I once got a really nice email message from a program officer at a major foundation. She asked if we could schedule a phone meeting to discuss the consulting services offered by The Fruition Coalition. I was happy about the opportunity and honored to have been considered in this way. Then the fear set in. In the week between scheduling the meeting and the scheduled meeting time, I felt overwhelmed with dread, fear, and anxiety whenever I thought about it. I was very aware of these complex feelings and mystified by the paradox. I should be ecstatic, excited, and hopeful. Why was I feeling so bad when I should be feeling so good?
I examined the possible underlying sources of my fear. Perhaps I was afraid of failure; the phone call might not go well and the foundation might choose not to work with me. I could have also been afraid of success; having a productive phone conversation may have led to more work which would have been difficult to fit into my already hectic schedule. Maybe it was the tone set by the program officer; did I really still have apprehension of, and contempt for, people in positions of authority even though I had long before become one of them? One final thought crossed my mind: I may have misinterpreted my physiological and psychic signals based on a greater familiarity and comfort level with failure than success. Filled with eager anticipation and exhilaration, my switch flipped to afraid and retreating as a conditioned response.
I am still not positive about the true source of my fear. But by facing my fear and taking the time to seek greater understanding, I gained insight into my human complexities and felt more capable of effectively managing and transforming fear in the future.
It is quite natural to feel fear in a variety of situations. The more frequently we experience and process fear, the better able we will be to transcend this negative reaction and solidify our confidence and ability to remain in control. Fears have the tendency to drive negative behaviors, but by facing them we can position ourselves to make more meaningful and insightful decisions.
Fear is nothing to be afraid of. Embrace and love your fears. Recognize that it is natural. Invite them in and get to know them. Show your fearful side lovingkindness and compassion. Seek understanding of the root causes of your fear and clean up the residue from those turbulent times.
By living in the present moment, we can minimize the manifestation of fearful thoughts and feelings. Fear and anxiety tend to originate from memories of past experiences and anticipation of what the future will bring. Right now, at this very moment, you are a whole and complete human being with everything you need to survive and thrive.
For those of you who have a habit of worrying (like me), staying present can be a challenge. Meditation, prayer, or quiet reflection time can be helpful. You can also try to direct that recurrent stream of ridiculous ideas into a more productive train of thought. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” and, “What else can go wrong?”. Consider each response individually. Ask, “If this happens, so what?” Think about the consequence of this fear becoming a reality. Keep asking yourself, “so what?” until the impact seems insignificant, or at least manageable.
Let’s apply this exercise to my example of the phone meeting with a foundation program officer:
What is the worst that can happen? The program officer won’t like me. She’ll think I’m not as accomplished as other consultants she works with. She won’t recommend my work to grantees.
So what? This contact will not result in new work opportunities.
So what? I will have to keep searching for new organizations to work with.
So what? This is what I should be doing anyway. I’ll be OK.