear button, we usually have time to get prepared. For example, if we have a speech in front of a big crowd, we need to test and practice it over and over until we’re ready. The palms are still sweaty but we’re ready to step on stage.
  2. Assume the position. I remember the first time I walked into a meeting with the Chairman of a Fortune 50 Company. I wasn’t arrogant, but I guarantee you that I didn’t walk in there “hat in hand.” I was ready and believed in my value. How could he have confidence in me if he saw FEAR in my eyes? That would have signaled STOP instead of GO!

FEAR means GO in The Triangle,


P.S. don’t fear downloading The Character Triangle Companion