The title of this article is attributed to Publilius Syrus (circa 85 – 43 B.C.), who was brought to Rome as a Syrian slave but later given his freedom. He then became, it is said, a playwright and moral teacher. Whether he is the author or not, the saying contains valuable insights. Mainly, for each courageous act we perform, we grow more courageous, and every time we retreat from danger, we grow more fearful.
It is important to occasionally reflect on the principles of life. If we remember that the way we respond to fearful situations determines whether we become timid individuals or models of strength, we would choose our actions more carefully. Whenever we are struck by fear, we are standing at a fork in the road. One branch of the road leads to cowardice, the other to courage. One fork leads to our desires and dreams, the other to disappointment and despair.
Fear is a beacon, pointing the way to a new opportunity. It is an invitation to stretch ourselves and experience more of our potential. If we’re not watchful and succumb to fear, it will inhibit our growth. Growth is synonymous with change. How can we make progress by standing still? Yet, many of us resist change, preferring to remain in our comfort zone. For those who choose to do so, Stan Dale has this to say, “Comfort zones are plush lined coffins. When you stay in your plush lined coffins, you die.”
Imagine a developing butterfly refusing to leave its chrysalis (cocoon). Unless it’s willing to spend a great deal of energy to break free, it will not reach its potential and become a butterfly. But for those that make the effort, the rewards are great. The exhilaration of flight! The joy of becoming fluttering flowers, shimmering with color! What about us? Are we willing to break through our chrysalis (comfort zone)? If we want to soar badly enough, we will make the effort.
Fear is not to be shunned, but embraced, for it offers benefits. It protects us from harm by alerting us of danger. It is because of fear that we don’t race across a street with heavy traffic. It helps to focus our attention, so if we have to cross a busy street, we will be alert and cross with caution. Whenever we conquer our fear, we are exhilarated. That is fear’s gift to us. That’s why there are people who love skydiving or bungee jumping. Fear can also be a powerful motivator. For example, if a lazy employee is told to start performing or risk getting fired, he or she may make a dramatic turnaround and become a valuable member of the team. When The Bible instructs us to fear God, I believe it means to fear the LOSS of God. When we contemplate the loss of a great good, such as God, our job, or happiness, we will experience fear. When we use that fear as motivation for making the right choices, we will benefit. For as Rabbi Noah Weinberg writes, “To be afraid of what friends think of you is demeaning. But to be afraid of not acting up to standards that you hold for yourself is ennobling.”
As we have seen, fear should be understood as a positive force. Any negativity associated with it has no basis in reality; it is merely a mirage, a product of our mind. Harmful fear, then, can be called False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.). True, we may have to experience some discomfort to reach our goal, but we mustn’t let that stop us. After all, he who fears to suffer, suffers from fear, and advances not. The fear of death casts a dark cloud on the ambitions of some. Why make an effort when life is so short, they argue. However, instead of being afraid my life will end, shouldn’t I be afraid it will not begin? For unless I take action and pursue my goals, surely it will not begin.
How about you? Do you allow fear to hold you back? If you act in spite of your fear, congratulations, for you are developing your potential. But if you experience no fear whatever, beware. The absence of fear simply means you are remaining in your comfort zone. Some of us are so skillful at hiding our fear that we fool ourselves. For example, I may be unhappy with my job and claim I won’t change it because I’m “cautious” or “don’t want to.” That sounds much better than “I’m too scared to change.” And if I repeat the lie often enough, I may come to believe it.
One of the strongest fears is fear of the unknown. So, if you’re afraid of acting, gather as many facts as possible. Analyze the pros and cons. Consider the worst that may happen and what is most likely to happen. By considering every factor that comes to mind, you’ll be able to make an intelligent decision. Knowledge will weaken the grip of fear of the unknown. That’s why Emerson wrote, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” Similarly, Marie Curie said, “Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
More important than knowledge is awareness. That is, it is not enough just to know. We must keep the facts in our awareness so they will guide our behavior. As long as I am aware that my goals are more important than the fear I feel, I will have the strength to act. Just in case you have any doubt about the meaning of the title of this article, here’s Dale Carnegie to explain it in his own words, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”