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Understanding Fear and When You Should Act by Jennifer Faherty

When I was about 9, I decided I wanted to jump from the highest diving platform at the town pool, which was about 33 ft. I saw all the older kids doing it and didn’t think it would be a big deal.

But when I got to the top, I realized it was a big deal. 33 ft. is high! I felt myself freeze in a panic as I looked down at the water below. I was so scared that I stopped breathing and felt tears well up in fear. All I wanted to do was turn around and climb back down.

But I saw a line of people at the bottom all watching me and waiting. The only thing I could do was jump. So I did.

Now, you might think this story is about how courageous I felt afterwards and about how we all need to face our fear and do it anyway! But what actually happened when I reached the side of the pool was that I started sobbing uncontrollably.

I didn’t feel brave or proud. In fact, I felt awful, like I bullied myself into doing something I wasn’t ready for.

To be clear, I’m all for pushing yourself and overcoming your fears. But not all of them, and not all of the time.

Generally, fear is triggered when our brains perceive a threat to our survival. In certain situations, having some fear is a good thing because it protects us. We know to avoid dark streets at night, crowded places during flu season, an investment portfolio that’s too risky. In other situations, however, fear can hinder growth, simply arising to protect our egos or keep us from leaving our comfort zones. In these cases, we may want to push ourselves -- to give that presentation, to apply for that job, to ask for that raise.

Yet it’s important to also bear in mind your own ‘readiness’ when confronting your fears. It’s true that fear never truly goes away, and that sometimes we need to act in spite of it. But there are also times when you just may not be ready, and pushing yourself too hard makes you feel worse.

As much as I wanted to be brave and do what all the other kids were doing, my 9-year-old self was not quite ready for the high dive. 16 feet maybe, but definitely not 33 feet! The braver thing to do would have been to recognize that and climb back down the ladder.

Here are a couple of thoughts on how to tell the difference:

Check in with your body: This can be tricky because even with fears that would be good for you to overcome, you may experience physical sensations of shortness of breath, sweaty palms or a tightness in your stomach. But if there’s also a feeling of excitement and exhilaration, it’s likely a fear you’re ready for. If the sensation is more of panic and “deer in the headlights,” you may want to check in to make sure the timing is right.

Check in with your intention: Ask yourself why you are doing it? Is it in line with your greater purpose, your values, your beliefs, or is it driven by ego or proving something to someone else?

Check in with how you are talking to yourself: At the edge of your own diving board, are you cheering yourself on, as an encouraging friend would to another friend, or do you sense a more self-critical, pushy, bullying type of voice? Chances are if it’s the former, it’s a fear you should try to overcome. If it’s the latter, that still may be the case but you may just want to pause to make sure.

Your turn. Think of your own fears when it comes to your career, your money or your personal life. Are some of your fears telling you that you should step back and re-evaluate? Or is it the right time to act in spite of them?

~Jennifer Faherty is a Certified Life Coach, specializing in helping women find their passion and develop a healthy relationship with money. She can be found at or on Twitter @jenniferfaherty. Jennifer is offering 5 free coaching sessions on Monday, November 3. To secure your spot, click here.

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