The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

Fear ftI admit, when I first heard this famous quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, I had no clue what it meant. I was seven and my Grandpa had just asked me to get some coals from the basement. “You are not scared, are you?” Of course I were and of course I said no.

That was when my Grandpa said: “Good, because the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. A very smart man said this long ago, and he was right.” On the way down I was wondering what it meant. I was afraid the timer of the light switch would run out before I was done, and I would be stuck in the pitch black, mazelike basement. And, yes I was afraid of seeing someone or something there. Someone or something that would scare me. There never was. By the way, the timer was set to 10 minutes, so I never got stuck although, I was always worried I would.

 

Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away
When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door
Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

by William Hughes Mearns

It is not like we enjoy being worried, but we often cannot stop it either. Of course there are very fundamental fears like the fear of danger, starvation and ultimately death. But those are luckily not the fears that keep us occupied these days. There are either the ones related to past events, which we cannot change.

“Maybe the joke I made in the elevator was inappropriate?”
“Was the coffee stain already on my shirt before the interview?”
“I am sure I forgot to pack something for my vacation”
“Did I leave the coffee machine on?”

We fear these because at this moment we don’t have control about the effect.

Very likely it is absolutely pointless to worry. According to science whatever makes us feel embarrassed will be noticed by much less people and have much less impact than we think. This is the so called spotlight effect (Research on the Spotlight Effect, Wikipedia article). And also for most of the other things worrying is just a waste of time. Either we unpack and really have to buy new swim trunks or we call someone who can check the house for open taps and left running coffee machines (mine turns off after 30 min). There is no point to worry about such things for the entire flight or even worse: Every single day during 10 days of vacation, because either a) there is action to take, then take it or b) there is not and then leave it.

You can resort to the same options of action if you are worried about future events. Either your fear is reasonable, then you can take action to prevent whatever from happening or you consciously lay your fear to rest and move on.

Project Managers always fear that deadlines are not made. This is why good ones make sure to set reasonable milestone goals and track the process in manageable time frames. If you are afraid to loose your job then there must be reasons for it. If it is your performance then stop worrying and perform better. If there are other reasons or just don’t seem able to do it right then it may be time to look for a new job. This way you are proactive and don’t get surprised by something you expected to happen in the first place.

That is the point: When we are afraid, we can either fear the fear itself and be petrified, or we can act, handle it right and be done with being afraid.

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