Throughout our lives, we encounter situations and opportunities that have potential to open new doors for our future. Sometimes, it’s very clear that God is opening a door; other times, we simply have a sense in our heart. There’s often an accompanying feeling of excitement and positive anticipation that calls us to advance into unfamiliar territory.
After preparing and evaluating a plan, we can find ourselves on the verge of making a decision and taking action. Everything is set, we’re ready to start. But then what happens? Why do we sometimes delay making the decision or avoid taking the needed first steps?
Often, the culprit is fear, and it can be paralyzing. In my own life, fear shows up in many ways. I’ve recognized there are times when I’m afraid of failing or of making a mistake or of what something might cost in terms of hard work and sacrifice.
Those are not the only kinds of fears that hold us back. Sometimes taking the next step involves asking for advice, financial help, or permission. In such instances, the fear of rejection comes to the fore. Even if we don’t take the time to analyze and identify our emotions and put these fears into words, they’re there and they hold us back. So what do we do about that?
God’s Word says: “There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love.”1
Having faith in God’s goodness and believing that He wants to bless us puts us on the path to overcoming fear. But this victory over fear can’t just be in our thoughts; it’s not just a philosophical or spiritual matter. God often expects us to face our fears and take action and move in the right direction. We have to come to grips with our fears and overcome them so that we can be free to pursue our lives and have the full experience that God intends for us.
Let’s say you’ve written a book and are looking for a publisher. In the meantime, you’ve decided to personally market your book by going to local bookstores and libraries. So you take your printed copies, and off you go to pitch your idea to store managers and those who have the authority to help you. But it’s not as easy as you thought it would be to ask them to promote your book. In fact, it’s so hard you don’t get a single order, and you toy with the idea of quitting. You procrastinate. You go to the bookstores, but then walk out again, telling yourself, It’s not the right time; they’re too busy today. Eventually you pull the books out of the trunk of your car, thinking that maybe after the school year (or holiday or summer or whatever) will be better timing.
This same scenario of procrastination that leads to inactivity can show up in any number of situations or circumstances. Other examples might include asking for a raise at work, seeking a scholarship for college, asking someone out on a date, wanting to take a relationship to the next level, looking for more responsibility in your job, etc.
If we have a dream, waiting will not help us achieve it. Telling ourselves that tomorrow is better for X reason is usually just an excuse. We’re afraid, and instead of admitting it and taking the chance of a step toward that dream, we talk ourselves out of it and then justify our lack of action.
We have to take the first step. Often, the longer we wait, the more nervous we get. We get used to things the way they are, and change becomes harder and scarier and more uncomfortable.
Growth and development require some discomfort. As my skiing instructor said, “If you want to get good at skiing, you’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
An important aspect of getting out of your comfort zone has to do with starting before you feel ready. If you wait until you feel like you’re “ready”… well, we know what that leads to—procrastination, distraction, perfectionism, and sadly, often total inaction. Realistically, you may never feel like you’re ready. But if you can muster up the courage to just start, even if you don’t feel ready, you’ll be miles ahead.
The sooner we take the plunge and endure those terribly uncomfortable first steps, the sooner we’ll get past that scary stage and start to have a lot more success. It’s a predictable cycle: decide what you want to do, be confident of God’s blessing in the matter, make a plan, commit to it, begin, do it again and again, and with time you’ll get better and better!
When you are faced with doing something that’s difficult for you, ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? When you answer that question and then determine that you’d be able to handle that worst-case scenario, it will relieve the tension and help you to face your fears.
Also, if you’re embarking on a new project or challenge that makes you feel uneasy and scared, it helps if you give yourself permission to be awkward and to stumble and to not be perfect. Realize and accept that you’re not going to be good in the beginning. In fact, you might fail at first, and that’s okay.
There’s nothing wrong with being awkward while you’re getting the hang of something new, so go ahead with whatever the challenge is and just say to yourself, It’s perfectly fine that I’m not very good at this yet. I’ll get better. I’m going through the steps to greatness.
When you lower your expectations for immediate success, it makes it easier to actually take the first step toward a new challenge. With this attitude, the “firsts” that we’re afraid of can become gateways to amazing progress.
Here’s a story that we might all relate to, as told by Rory Vaden:
I once heard a true story of a woman who was trapped in a burning building on the 80th floor. She was terrified of heights and enclosed spaces, and when the fire alarm went off, she refused to follow her colleagues into the stairwell to evacuate to safety.
The firemen did a sweep of the building and found her hiding under her desk, waiting to die. She was screaming “I’m scared, I’m scared!” as the firemen insisted she walk down the stairwell until one fireman said, “That’s OK, just do it scared.” He repeated it all the way down the 80 flights of stairs, until he brought her to safety.
We’ve all faced these moments in our careers—when you know what has to be done, but your fear holds you back. In order to stand out, you must develop the habit of acting in the face of fear. It’s fine to be scared—do it scared. It’s fine to be unsure—do it unsure. It’s fine to be uncomfortable—do it uncomfortable. Just do something.2
I’d say taking that first daunting step is the hardest part. The next biggest test comes in persisting. When you’re not good at something, you encounter a lot of seeming “failure.” But if you keep doing it over and over, and learning from the reactions you get, pretty soon you’ll be good and then great.
A new challenge can be very awkward, even scary at first. But if we deliberately put ourselves out there and do the very thing that we’re afraid of, it becomes easier and we get better at it. Eventually we will no longer be afraid. That is conquering our fears!
- 1 John 4:18 ISV
- “To Reach the Top, Do What Others Won’t,” CNN, March 12, 2012