Why Fear Is Your Friend

Fear drives us toward the best opportunities, Dave Kaiser writes, so we need to embrace it.

Lots of people give you advice on getting past fear, suggesting that if you can break free of the shackles of fear, you will be unstoppable.

OK, all well and good. It is important to master fear in order to feel free and to get things done. BUT, I want to tell you that a world without fear would be simultaneously more dangerous, less rewarding, and just plain flat.

So, given that we have spent so much time wishing that fear would just GO AWAY so we could get on with things, why would we actually want to cultivate fear as a friend? Three reasons, actually.

The first is, fear is an excellent guide to opportunity. Think about it. Do you get more flustered and tongue-tied when you meet the girl (or guy) of your dreams, or someone who is just not that attractive? Which is scarier, making a presentation to the CEO of your company or to a bunch of your peers?

Which feels worse, the thought of failing at your dream job or failing at some temp job? (Hint: that’s why some people NEVER chase their dreams. Sad, no?) What’s the common thread here? Fear is showing you what is important, what matters to you. If you didn’t have fear to guide you, you might not know that! Not so bad, right?

Next, fear motivates us to action. The way I see it, those of our ancestors who didn’t run away in fear when they saw a tiger running toward them simply didn’t survive to reproduce. Fear is a call to action.

Now, most of us don’t face serious physical threats like hungry tigers every day, but we do face crazy bosses, angry clients, and public speaking. In these cases, our fear is still motivating us to DO something to enhance our chance of survival. The trick is being able to transcend our primitive Lizard Brain and do something useful. Running away or throwing a spear may work on tigers—not so much on bosses.

So, what can you do? Practice your presentation so you know it cold. Build your network so you hear what’s going on in the office and avoid trouble. Prepare for a meeting with a cranky client, maybe even set a backup plan with your colleagues. Let fear provide the energy and motivation to do what needs to be done to ensure your (metaphorical) survival.

Lastly, fear lets you know you are alive. Why do we like roller coasters? They scare us (in a mostly safe way). Same for suspense movies.

What exactly is a “thrill?” It’s doing something scary and surviving. Without “scary,” you don’t get “thrill,” it’s a package deal. Imagine life without thrills. Pretty dull, eh? Is it worth losing thrills in order to avoid facing fear? I’m thinking “No.”

So, bottom line, fear can guide you towards what’s important for youmotivate you to take action to improve your odds, and you give you a rush from staring into the Dragon’s maw and living to tell the tale. Don’t we all need that kind of friend?

Originally appeared at Lifehack.org.

—Photo quapan/Flickr

About Dave Kaiser

David Kaiser, PhD, ACC is an Executive Coach and Relationship Coach. His areas of expertise include Time Management and Productivity, Managing Conflict, Leadership, Innovation and Creativity, Living a Passionate and Spiritual Life, and Personal Branding and Marketing. His clients are typically either executives at small consulting firms, or female executives who are tired of being "men" at work and want to recast their career to better match their lives. You can learn more about him at www.DarkMatterConsulting.com or follow him at @DarkMatterCon,  FaceBook.com/DarkMatterConsulting or GooglePlus.


  1. Wirblewind says:

    Fear is a useful tool for survival, but it can undermine your entire progress sometimes, especially so if it rules you.For example: when you try to talk with a girl from your dreams you suddenly stutter like hell, when you speak with your boss- you can’t remember anything useful and too boot you panic and it shows.
    Fear is useful, I admit, but usually in fight or flight situations (like, running away from a group of guys with a matchette).
    I know it’s easier said than done but try to overcome your fear when it comes to more… normal, social situations.

    • Maybe there’s a way to categorize different types of fear by situation–physical versus social, for example.

      Fear of a charging rhino: physical, survival-oriented, and entirely reasonable and healthy. This is a good one; keep it!

      Fear of expressing your opinion in a group setting: social, acceptance-oriented, and possibly deserving of questioning and re-examination.

    • I liked this article. I would like to have seen more on the other half of that equation, which I think equates to courage. Without courage to confront that fear, or the courage to stick to values despite fear, then fear ends up driving onward with a slaver’s whip, rather than dare us to rise to the challenge. Fear, and its sibling, anger, are great motivators to action, or to blame others for out choice of inaction. Making the choice based on values may be the only dividing line.


  1. […] Why Fear Is Your Friend — The Good Men Project Lots of people give you advice on getting past fear, suggesting that if you can break free of the shackles of fear, you will be unstoppable. OK, all well and good. It is important to master fear in order to feel free and to get things . […]

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