When Do You Suffer from FEAR?

I was talking with father recently about my writing workshops. I’m finishing the last touches on the first one and hope to finally make it available for registration any day now. (Famous last words.)

I explained that even though people signed up for the workshops knowing they would do 15-30 minutes a day of homework, some people didn’t do the homework. Dad said that they were lazy.

I thought for a bit and said, “No, I disagree. I don’t think they are lazy. I think they are afraid.”

When we write, we expose our thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Many people are afraid of any or all of the entire process: the writing process, the expression of their words, and how people will react to their writing.

I see the same thing in projects. I’ve seen fear express itself as “analysis paralysis,” or developers who don’t write the code to solve this problem, or testers who don’t automate their tests. I’ve seen it in managers who don’t decide on the project portfolio and ask people to multitask.

We all have fear. Sometimes we have FEAR: Fear Expressed As Reality.

When we have FEAR, we fear the possible outcomes:

  • I won’t be able to start
  • I won’t be able to finish
  • People won’t like what I’ve done. In fact, they will hate it and by extension, hate me.

And more. For some people, if you ask, “What is the eventual outcome?” they might answer, “I won’t have friends. I won’t have colleagues. I won’t have a job. I will die.”

That’s a big reaction to writing an article for a workshop. And yet, people feel that way. Sometimes, I do, too.

Here are questions I use to manage my FEAR:

  1. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Now, can I manage those risks in some way?
  2. What’s the best thing that could happen? What do I need to make that occur?
  3. Does it really matter what other people think? (I have a draft post about Feynmann and his question. Maybe I will learn how to finish it in this lifetime :-)
  4. How can I continue, even if I totally blow it? What adaptability do I need in my plans? What resilience do I need for myself?

I just bought a book about stoicism, which might help me articulate some of these ideas better.

We don’t always succeed the first time we do anything. In fact, I often discover I’m mediocre. We can take that mediocrity, understand how to learn fast, and become better. Or, we might say, “I’m not willing to invest the time to become better. However, I acknowledge that trying this didn’t kill me.”

We all suffer from FEAR, Fear Expressed as Reality, at times. I choose to try the growth mindset, manage my risks, and think about how I can practice to manage my fear. If I see my reality, I can often manage my fear.

That is the question this week: When do you suffer from FEAR?

(P. S. I have links in this post, but my theme is not displaying the links. I know this and am about to hire someone to fix this and several other niggling problems. If you have a recommendation for a WordPress person, please do let me know. Thanks.)

6 thoughts on “When Do You Suffer from FEAR?

  1. Jim Grey

    I currently have fears around my ability to learn the technical details necessary for me to effectively lead my engineering team. It’s a return to engineering after a couple decades and boy has technology moved forward in that time. I am facing it by making myself spend time in the details in 15-minute time boxes. I know I can experience fear for that long and survive it. It is also a surmountable obstacle: if I know I have to sit in that fear for just 15 minutes, I’m likely to do it today.

  2. Marsha Browne

    It’s probably not what you’re after, Johanna, yet I find that I am currently in a state of constant, unrelenting, oppressive fear that I am going to be atomized by global thermonuclear warfare . I’m even having the old, horrible recurring night terror I experienced as a little girl after our “duck and cover” approach to civil defense. I’ve not been so alarmed in more than 40 years.

    I suppose I might frame it thus: I suffer from FEAR when I experience power without intelligence, authority without compassion, judgment without facts, and actions based on lies. For me, those are FEAR-inducing every time.

    1. johanna Post author

      Marsha, I agree with your frame. It’s not where I was going, but that’s fine. I find that I worry about things I can’t control. I try to stop worrying, but I need to find something to do instead. “Stopping” something doesn’t help me. Discovering an alternative path—that’s what helps me.

  3. Jack Vinson

    You have described what the Theory of Constraints community calls a “negative branch reservation” – so clinical. Concern/Fear of a negative outcome from taking an action. (And of course the paralysis that comes about as a result.)

    In examples like this, there is a big jump from the action (start coding) to the feared outcome (I’ll lose my job). So your suggestions (and those in the TOC community) help clarify the thinking. Could the bad thing _really_ happen, not just hypothetically? What sequence of events / logic would have to be in play for the bad thing to happen? (And check if it really makes sense – has anyone else been fired for writing crappy code?) And then the great thing about stepping back: what can be done to eliminate the possibility of the negative outcome? In the TOC world, this is “trimming the negative branch.”

    But then what you describe sounds a little more like human language.

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