Confronting Your Fear is the Key to Living a Meaningful Life
About 30 years ago, a concerned friend gave me a book that improved my life: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway , by Susan Jeffers, PhD. I had shared with my friend that I was struggling with anxiety and couldn’t shake the grip that fear had taken over in my life. I longed to feel safe in making decisions in both my professional and personal life, but I couldn’t get past the feelings of angst and indecision.
Upon turning to the first page of the book, I read, “You may be surprised and encouraged to learn that while inability to deal with fear may look and feel like a psychological problem, in most cases, it isn’t. I believe it is primarily an educational problem and that by reeducating the mind, you can accept fear as simply a fact of life rather than a barrier to success.”
Not only did I read the entire book in one sitting, I underlined the quotes that jumped off the pages to me and wrote notes in the margins. I felt my fear begin to loosen its grip. The book is filled with exercises and techniques that guide the reader to begin using a more positive vocabulary, visualizing a safer future, taking risks, and expanding your personal comfort zone.
By the end of the book, I understood at a deeper level that fear is a natural human emotion that’s wired within the brain for protection and, in some cases, motivation. Notwithstanding clinical cases of anxiety and panic disorder, which can require medical support that can include therapy and medication, Dr. Jeffers says that many fears are not psychological problems and can be managed with an understanding of how one has programmed his or her way of thinking and feeling.
Finding Meaning in Fear
Seven years later, after re-reading her book several times and feeling my fear and facing it anyway, with successful results, I contacted Dr. Jeffers and asked if I could use her book to facilitate “fear” workshops. Thus, I began my exploration of a meaningful life. The book had become my personal wake-up call to examine what is meaningful to me. Not surprisingly, my workshops were filled with people who were struggling with their own fears and who felt reluctance to take risks and express their lives fully. Most had succumbed to living diminutive lives to control their fears.
Some medicated themselves with alcohol, drugs, or food and were fearful about entering relationships. Of course, the question, “What is the meaning of life,” could have only one answer for these people: It’s too scary to even think about it. But at this point in my own life, I understood that a meaningful life included giving back to others.
During the workshops, using writing, storytelling, visualizing, and specific exercises for expanding their comfort zones, the layers of fear began to peel away, and more confident people began to emerge. Weeks later, as each workshop ended, the transformation was evident to all of the attendees.
Security Comes From Within
Although there is no such thing as a completely fearless life, the goal was to transcend fears into self-understanding and becoming a fully expressed person. After all, you can’t grow if you don’t take risks that expose who you are. Even if you fail, you have grown in other ways. Risks are not what you do, they are who you become.
Security must first come from your inner being. Being sure that you can handle anything that comes your way is a continual learning process. Doing the things that frighten you (not including dangerous activities) and being able to learn your way into a fully significant life where you are a positive influence to others, now that is a meaningful life.
Hilda Villaverde, PhD, holds a doctorate in religious studies with a minor in pastoral counseling from Emerson Institute. She is a business owner and author of five books, as well as an ordained minister and a public speaker. She presented at the inaugural Arizona Chapter HFMA HERe event in December 2013.