Fear Less

Being fearless consists of much more than denying what you’re afraid of, Dan Griffin writes. 

For most of my life I wanted to be fearless. Since I was a child, I seemed to experience an abnormal amount of fear. Whether it is a genetic anomaly, neurological misfiring, a spiritual malady, or all of the above, I cannot say. What I do know is that I was always aware that I had so much fear, and I just wanted to be rid of it. I would feel quite alone, especially from other men, because I assumed that other men did not have similar experiences. I was wrong, and I have an idea why.

I was driving in my car through downtown St. Paul many years ago, and I was experiencing an inordinate amount of fear. Anxiety. Panic. Call it what you will—they are all members of the same family. I cannot even remember what it was about. I do remember the insight. Up until that point it had been so difficult for me to admit that I was feeling afraid. Not because I was not aware that I was feeling fear. No, I was well aware of the fear that would regularly visit me. In fact, for the last several years, I had even become accustomed to talking about that fear with a select group of men and women, privately and usually in the basement of some church. In those groups, fear was not only respected, it was expected—even from men. I could admit it to the people in those basements more easily than I could admit it to myself because I knew they would not make fun of me for having it.


Over the years I have heard from men from all walks of life who—when they are able to be gut-wrenchingly honest—about how much of their lives have been spent in fear. Former drug-dealer turned patent attorney. CEO of a national criminal justice organization. Former bodyguard for smalltime Chicago “businessman.” Priest. Judge. Real estate magnate. Teacher. Psychiatrist. Nurse. Musician. Author. The list goes on ad infinitum. Most of these men spent an inordinate amount of time focused on trying to show themselves and the rest of the world that they were not afraid. And so we all walked around, thinking that none of us were feeling fear—and, in truth, it was killing us and all of our relationships.

Remember those stickers that used to be everywhere, most often on those big trucks that most people need a stepladder to get into: “No FEAR!” They shouted to anyone driving close enough to them: I AM A REAL MAN! The words in ominous writing meant to further communicate how much we, men, don’t want to—no, shouldn’t—have any fear in our lives. Of course, I have come to realize that some of the most fearful men are the ones driving around the big trucks with stickers saying “No FEAR” on them.

If you are like I was and have aspirations of someday being fearless, that day, sadly, will never arrive. But, if you instead wish to simply fear less, well, that is available to you any time. The only catch: you have to be willing to acknowledge that the fear is there and for many men that can feel tantamount to admitting they are not men. Today it seems easier for men to see men’s fear. Probably because I have become so intimately acquainted with my own fear. Our relationship is one that has become mostly amicable—I notice its presence and respect it but have made it clear it is not going to run my life anymore. As is the case with so many things, in recognizing and facing my fear it has much less power over me. So go ahead and do it, get honest about your fears—what are you afraid of?

—Photo Capture Queen ™/Flickr


About Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over sixteen years. He lives in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and two-year old daughter and has been in recovery for 17 years. He wrote A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps (Hazelden) and co-authored Helping Men Recover. Do you want to read more of Dan’s writing and learn more about his work? You can go to: www.dangriffin.com.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:


    If he’d told you up front, what would you have done? I mean the younger Leia. What would she have done/thought?

  2. This is the crux to understanding men: what do they fear and what do they do in face of it…My ex was afraid of failure… afraid of not being able to support his family…afraid of not finishing his doctorate….afraid of not being able to control his subordinates at work…afraid of not being able to outwit his superiors at work….but more importantly, he was afraid of not attaining his dream career and breaking out of his dead-end job…he was afraid of me, a mere girl, getting ahead of him on the career ladder and out-earning him in the game of life…he was really afraid of me becoming independent of him and breaking free of his control…of me sky-rocketing ahead and him falling woefully behind….I never understood how huge his ego was and how easily wounded it could get by a mere careless word or gesture from me…he always hid his true fears, his true ambitions, and his true feelings even from me, supposedly the one he loved the most….I only discovered what he secretly desired all those years we were together 2 decades after I left him…..

    Understanding the fears, stated or unstated, of a man is the key to understanding him… I guess I never really understood him at all the 7 years we were together….how sad that he could never just say it…

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    I think you’ve got this mixed up. Some things merit fear. Such as being a bodyguard to a Chicago “businessman”, or a drug dealer. You either keep doing it or you don’t. You do it in spite of your fear.
    I don’t know anybody who denies legitimate fear. But it’s not worth gassing on about if you have to face it, anyway. Other stuff is more important. That’s not “denying”.
    There are people who seem to be more fearful than others, which can be a handicap, since facing fear, courage, is a “wasting asset” in the words of Gavin Lyall. Eventually, you run out.
    There are people who, possibly lacking in imagination, or more inclined toward fatalism, don’t seem to fear what might cause others to become at least apprehensive.
    And, of course, there are the phobias. Some decades ago, it seemed you weren’t right if you didn’t have one or another fashionable phobia. The real ones can be a handicap, even if nobody else fears, say, red-winged blackbirds to the extent of panic attacks.
    Lastly, in addition to dealing with your fear, an internal exercise, becoming capable of dealing with the real-world issue and making it less threatening if it ever shows up is a way to reduce fear and increase real-world competence. In that sense, taking counsel of one’s fears is a good thing.

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