Momma taught me to reject fear from an early age. “Fear is a useless emotion,” she used to say.
Which is ironic because she was famously afraid of the dark, as well as the prospect of someone breaking into our home. Consequently, there were always bottles on our first-floor window sills to act as a rudimentary early warning system.
And, of course, some fears are valid: Tornadoes (as we learned recently in Dallas). Physical threats. Fire. Those are valid fears worth having and preparing for.
But that wasn’t the kind of fear Momma was talking about. She was talking about the fears that hold you back from doing new things and taking scary life steps.
When I would find myself paralyzed by fear – of rejection, of ridicule, of failure, you name it – she would tell me to imagine the worst possible scenario: The boy would laugh in my face. The college application would be torn into pieces and mailed back to me with a nasty note. I wouldn’t make cheerleader.
And then what, she would say. And, more importantly, so what?
The answer was this: I would have been no worse off than if I hadn’t faced my fear. A little embarrassed and bummed out, maybe. But nothing truly bad would happen to me.
Her message: If you can accept the worst possible consequences of failure, you have nothing to fear.
She would also point out the flip side of my fears. What if I didn’t fail? What if the boy liked me back? What if I got accepted into my dream school? Would the risks be worth it? Usually, the answer was yes. If they weren’t, then maybe my fears were misplaced and overblown.
Most fears are like the monster under the bed: they’re all in our minds. Fears like public speaking, moving to a different town, or applying for a new job are, similarly, in your mind. You’re creating them. And what you can create, you can ultimately control.
In high school I desperately wanted to be a cheerleader, but I was terrified of the tryouts.
“What if you lose?” my mom asked.
“I might look stupid and people would make fun of me,” I answered.
“So what? Do you care what they think? How is that different from now? If you try out and lose, you’re not any more of a cheerleader than you are now. But if you try out and win, then you’re a cheerleader.”
So, I sucked up and agreed to try out. And, it was good thing I had envisioned the “worst possible scenario,” because it pretty much happened just as I had imagined it: I cartwheeled out on the stage and did my big landing – facing the back of the stage instead of the audience. To make matters worse, my crush was sitting on the front row. Of course, everybody laughed. I was humiliated and ran off the stage.
I did not make cheerleader.
But I survived. My classmates soon moved on to something else and I had a great story to tell once the pain wasn’t so fresh.
I stared down fear and, in a way, I won.
Fear Is Worthless
I learned that fear is worthless. It stagnates and paralyzes, when we should be seeking out emotions that energize and motivate.
So take control of your fear. The next time you’re anxious and afraid, try evaluating the worst possible consequences.
Are you going to die if you fail? Nope.
Are you going to suffer physical pain, broken bones or major emotional trauma? No.
So, really and truly, what’s there to be afraid of?
Life is a journey. You are meant to live, love, learn, grow and experience.
Identify your fear, name it, analyze it, look at all sides of it. Then take a hammer to that fear and bust it into a thousand pieces!
Tell fear it doesn’t live here anymore. And then go work on your wildest dreams.
Michelle May O’Neil is an entrepreneur, lawyer, and motivational speaker. Her most recent book, “Wisdom from Momma,” is a guidebook from, and homage to, her mother, Sandra Verdene Crouch May. It contains life advice from Momma, whose spirit and tenacity guided her and her family through their most trying times.