The Benefit of Fear – It’s Not Always Bad

Many self help programs emphasize the power of “positive feelings”. I don’t disavow this. Positive thinking has made a big difference in my life. But, far too often so-called negative feelings are given a bad rap.

First, let’s talk about how fear can obviously be a bad thing. Everybody has a lot to worry about, and fear plays a big role in our lives every-day. For many people, fear runs amok and begins to control all of our actions, consuming productivity with needless worry and analysis.

One example is a fear of change that creates inaction. This a bad one. I know a lot of baby-boomer,s including my poor parents, who seem to have been dealing with this one their entire lives. I also see it happening among people my own age who are extremely frustrated by their lives but paralyzed to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, existential fears cause BIG damage. Namely, the fear of death, mortality, the non-permanence of our lives. Carl Jung theorized that the fear of death is likely the culprit behind every major psychological illness. I tend to agree. Most of us push this particular topic aside, except for the religious people. I am not religious by any means, but I cannot deny the peace of mind that religious Buddhists in northeastern Thailand experience. Having traveled extensively in these regions, there is a big contrast to the West.

These fears MUST be tamed, especially the existential ones. I am also not convinced that traditional advice about death anxiety is very effective (“live your life now!” “focus on the moment!” etc). I am now convinced existential topics require a strong, core belief system or philosophy, but I’ll get into this another time.

So, these are all ways that fear can control our lives in a negative way. But, did you know that fear is also a positive force? In fact, in my experience, fear may just be the strongest source of creation, and recognizing it–even befriending it, could be a big advantage in your professional life.

The Benefit of Fear

The power of fear can actually be bent toward your own goals.

As one example, sometimes fear is created as a result of bad work experiences. I remember when I finished my college credit at a summer internship with a local public broadcasting affiliate. I spent 10 hours a day being worked to the bone doing mindless editing tasks. As soul-crushing as this was, I was far more terrified of my supervisors. Not because they treated me badly (they were great mentors), but because of how stressed out they were.

I left that internship scared out of my wits. I did NOT want a career where I had several levels of upper-management breathing down my neck every-day, yelling at me, and treating me like dirt (as I witnessed happening to all of the middle-management staff at this particular TV station). None of my bosses, who were former idealistic film-school graduates, were happy, at all. They were one pledge break away from dropping toasters in their bathtubs.

This prompted me to make my own business. I started doing videography work. At one point, I was making a healthy $24,000 year salary creating corporate training videos, with no supervisors. Unfortunately, after a year, business radically dried up, and I was forced to adapt to other independent contracting jobs to sustain myself.

It was, however, raw fear that perpetuated this and helped push me in a direction I wanted to go. Now, in recent days, new fears have taken hold of my life, in particular the realization that the clock is ticking, and I am NOT living my life to the ultimate potential that I want.

This is a similar feeling as when I finished college, a sort of second-go at a quarterlife crisis, I suppose. But, I notice the fear is guiding my actions in specific ways. As of the last 5-6 months, I’ve noticed some unmistakable trends in my life:

I’ve stopped playing video-games. I used to indulge nightly in an MMO or some Planetside 2 / Skyrim. Now, I’m replacing virtually all of this time with productivity. I feel like I have no fucking time left to waste.

I’m exercising more. Age 30 is just around the corner, and I feel compelled to maximize my fitness levels. I’m naturally very skinny because of my fast metabolism, and I want to counter this by adding bulk to my physique and enjoy looking good before I am old and wrinkly. (I know this is irrational, but don’t we all get these irrational fears sometimes?)

I’m doing work without pay. This site, Developed Man, is one example. It’s risky, but I’m scared as fuck that I’m not going to be committed to my passions as I get older. Writing and self-development is almost all I care about, so if I can’t do work in this field, then I’ll be jeopardizing my long-term happiness. I realize if I had started this blog / website 4 years ago instead of 2 weeks ago, by now I’d be exactly where I’d want to be. My tardiness terrifies me. When I’m 30 I don’t want to be asking myself why I didn’t start sooner.

I’m terrified of failure. Failure has to become a non-option for more ambitious ventures to succeed, and this attitude is impossible to achieve without the continuous drumbeat of fear pounding in one’s heart.

I wrote an entire fiction novel in 2 months. As this second-wave of quarterlife crisis kicked in, I found myself at first working on crazy projects that were not earning me money, but I was obsessed with anyway. I wrote a 350-page science fiction / fantasy novel called The Orphan’s Witness, it’s a huge long-shot that a publisher will pick this up, but it was fear that motivated me to accomplish things I wouldn’t have done before. (P.S.: My novel is GOOD! I can’t believe it.)

In Summary

Don’t underestimate the power of fear in your life. If it’s bent toward taking action, it’s going to be a driving force behind a lot of your projects. The opposite of fear is just a relaxed sense of contentment, allowing life to meander by. At times this is a nice state of mind, but for me this feeling cannot last.

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