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Perspectives: The Fear Line
September 22, 2016


The Fear Line

I have made a number of interesting observations in the last few years which have caused me to reflect on my own personal effectiveness and to consider some simple strategies to help myself and others be more effective in their careers and lives.

There is no question that people are extraordinarily complex organisms, and in acknowledging that fact, it seems disingenuous to share simple, seemingly trivial approaches to enhancing people's lives, effectiveness or performance. Yet...if there were a single model that could account for all of the various facets that make up the human being, surely it would be so complex as to be unusable for the majority of us.

So the simple approach to things, while grossly imperfect, offers the allure of practical application and indeed, it is only through application that one can expect any sort of change or result. we go!

I have come to observe that few people actually lead their lives. Many if not most, find themselves reacting to various situations and circumstances that show up in their lives. In fact, when I ask people what they are aiming for and what excites them about the future...quite often the best they can come up with is...retirement. This saddens me because our working lives are long and I truly believe that at the end of the day, personal leisure is a rather poor substitute for leading a life of meaningful contribution and purpose!

However, the point here is that many people spend their lives reacting to whatever life throws their way, which leads me to my second observation.

My second observation when we react to our lives, it often triggers a fear based response. When something unexpected happens (and isn't this a daily occurrence), it seems very often we end up asking ourselves:

- What do I do about this?

- What will people think of me?

- Am I capable of dealing with or surviving this?

- Am I ready for this?

Feel free to put in your favorite nay-sayer voice. :-)

I have had clients who upon being offered a promotion, immediately start to question their worthiness in spite of just being told that they are the perfect candidate for the new position! Unexpected changes can trigger a fear based response.

Now fear can be a good thing - particularly when you are facing physical danger. Fear can save our lives. But most of the fear we get from reacting to our lives has nothing to do with our physical well being but rather with our ego. We don't want to fail, or appear to be a failure or to be seen as incompetent or unworthy in the eyes of others. This compromises our basic need for acceptance and belonging - two very powerful intrinsic motivators.

And - this is where things get interesting because when we act from a place of fear, we tend to become self absorbed and our behaviours are rarely productive, positive or enrolling. Just the opposite in fact - they can be very destructive, particularly to our credibility. Just think of the last time you "lost it" in a fear based response. Did that behaviour inspire or engage others?

So this is where the concept of the "Fear Line" comes in. A simple concept but one that I use to correct my fear based reactions when they show up.

The concept is this: There is a line above which you are in a contribution mode - acting on the external world by deploying your skills, talents, abilities etc. in service of the greater good. When we are above this line we are consciously or subconsciously "leading our lives" and we are contributing in a meaningful way to the world around us. This meaning is feels very positive and uplifting.

When the unexpected occurs and we react out of fear, we move below the Fear Line, and we withdraw into ourselves. Our focus becomes very, very self centered. It is in this space below the line where doubt emerges and we question our worth, our value, our ability, and our potential. This is where our saboteur's voice goes crazy and our inner critic confirms that we are "not enough", not good enough, not strong enough, not brave enough or not loving enough. know you are below the Fear Line because you are using terms such as "I", "my" and "me". The longer we stay in this fear, the more powerful it becomes, leading to a lack of confidence, energy and drive. It's a doom loop!

I have used this simple Fear Line concept to catch myself in questioning my path, my success, my, my, my. Ugh. And when I catch myself below the Fear Line I know there is one and only one thing I can do to redeem myself and that is to make a conscious choice to move back above the line to be "in service" and contribution.

It doesn't specifically matter what the service or contribution is as long as you are no longer the center of your attention. It may be helpful to think of service or contribution in terms of:

- "us" which may be your team, your family, your spouse,

- "them" which may be your customers, constituents, clients, or

- "it" which is your cause or that outcome you are working towards.

Please give this a try and let me know if it works for you. Anytime you hear yourself uttering the incessant "I-I-I", or "me-me-me" or "my-my-my" or if your inner critic is on a rampage about all the things you are not - make a conscious choice to act above the Fear Line and choose to be in service and contribution. And...note how you feel then!


Thanks for reading this issue of Leadership Perspectives and please feel free to forward it to anyone you feel might be interested.

As usual, please don't hesitate to e-mail me with your comments at:

Cheers, Gord Aker, PCC

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