Why Fear is not Always a Bad Thing

Pearls of sweat bead on your brow. You sit, perched on the edge of your seat, waiting to jump out of it during the scariest part of the movie. You toss and turn at night, plagued by a recurring nightmare of being chased in the woods.

Fear. It instructs us. It haunts us. It keeps us alive.

Imagine if you didn’t have any fear at all. You might lead a rather reckless life, putting yourself and others in danger. But, for many of us, fear follows us like a lap dog, crawling all over us at the most inopportune moments, hindering us from moving forward, even if we wanted to.

In a recent Ted talk, writer Karen Thompson Walker speaks about fear as a story. In essence, our fears are the stories we tell ourselves in our heads. “Watch out! Be careful! Don’t go near that person/situation/thing!”

She recounts a true story about a group of shipwrecked men who had three options to save themselves: steer toward the closest island where, it was rumored, cannibals lived; go in a different direction at the risk of braving deadly storms; or head for another destination that was the farthest, but deemed the “safest” if they made it. The third option, although promising certain death by starvation for many of them, was the one they chose.

Their fear of the stories of cannibals kept them from even trying to reach the closest land. Instead, they chose to take a fatal risk despite a rather nebulous, yet real danger of starvation. Their decision was fed by their fears of being eaten. In the end, only half survived the voyage and some of the survivors had resorted to their own form of cannibalism to live.

Fear can make us do the strangest things.

If we allow our fear to inform our decisions, we will be certain to live smaller lives than we are meant to. In the case of the shipwrecked men, many of them died as a result of listening to the loudest, most fearful voice inside their heads.

We all possess some level of fear. It can be very useful for storytellers like myself who place themselves just of the edge of their fear to look at the world through the lens of what is possible despite the very real feelings of terror we experience.

Fear makes life juicy. Imagine flatlining through your days, never really feeling much of anything but the ho-hum of the daily drum. Now imagine your life informed by occasional irregular beats, infused with the adrenalin that stretches our minds, which then creates pockets in which our creativity flows.

Go in step with your fear, but don’t allow it to consume you. It can be a friend that cautions you to pull back when the time is right, but it can also hinder you from living the life of your dreams if you let it take over completely.

Leave a Reply