“Fear is not your enemy. It is a compass pointing you to the areas where you need to grow.” – Steve Pavlina
While sitting in my office the other morning, I was debating with my daughter over text whether she had to take the bus to her appointment across town or if she was allowed to cancel. I insisted she needed to go and then the texts abruptly ended with, “I dislike
Now, some may excuse this behavior as being typical for a defiant 14 year-old girl or perhaps you are in the camp that says that she was disrespectful and you would never let your daughter talk to you this way. But rather than labeling her defiant or disrespectful, what I learned is that my daughter was reacting from a place of fear and that she had no coping skills to deal with what for her, was overwhelming and paralyzing fear about riding the bus to an unfamiliar part of Chicago.
Watching my teenage daughter has indeed been an interesting lesson in fear. Generally, I would say she has no fear – I have watched her jump off of a 20 foot cliff into water, leave home for camp at the age of 9 without blinking and is she is actively pursuing a career in dance (despite picking up ballet much later than her peers). There really isn’t much she won’t do – until she is afraid. And like so many of us, when she is faced with fear, all rational thought shuts down. She immediately makes fear – and me – her enemy. And unless you alleviate the discomfort of fear immediately, you get a text or a verbal assault like the one above.
As parents, I believe so many of us are always balancing the job of leading by example, protecting, setting healthy boundaries and pushing our kids out of the nest so they can learn to face life with confidence. I know personally, I battle with what is the right way – do I shield her from the discomfort or go all out and tell her to sink or swim? In this instance, my instinct was to send her out into the world and tell her that her fears were ridiculous. And while I did try that route, she resisted. So, instead, I told her to go talk to her step-father and ask him to help her out since he was at home. Yup – you read that right, I pushed it off on him. Why? Because, just like my daughter, I was afraid.
It turns out, her fear made me uncomfortable and afraid that I couldn’t come up with a good solution that met my one need to have her grow and face the world and my other need to protect and understand her. I was afraid that I would make the wrong choice – one would mean I was coddling her and the other would mean she would be angry with me (like I was with my parents) for pushing her too hard to face her fears.
In the moments after I pushed off my problem to my husband, I became acutely aware that what drove our morning battle was both of our fears. In that awareness, it suddenly became less important to make her face her fear and instead to share with her how we both made fear our enemy that morning instead of letting it be the compass to show us where we needed to grow. Fear in my daughter’s circumstance was an opportunity to learn how to clearly express fears with vulnerability and honesty while my lesson was - well, my lesson was the same. Had we both been able to do that, the solution might have become apparent (as it obviously was for my husband who solved the problem right away).
Fear truly can be a compass to show us the areas where we need to grow. If we let fear be a guide rather than an enemy, we are less likely to freeze, run away or have others solve our problems because we can approach our reactions (and those of others) with compassion, understanding and opportunity.
This week, I invite you to look at fear as a compass to show you where need to grow. Do you automatically lash out, shut down or walk away in response to fear? How do you react when you are faced with something that scares you?
Rather than making the thing we fear a do-or-die proposition, see if there is a way you can look at the fear as an invitation to grow. Do you need to identify small steps you can take that will bring you closer to doing the activity? Do you need to ask someone for help? What is one way you can move toward the fear with growth rather than with anger and rejection? Take that step today and see how you can view your fear and others’ differently.