In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt gave his first Inaugural address to a nation overwhelmed by the depth of the Great Depression. One line has stood the test of time and I think most can recite it. “… let me assert that the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” 

Is this just a catchy phrase? Or is it true wisdom to take to heart?

I have not spent much time reading or thinking about fear. While I can remember clearly specific moments in my life when I was afraid, I’ve never stopped to think how it might have influenced me daily, let alone the significant role in shaping who I have become. 

In his popular book Think Like a Monk Jay Shetty addresses our need to confront what we fear. As I mentioned in my previous post, I thought the writing in the book was decent, with exploration of a number of topics that I believe critical for success with self-improvement – finding your identity, quieting the voice in your mind, meditation, ego to name a few. There were some insights that could be a game changer.

In his early twenties, Jay Shetty left the corporate world in England to become a monk in India. Early in his time at the ashram, he went through an exercise that helped him to identify his greatest fears – something each of us have. He’s not talking about my wife’s fear of spiders, or my fear of the ocean. He asks you to focus on what’s keeping you from living the life you desire to live. His call for everyone to go through this exercise nagged at me. 

Think deeply on what you fear in life and why (Jay Shetty recognized that he had always been afraid of letting his parents down). It took me a few days and some time for reflection. Though I’m hesitant to admit it here, I’ve been afraid of two things throughout my life – failure and rejection. Though I’m guessing I’m not the only one with that combination. I’ll spare you too many details but I can look back and see how those two fears have driven so many of my actions in life.

Fear’s power over us comes from attachment – feeling a need to own and control the situation (possessions, accomplishments, status, ideas, etc.). In reality most of these things are beyond our control, yet we desire to maintain the status quo, or strive for a future goal as if these things will define us or give us value in the eyes of others. For me the fear of rejection is rooted in gaining value through the opinions of others. And I see in my life which relationships I struggled with and how that fear contributed. 

For years I struggled to create meaningful and lasting friendships. I was insecure in my dating life (don’t tell my wife…). I haven’t always been the best husband and father. All this because I was waiting for others to love and respect me. What I was missing was love and respect for myself, from myself. It took me a long time to figure out that I have value just because I’m alive.

Often our weaknesses help us to identify our fears and we can use that to gain insight into how we might change. Identifying your fear is the first step on the path to becoming who you know you can become. What it is you want most? If you’d like to have a better relationship with your spouse, is it fear of vulnerability that keeps you from progress? If you’d like to be more successful at work, how has fear of failure affected your approach? If you’d like to be a better parent, does your relationship with your parents keep you from connecting with your kids?

Clinging to temporary things such as status, influence, possessions, and opinions gives them power over us. According to Mr. Shetty, the key is to detach yourself from whatever outcome or object we might lose – and allow ourselves to strive for it without attaching any value or self-worth to it. For years I have wanted to start this blog, but the fear of failure has kept me from making the jump. What if I don’t have anything interesting to say? What if my wife is the only one reading this (she could be)? That would be just fine, because success for me is now independent of what anyone else thinks. And that feels pretty good!

I think FDR was onto something when he made his declaration about fear. So, I would recommend the following two questions –

What are you afraid of? Take some time to think deeply on this.

Is the fear of change worse than the fear of staying the same? When the answer to that is “no,” you’re ready to live the kind of life that fear prevents.