Fear can range in degree from ‘concern’ to ‘morbid dread’. Great fear can be immobilizing. It is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat. Fear is normal and healthy in the right circumstances. One of the most fearful things that a person can do is to work in ‘high steel.’ That is the work of building skyscrapers by walking the steel beams – hundreds of feet above the ground with no safety equipment. It happens to be that Native Americans of the Mohawk tribe in Canada have claimed the specialty of doing this dangerous work. They are determined, proud, and competent. Naturally, they are also very afraid, but they don’t let their fear interfere with their work. In their work, ’fear’ keeps them careful and alert.
There are many others who face fear on a daily basis. Our military and fire fighters for instance. Still, they find the ability to work in spite of their adrenaline rush and sweaty hands. Some people are ‘fraidy cats’. They worry about everything in their life. They are afraid of dirt because of germs. They are not paranoid, but they are inordinately concerned about the normal exposures that everyone experiences in order to accomplish anything of value. The opposite, of course, are the foolhardy who take unnecessary chances. In the middle of this range are those who take risks and get things done. The extent of the acceptable risk is proportional to the urgency of the need, of course. It may be appropriate to jump out of a burning building. It may not be appropriate to drive fast on a dark and rainy night.
We know the expression; “Nothing ventured – nothing gained.” It is not entirely true that if nothing is ventured – nothing is lost. What is lost may be money, opportunity, and the most valuable possession that you have, the years of our life. Time is the most expensive ‘thing’ that we have. It is relentless in the way that it is spent, whether we use it or not. If we have a fear, it should be that we shall waste this one most precious thing. This can be a difficult balancing act as we strive to do enough work and get enough rest.
Against all of this, we must plot a path of minimum risk and maximum return. We can’t expect to not suffer loss from our decisions. One thing is certain; we will suffer loss from much indecision. How can we minimize the bad effects of inappropriate fear and at the same time maximize the contribution of appropriate ‘fear’ (concern)? Please remember that there are no guarantees of success. We all know success stories of those who ‘made it’ but we seldom hear of those who fail except as it relates to the success who tried again and succeeded.
Americans have a constitutional guaranteed of the freedom to pursue success but we are not guaranteed that we will succeed. ‘Aye, that’s the rub’ for many people, especially the immature who, in their ignorance, assume that they are ‘entitled’ to success and assume that they will achieve it. Rightfully placed fear will demand that we will certainly fail unless we pay attention to the requirements for success. Remember that the qualities of immaturity are ignorance, arrogance, selfishness and pride. These qualities diminish as we mature but to some degree; these qualities remain and, hopefully, diminish for all of our lives. This has certainly been my own experience. This is why it is true that: ‘the (collective) wisdom of mankind is greater than the wisdom of any (single) man’.
How can we maximize our ability to succeed in the face of fear? Seek out ‘the wisdom of mankind’ by studying about and talking with successful people in the area that you wish to pursue. If your fears turn out to be justified, you may take another path to success. If your fears are not justified according to other successful people, take control of your emotions instead of letting them control you. Feelings are a good servant but a poor master.
As with other personality traits, inordinate fear may seem completely normal and justified to the one who has it. When told that their fear is inappropriate, they will likely respond: “But I…”.This implies that their emotions have been given a very high priority in their decision-making process. This may be the result of parenting of an insecure parent, usually a mother who says: “wash those dirty hands, do you want to get sick?” Making mud pies is a normal part of growing up, isn’t it? Of course this example can be extended in many directions, can’t it?
Teenagers, for instance, have a ‘whole world’ of behaviors and exposures that should be rightfully feared. How can you tell if you have such a problem or if your peers are reckless? If you are young it is more likely that your peers are in error. The thrill seeking, the adrenaline rush or sky diving, for instance, certainly raises your insurance rates, doesn’t it? People who so engage, realize the danger but the ‘thrill’, which can be addictive, may be considered to be worth the risk.
Astronauts may be the greatest risk-takers of all. However, everything possible is done to make their experience safe, and then they act. This is a pattern for the rest of us isn’t it? Do all you can to insure your safety, before you act. You know the old adage, ‘Those who fail to plan - plan to fail.’ Do all can to anticipate - and be prepared. Then, after you make a last careful evaluation, decide one way or another and either commit to act or abandon the project. Once you have decided don’t look back. Put your confidence in your decision, and move ahead.
I have a near relative who ‘chickened out’ of his scheduled marriage a year ago. He has reconsidered and now his marriage to the same woman is scheduled again this year. This may be normal behavior but it does illustrate the problem that fear injects into behavior, doesn’t it? He admitted that he was afraid.
How can you determine if your fear is excessive?
Depending upon the specifics of course, you can see and understand how others are faring with similar risks. Also, some elements are worth more than others. For instance, money is not worth as much as life. Your reputation and the opinion of your peers is worth less than the other elements mentioned. If you are afraid of what others will think of you if you carry out your plan, unless your activity is immoral, unethical, or illegal, your fears may be unreasonable.
Many people have succeeded in doing drastic things, such as leaving their family, friends, homeland as a teenager and going off to ‘the new world’ to ‘seek their fortune - as happened during the years of immigration from Europe to America and the migration to California during the 1800’s. There was the real ’fear’ of never seeing their mother again, for instance, but people weighed the factors and made a decision. You can’t afford to fear the inevitable. For instance, I am in my 90’s. I was asked if I was afraid of dying because I am ‘old’. I said that I was not afraid. I will not let the fear of dying keep me from enjoying living whatever life I have left.