Sep 09

Fear: Friend or Foe?

fearFear can be both motivating and demotivating. Over the last 30 years of my life I’ve been both motivated and held back by my fears. I’ve faced challenges head on and “won”, and waited too long to face my fears and felt disappointed. Overall, I’m really pleased with where I am in my life right now, but the overachiever in me is always looking for more challenges and opportunities.

For me, thinking about past “failures” shortcomings can be helpful in conceptualizing why I wasn’t successful the first time. It also gives me clues about what I need to change to make the second time around to be more successful. Additionally, I find that reminding myself of past successes gives me the positive reinforcement I need to know that future success is possible.

Everyone has fears. Last week on the Real Housewives of NJ we learned that Joe Giudice fears going to the federal pen. While that’s clearly a legitimate fear for him, some of us  more “normal” fears. Fear or rejection, fear of snakes, and fear of heights all come to mind. Because I think it’s therapeutic to talk through some of your fears, here are mine:

Past Fears

  • Fear of not being “successful.” When I was 18 being “successful” meant accumulating “things”, having a nice home, driving fancy cars etc. The fear of not being successful motivated me to focus on my education. We all know that a good GPA translates to big salary right ;-). Oh how young and foolish I was. Now that I’m a little older and wiser, I’m measuring success with a much different ruler. “Material things are just things” and I’m now focused on learning, trying new things and enjoying new experiences. In fact, I’m making a list of the things that I want to achieve in my lifetime (think bucket list) that I’ll be sharing soon.
  • Fear of living in Maine for the rest of my life. What’s wrong with living in Maine? Nothing. But when I was 18, I desperately wanted to get away from home and explore the world. To ensure that I didn’t get “stuck” in Maine I only applied to colleges at least 2 states away from Maine (seriously!). I associated staying in Maine with being poor and unsuccessful, so I ran from that fear. It’s interesting how I grouped the first two bulleted fears together, isn’t it?
  • Fear of telling people I’m paying off my debt. Once I finished school I was nervous to tell people about my debt. Even though having student loan debt is considered “normal” and is therefore more “understandable” than other types of consumer debt, I still didn’t want anyone to know exactly how much debt I had. To avoid talking about the debt, I paid it off as fast as humanly possible.

Current Fears

  • Fear of telling people I’m trying to get back in shape. I’ve talked a little bit about this on the blog, but haven’t really shared this goal with people in “real life”. I find it frustrating when I tell people I’m trying to get back into shape and they respond, “don’t worry you’re not overweight”. It’s not really about size to me as much as being healthy. The other “fear factor?” Accountability. Once I tell people, they’ll start asking about it and that’s added pressure (for better and for worst). The fear of having a mouthful of cookies when someone asks me, “how’s weight watchers going?” is pretty motivating.
  • Fear of not following my passions. Sometimes my job isn’t my passion. I like my job most of the time, but my job isn’t my “love” and lately I’ve been thinking about how I can better follow my passion and still make a decent living (If I quit my job I’ll obviously need to find a way to replace my income). I don’t want to wake up when I’m 40 doing the same thing and feeling the same way. But stepping outside of my comfort zone and into the unknown is really scary, see below.
  • Fear of not being understood. I know when I start following my passion people will probably think I’m, “nuts.” Being from a working class background, leaving a stable and steady career to follow my “passion” could probably get me committed to the “loony bin.” I anticipate my decision to follow my passions won’t be completely understood by my family, which I anticipate will be pretty stressful. Obviously this is something I’m going to have to work on, because I don’t want fear to hold me back when the time is right.

What are your fears? Are they holding your back or moving you forward? How do you conquer fear?

Image: epSos.de


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  1. Thomas | Your Daily Finance

    I think fears can be good if handled properly! I had the fear of staying in SC after high school and being a loser. I cant say that the fear was a bad thing. When I look back at a lot of my friends they stayed and many have seem to fallen by the waste side. Who’s to say I would have turned out the same way but I will never know because the fear drove me to do something. I think we have to look at what we want to accomplish and figure out what the fear is coming from. I set goals and usually just have a plan like leaving your job. Nothing wrong with having a little doubt or fear but you have to decide is it worth not doing it because you fear the end result.

    1. KK

      Sounds like the fear of getting “stuck” in our home states motivated both of us in a good way (no losers here ;-))

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty

    “Fear of telling people I’m trying to get back in shape.”

    I have this fear too! I’m not overweight. I’m probably at my ideal weight. However, I’m not in great shape…and I want to be!

    1. Free Money Minute

      I never thought of having this fear. I need to lose a little bit of weight and get back into the shape I once was in. It is more about motivation and energy than fear for me.

      1. KK

        Some days I’m definitely lacking in motivation and energy, but if I told people I’d have to push thorough those (which is a good thing).

    2. KK

      Let me know if you need a cheerleader Holly, I’m totally in a similar boat. I think some people think just because you look good you’re in good shape. I’m definitely not and it’s something I’m going to work a lot harder on.

  3. Nick @ ayoungpro.com

    Now that I have landed my first professional job, I have a fear that I am locked into one type of job for my whole life. :(

    1. KK

      I felt like that when I got my first “real” job too. Don’t worry, you won’t be (unless you want to be, but I think that’s pretty unusual these days).

  4. Debt and the Girl

    Fears are something that have always dominated me in one form or another. I am currently going to therapy in order to calm them. I am def. afraid of the unknown and strange circumstances. Still trying to get through it.

    1. KK

      Talking to someone about the fears is pretty effective (for me at least). I have some good friends that I like to use as a “sounding board”. Most of my fears are irrational, but that doesn’t make them any easier to get through. Hang in there!

  5. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply

    Very thought provoking post. I can understand the fear of not following your passion and fear of not being understood. I have a very stable government job and a pension (golden handcuffs)…but like you, I don’t want to wake up at 40 thinking that I’ve been stuck in a rut doing the same thing everyday that I’m not passionate about. But then there’s the fear of the unknown and failure if I left my job.

    1. KK

      I’m totally in the same boat re: failure if I leave my job. I have a good job now (that I’m thankful to have) and I make just enough money that I’d be concerned if I left I wouldn’t be able to easily match it (in my field at least). But I’m not sure I want to stay in the non-profit world forever and thinking about leaving is pretty scary.

  6. anna

    I swear I’m not trying to martyr myself or anything, but I have a fear of not being there “enough” for my loved ones. I try to spend as much time or call the people that mean a lot to me, but at times I find myself not doing so for months at a time and I feel awful. It makes me commit to making a constant effort, at least, or at least as much as I can. I’m curious to know what your passions are, and whether you’ll divulge it down the line. Best wishes in figuring that crossroads out!

    1. KK

      I’m right there with you. I always want my family to have everything they need (esp. as I’ve gotten older and have the ability to provide for them a little bit). I’ll probably be revealing my passions and goals in the near future, stay tuned.

  7. DC @ Young Adult Money

    Now that you mention it, I think fear is a bad thing. Fear can really hold you back from pursuing things or taking on new challenges. Some things I fear are not being a success – whether it’s at my job, being an entrepreneur, as a husband, etc. and I suppose right along those lines are fear of failure. I also sometimes fear people judging me which just ends up making me use my introversion as an excuse not to do certain things like speak up at work or in groups of superiors (work example, but it can be applied to other situations).

    1. KK

      I think fear of being judged is something everyone can identify with, I know I can. It’s scary to “put yourself out there” and risk looking silly or being misunderstood. It’s something I have to be careful doesn’t hold me back. I’m definitely more of an introvert than most people would think.

  8. Budget and the Beach

    The fear of having a mouthful of cookies when someone asks me, “how’s weight watchers going?” is pretty motivating. ha ha! Ain’t that the truth! I fear being single my who life. I’m already 42 and single and wonder sometimes what is wrong with me. I fear that I’m not pretty and that I will only get not prettier as I age, and that men will only look at young pretty things. It’s hard when “life experience” has supported this fear/theory. :( BTW I had a fear that I’d end up living in a trailer park in Michigan…whew! Dodged that one!

    1. KK

      I have a bunch of friends my age and older who are still single and feel the same way “am I ever going to find a partner etc.” I swear it has something to do with being in a big city. It just feels so much harder to make meaningful connections with people in big cities. I think it’s interesting that several of us have feared being stuck in our home states living in trailer parks. I guess that’s a more common fear than I would have guessed. Glad we made it “out”.

  9. Micro

    I remember a statement I heard a while back. Money is much better spent accumulating memories than accumulating things. I think that is a very true statement. Memories can be much more fulfilling than shiny things.

    1. KK

      Totally! One of my goals for this year was to spend more on experiences and memories built with my family.

  10. Brian @ Luke1428

    Following my passions is a big one for me. There is great fear in giving up on something that is providing a steady, consistent income. People tend to settle for this and then regret later in life not following their heart’s desire. A great book that touches on the topic of fear is Jon Acuff’s new book “Start”. I’d recommend it to anyone dealing with this issue.

    1. KK

      Thanks Brian, I’ve heard Dave Ramsey talking a lot about start and have been meaning to pick up a copy. I’ll have to see if bf can reserve it at the library for me. Dorky, but I really enjoy reading self-help and inspirational type books.

      I definitely don’t want to settle and regret my decision later.

  11. Financial Debauchery

    My big fear is looking back and saying “what have I really accomplished here?” “What have I learned?” And then having nothing to show for it. I’m expecting to win something at the end of this race. I don’t want a silent victory or to find out I had been chasing after the wrong prize all along.

    1. KK

      I’ll add that one to my list too. Chasing the wrong prize is pretty scary. I hope I’m headed in the right direction.

  12. E.M.

    I can relate to your fears. I want to work out for my health, too, but people always have to say, “Not like you need it.” It’s not about weight sometimes! I just want to have some muscle. I also fear never finding a job that I truly enjoy. I am finding myself growing more dispassionate about my job every week, and it sucks. I definitely don’t want to wake up even at 30 wondering about what other opportunities were out there. However, being without a job and not knowing where I’m going is scary, so for now I have plans in the works, and I’ve resigned myself to toughing it out for another six months. My other fear is just not being able to earn enough. I feel like I’m always going to be stuck at an entry level salary if I don’t try to pursue other things.

    1. KK

      I stayed at a job I didn’t love for a really long time (about 3 years). I had professional reasons for doing so, but it definitely wasn’t easy (hopefully that was the right decision in the long term-we’ll see). Hang in there, you won’t be stuck at entry level forever!

  13. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    KK, my list would closely resemble your list. Especially about the getting in shape and then eating a cookie part! We’re learning, slowly albeit, to not care what others think, though. We’ve already had to deal with the many people who think we’re “nuts” for: homeschooling, moving to the country, paying off our debt, revealing our debt, etc., and it does get easier the more you get through it. :-) And I have to say that casting aside those fears and doing what’s best for us, regardless of what others think, truly has been freeing. We’re working to no longer live our lives based on what the others think, and we are scores happier because of it. Wonderful stuff here!

    1. KK

      I bet for as many people as there are who think you’re “nuts” there are plenty of us (myself included) who think you’re making all the right moves for the right reasons! Ignore the the naysayers (it’s easy for me to give good advice, I just need to take some of my own advice sometimes ;-))

      1. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

        Thanks, KK. :-)

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