How to overcome fears that sabotage your dreams

Here’s what you can count on when you are moving towards your dreams: fear will show up.

Sometimes you will recognize it. Often fear looks like procrastination, distraction, self doubt, caution or feeling paralyzed. 

In The War on Art, Steven Pressfield explains how Resistance is ready to trip us on the road to our dreams; fear is its weapon. You know Resistance when you think that whatever dream you want can be postponed until another day. For example, you decide to write a book. Other incidents arise and you think you can do it tomorrow. Or after your holidays. Or next week.

When it comes to your dreams, fear may rear its head before you begin. I see this when people put their dreams on the backburner or when they dismiss their dreams altogether. One of the most heart-breaking demonstrations of fear is when people have no dreams. I see it sometimes disguised in a practical notion – “I have to make a living; dreams are for people who can afford them.”

The feeling of fear can be disconcerting. It is a powerful force, gripping you when you might be least expecting it. And it is a show stopper. Once you move through your fear, though, you will be able to see what it teaches you.

One December I was driving to Vancouver during a snow storm. At the top of the Allison Pass in Manning Park, there was a line up of cars descending slowly. Worried about the possibility of failing brakes after so many miles of constant braking, I began shifting gears to speed up and slow down. During one switch, my car went out of control. My heart was racing. I wanted to be anywhere but on that road. My first instinct was to steer away from any other vehicles. My second was to brake gently. I did both. And soon I was back in the car lineup.

What I learned from that experience is that in the midst of fear, I am able to do what I had to do. Even make good decisions. Fear doesn’t need to stop you.

Fear, then, can walk alongside you. It doesn’t have to be in the driver’s seat.

Over time, I also learned that when anything new happens, I can expect fear. I am hardwired for fear; it is probably what has kept me alive.

Fear in the moment is one type, a natural response to a threat.

For those who feel stalled around their dreams or their careers, the fear is an anxious feeling of anticipation projected onto a future event. We may label it as a fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection.

There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.
— Michel de Montaigne

Karl Albrecht, in a Psychology Today article, suggests all fears can be categorized under the following 5 types: extinction, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation and ego-death.  See his article here.

In looking at finding work you love, Laurence G. Boldt uses the term Voices of Doubt. He has identified 4 voices and the fears behind them. They are:

The Voice of Doom and Gloom – Financial Security

In our culture, we have adopted the idea that doing work you love and making money are separate ideas.  What this voice tells us is that you are lucky to have any job at all and you can’t be supported by the work that you love. 

The truth, though, is anyone who pays for your services whether it is an employer or customers through self employment want you to have a passion for what you are doing. The young woman who worked at a San Francisco art supply shop and loved pens inspired me to buy one.

The Voice of Conformity – Straying from the Pack

This voice is based on the human need of wanting to belong, that you must spend your life doing what you “should” be doing versus what you want to do.  But to do work that is meaningful to you means you need to go inside and get a good sense of who you are, and that requires listening deeply to yourself and not to others.

The Voice of Self-Diminishment – Not being good enough

This is a devious internalized voice that says you are inadequate, the one that criticizes even when you do well and reminds you of past experiences where you may not have done well. The best antidote to this voice is to recognize when it arises (which can be tricky) and keep focused on what it is that you want to create in your life. You may want to get someone on board to help you deal with this one because it is old and deeply rooted. 

The Voice of Idle Complaint – Taking responsibility

This voice keeps us focused on other people, complaining about your circumstancesor the faults of others, and has at its core a sense of blame and helplessness. If you hate your job, are you ready to accept the responsibility of finding out what it is that you do love?

If you could conduct a scientific experiment to find the root of fear, you would find it has tendrils back to childhood, to some event or series of events where you adopted a belief.

Here are 3 steps to overcoming fears:


Step 1:

Understand your fears.

 Step 2:

         Get comfortable with that queasy feeling of fear when we are begin something new.

Step 3:

      Go out and do something that scares you. 

Susan Jeffers, author of Fear the Fear and Do It Anyway, states, “Every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised considerably.  You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens.  And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.”