Living in Fear Could be Killing You

It was about 18 years ago, and I was being interviewed by a small magazine doing a story on Women of the 80’s in business.  At the time, I had my own insurance agency in North Dallas.  I was my own boss, made my own hours, winning awards and had seen a great deal of success so far.  You would have thought I was on Cloud 9.  Unfortunately, nothing could have been further from the truth.  I was also 26 years old, feeling stuck in an industry that was going through major changes, not sleeping at night, having to drag myself out of bed in the mornings and was even starting to have physical symptoms of being sick all the time.

I knew I needed to make a change, but to what?  I had started my agency while still in college and had been very successful.  How do you just walk away from that?  A few years before I had taken a couple of classes at night toward my master’s degree, but stopped when my mother got sick and just never returned.  Something seemed to be standing in my way.  I finally realized it was me, and more specifically, FEAR!  My fear was keeping me from looking at other options.  I had been successful on my first try, what if I wasn’t on my second?  What if I couldn’t make my mortgage payment or car payment?  I had the feeling that staying was the responsible thing to do.

In late 2001, I received a call from another insurance agent in Ft. Worth, TX.  He was looking to expand his agency into the Dallas area and wanted to make an offer on my agency.  I completely dismissed him during that first conversation.  How could I sell my agency, my living?  However, over the next few weeks, I started to think that just maybe this was an answer I had not been looking for.  I was terrified of what I would do next, but I was slowly killing myself staying where I was.  After much back and forth with myself, I finally called him back and asked if he was still interested.  A few months later we had come to an agreement and on December 31, 2001, I sold my agency.

This had certainly been the biggest decision of my life up to this point, and I was scared to death of what was to come next.  Mostly because I didn’t know.  However, something amazing started to happen over the next few weeks.  Getting up in the morning wasn’t so hard, my stomach seemed to be calming down, my energy level was rising, and I just overall started to feel better.  I had been pretty certain the business was the cause of most of my issues, but never dreamed that getting out from under it would change things in my life so quickly.  I even started to notice a change in my attitude, which I had not even realized had been so negative.  I was feeling positive for the first time in years, even with the uncertainty of my future.

About two months after the sale, a friend of mine called about an opportunity that she had heard about that she thought I needed to look into.  It was a contract position consulting for a company regarding a new insurance program.  I spent the next two years working on a team to develop this program, and loved every minute of it!  What an amazing feeling.  To wake up in the morning and be excited about what you are doing.  I had found a passion in my work.  When the contact ended, I wanted to find something similar, so I decided to start my own consulting agency and work with small business owners looking to get to that next level.

While I am so thankful that I found my calling, I wish I had not waited so long to change things.  I let the fear of uncertainty rule what I did, and I paid a big price for it.  I don’t even want to think about what it would have done to me if I had not made the decision to sell when I did.  Valuable lessons were learned over this period of my life, but the biggest one was that fear is not a bad thing.  I’m not saying it is easy, but we don’t need to run from it.  If you don’t have any fear, it probably means you are not trying new things and just staying in your comfort zone.  Unfortunately, that does not promote growth in any area of our lives.  There will be times that things don’t work out, but who said they were always supposed to.  Look at fear as a motivation and set out to find new heights in yourself.  Today, when I start to feel a fear come up inside, I think of this time or other times I have conquered something difficult and start to make my plan.

A few tips to think about while figuring out your fear:

  1. Give your fear a reality check. Instead of just saying you are afraid of something, break down what it is that you are actually afraid of.  For instance, public speaking.  So, what is it about public speaking that is actually the fear?  For each person, it will be different.  For an introvert, just talking to people in general can cause anxiety.  Is it the worry of being judged?  Break down what the actual fear is, and work that issue.
  2. When do we get afraid? Fear appears when we are uncomfortable or out of our “comfort zone.”  Once we determine what we are afraid of, we can start to work towards overcoming it.  Take small steps first by placing yourself in the uncomfortable situation, but minimize it.  Like our public speaking fear, start with a small audience instead of a room of 100+ people.  If you’re the introvert, start even smaller by going to a group meeting and talking to a few people.  Just keep working up, and before long the fear will not be so overwhelming.
  3. Fear is worse when you are alone. Find someone and talk through your fear and make a plan.  We usually tend to work things up more in our heads than are true.  Someone can bring it back into perspective and even offer suggestions for pushing through.  Keep it simple and take small steps.  You will eventually work through the fear and not have to work so hard at it.
  4. Recall your successes, especially if it had to do with a fear. Remember that feeling of accomplishment and apply it to the fear.  You always feel better once you overcome something that is holding you back.