Fear of fear

This is the first article I have written here for a very long time.  Over three years, in fact.  I have, of course, in that time written for Unigon Plane and technical documentation for my day job as a technical architect and software developer, but to write about topics that impact us at the emotional level extracts a deeper engagement from both myself as the author, and you the reader.  The connection is more profound, almost primal.

The most primal of our of our instincts and emotions is fear.  I’ve written on this topic a number of times over the years.  Fear can be the most powerful of motivators and the tightest binding of paralysis.  Intellectually we can understand that a fearful reaction is irrational, but fear and rationality rarely fit hand in hand.

Many times I will encounter someone who is unhappy with their life, their work, their direction, their… something that they wish was different.  And so often that person will stay firmly in place, never taking any effectual steps away from where they are to where they want to be.  It’s not a lack of motivation that holds them, nor is it a willingness to retain the status quo.  It is simply fear, fear of change, fear of failure, even fear of success.

Marie Curie

People far smarter than I am have been writing about fear for a very long time.  Marie Curie stated, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  While true, her strength at overcoming the impediments of a woman in science at that time still ended in her death as a result of radiation poisoning.  So perhaps a little fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

This brings me rather abrasively to my point.  While we fear to fail, the fear of success is somehow even a more powerful deterrent to stepping out of the bounds of our current situation to where we would hope to be.  Success brings change, and we humans tend to be rather resistant to change.  Sameness is safe, change is scary and unknown.


So at its core, fear of success is a fear of change.  Heraclitus is attributed with many variants of the saying, “The only thing that is constant is change.”  Whichever the translation or quotation, the meaning is clear.  Life will continue to change, whether we choose it to or not.  However, that doesn’t mean that we are entirely passengers to change; we can choose to be so, or we can decide to shape the change we experience.

Yes, yes, I know that just four paragraphs back I  stated that many people remain in stasis, but in reality, there is always change.  The arrow of time continues in one direction, not sitting in the quiver.  Even while we procrastinate, opportunities that may be will pass us by, time and again.  We age.  Our skills or abilities can change.  As my Ph.D. supervisor used to say (and probably still does), “There is perfection not just in the work but in the timing.”  I’ve never yet seen these words contradicted.

Let’s get back to fear.  We’ve established that we are afraid of change and that change is going to happen anyway.  We have also identified that opportunity is timely, and that success doesn’t necessarily end well.  So what do we do?  Do we all pack up and go hide under the bed?  I hope not.

Why?  Well, in the end, it is the people who act despite their fear who change the world.  They are the ones we talk about, study, listen to, read, and sometimes throw inane quotes from into blog articles.  They are proof that fear is the limiter.  Not success, not change.  There are many one-hit-wonder bands that we enjoy listening to.  Do we judge the brevity of their success?  Well, kind of, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate their accomplishments either.

While failure or limited success is always the potential outcome, not all of us end up short-listed for the “Darwin Awards” of success.  If the drive is there to achieve, then it comes down to patience, persistence, and timing.  There are a thousand inane memes all over social media quoting proverbs such as “Fall down seven times, stand up eight,” with pictures of people climbing mountains.  And as irritating and trite as they are, the fundamental philosophy remains a truism.

In the end, we try or we don’t.  We succeed or we don’t.  Things change, and we adapt or we don’t.  The decision is ours to make.  When the option to do nothing or to do something is presented, then I will always do something.  Because given the choice to watch the world go by or be a part of it, isn’t a little fear worth conquering?

Life is for living.



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