How to Put Fear in the Back Seat

How to Put Fear in the Back Seat

My friend and I took my 6-year-old daughter to this crazy tree-climbing adventure: a place where they string logs, tubes and wires to the branches of tall trees. The result is a leaf-top playground high above the ground. You climb up, clip yourself to a safety line and clamber around like a monkey.

Full of bravado, my daughter whipped through the courses like nobody’s business, swinging from ropes, scampering over logs and asking for more every step of the way.

Eventually we reached a tougher-level course with the longest zip-line EVER, and my friend went first to lead the way, with my daughter sandwiched between us. The ladder to the first platform was pretty steep, though, and climbing it shook my daughter’s resolve. (It damn well just about shook mine too!)

Suddenly my daughter decided this wasn’t so easy or fun anymore – this was scary.  Worse, all the people in the lineup below were staring up at her. She felt exposed and uncertain.

I asked if she wanted to turn around, but in a tiny, unsure voice, she replied no. She wanted to keep going. And my daughter slowly slid forward on the next phase of the course, a long wire stretched between trees.

Her legs were wobbly. And I could hear her even wobblier voice whisper:

“I can do this. I can do this.”

Below us, a man in the waiting line began whining to his wife rather loudly. He didn’t want to do this course. He really didn’t feel comfortable. The course was too high. It looked hard. He couldn’t make it. It was scary. Could they just skip it and try another course instead?

The next thing I know, my friend called out loudly. “Hey buddy.” The man looked up and my friend pointed a finger at my daughter inching along the wire.

Then he jabbed it at the guy.

“She’s 6,” he snorted. “WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?”

When we were young, fear of failure took a back seat to pride of accomplishment and thrill of adventure. But somewhere along the way as we grew older, the scales tipped.

Now adventure sits in the back seat. Fear’s at the wheel, steering us to the center of the road so we avoid all the rough edges.

How did that happen?

It happened the day we got hurt. The moment we were embarrassed. The time we got yelled at or rejected or left out. The instant our brains said, “Whoa – that was a seriously not-fun experience. Let’s not do that again.”

Then our brain starts to filters every second of our lives, scanning for any possible signals that this moment might be similar to “that time when Something Bad happened”. Believe me, your brain works very hard to make sure Something Bad never happens again.

It gives you fears.

Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of not being good enough. Fear that people will laugh.

Your brain reinforces your fears and hounds you with terrible images. Your imagination blows the situation out of proportion until you’re completely sure you can’t do this THING at all.

You know, like doing a little bit of marketing or answering that job ad. Frightening stuff, that.

Fear is designed to keep you safe instead of letting you risk being hurt. Again. But fear also freezes your potential in place, preventing you from learning, from maturing, from growing.

From discovering what you can actually accomplish in life.

You’re not a child anymore. You’ve learned resilience, you’ve gained knowledge, and you know how to weather life’s storms. Give yourself some credit.

You can definitely try that new marketing strategy or publish that post or call that company or finally launch that website (even if it’s not perfect yet).

Nothing will kill you. Something Bad will not happen.

What will happen is that you’ll learn valuable knowledge, like how to do better the next time or that this new tactic works better than the last you tried.

If you don’t try it, you’ll just sit around, doing the same thing as always.  Stagnant.

Afraid.

I dare you to prove me wrong. Take that one thing you’ve been nervous about doing, and just do it. Show your brain you can handle this, thank you very much. You’re a grownup now, with plenty of intelligence and wisdom on your side.

You may be nervous and scared and not-at-all confident, but that’s okay. You can handle this.

And when you start to think you can’t, think about this:

My daughter was 6. What’s your excuse?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. This is an awesome post!
    I love the spirit and the story, and kudos to your daughter for her courage and spirit of adventure!
    We all need to remind ourselves to be more daring, and less squeamish.
    Thank you. :)

    • If you think about it, it’s amazing how many situations we expect our kids to handle.

      Looking back on this week alone, my daughter had to sing her first solo in front of the class – in French, stand on a stage in front of the whole school and sing again (this time in English), practice a play in front of three higher-grade (and thus more intimidating) classes, answer a complete stranger (French again) when asked a question she didn’t quite understand, take her first ride in the front seat of a car, wait outside the front door – alone! – for a few minutes…

      Little things to us, and ones we expect kids to do. To them? Man, that can be terrifying stuff.

      And they do it anyways. Nervously, sure, but they do it.

      Why can’t we?

  2. I loved this post. Fear protects us….but not only from bad things, from good things that require us to take risks to move forward. Living in fear too much will produce a mediocre life at best. No thanks!

    • That’s exactly right, Chris. Fear DOES protect us… a little too damned well! We lose out on all kinds of amazing adventures and fantastic opportunities because we’re nervous about the tiny little things that, in big-picture perspective, don’t really matter.

      • Dear James,
        Your post on putting fear in the back seat and the kinds of responses we are getting here is amazing! Thanks and wish to share a big hug with you for penning it down so well out here.

        Though I have responded earlier, I could not help myself but reply back to one of the posted threads here. Yes, Fear, Fear of failure does but a brake to ALL that we could Be and All that Life gives to us in small wonderful ways.
        Fear to do something different, traverse an unexplored path or simply being one’s own unique self – that kind of fear needs a whole dollop of Confidence which comes from simply Doing, moving on and perhaps from practicing more on that path we wish to travel.

        Right now, I am dealing with fear too, though having said yes to giving a Seminar to College students on ‘Confidence building measures’ – I still have those few fluttering butterflies in my own stomach too !! But I know as I prepare my presentation topic, write down, read on the points I have made – I WILL overcome or as one says RIDE over these silly fears and simply be myself as I speak and interact with those eager students day after!

        On the whole a very wonderful post which has evoked so many responses, thanks once again and be blessed,
        Best Regards
        madhavi sood

  3. Anand Mulloo says:

    I think that your daughter is teaching us a great lesson. To dare and act. Just do it and leave behind our hesitation, fears or sense of social embarrassment which sometimes prevent us from doing what we want to do and know we can do but somewhere we are held back by our fear of failure.
    Your daughter shows the winning spirit of the successful entrepreneur, adventurer. Yes, I got the lesson, just do it.
    Anand Mulloo

    • Embarrassment can hold many people back – myself included. I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve thought, “That looks fun… but I’d look like a fool doing it. Better stay put instead.”

      I know I’ve lost out on a lot of stuff I would’ve enjoyed, and unfortunately, once that opportunity has passed, it’s rare you can get it back.

  4. I remember that day: how proud and happy that she did it! I also remember the man behind us, at the end of the excursion being awfully glad he wasn’t shown up by a 6 yr old!

    • LOL! Yeah, I remember that guy landing down from the final zip line… he was pretty proud of himself too, I think! (Or maybe just really, really, really glad that it was all over and NOW could they go home?)

  5. 6 years old, eh? What did she say when she finished the course?

    Thanks James, this is an inspiring story.

    “Now adventure sits in the back seat. Fear’s at the wheel, steering us to the center of the road so we avoid all the rough edges.” So true.

    Now to drive through Timid Town and kick Fear out of the car. I wish I had one of those eject seats like they do in the movies.

    • To be quite honest, I can’t remember. By the time we finished that particular course, we’d been through 5 zip lines or so (one of them from MANY feet off the ground and zipping over an entire field), climbed through 20 trees or so, and had to brave our way through all sorts of leg-shaking obstacles.

      Suffice it to say she did better than I did… I kept forgetting I was tied on safely! :)

  6. I have found that sustaining the joy and fearlessness of a child can be very difficult to sustain. It has been much easier since I now have to apply this “attitude” to my self as a model for my students as we work through the writing process in high school English class.

    Love the response “What’s your Excuse!” As a public school teacher I’ve been reassigned 3 of the last 4 years to fill needs of the school district. Keeping and open attitude of fearlessness of a 6 year old has helped me navigate the changes (I’m 55 yrs old).

    • Keeping “an” open attitude of fearlessness of a 6 year old has helped me navigate the changes (I’m 55 yrs old).

      Oops… Violated my own editing policy of posting before proof-reading.

    • It is hard to sustain, but keep in mind that we’ve had YEARS of life experience where our brains infused us with a lot of “Oops, let’s not do this again” fears. Little kids still have fearlessness on their side.

      But what we DO have is logic and plenty of wisdom to tell ourselves, “Good lord, you’re being silly. Of COURSE you can do this thing.” (And often, it works!)

  7. You have no idea how right on time this post was for me. I am a singer/songwriter who started a blog recently and I have been dreading put up a youtube cover song video of fear of not being good enough. What someone might say. So I make up this series of excuses why I can’t do it when in reality the only reason I “can’t” is fear!

    • Imagining what could go wrong is… well, frankly, not much fun. I challenge you to think of everything that could go RIGHT and what marvelous things could come of that video when you DO post it!

  8. I have no excuse. I think I would have called a helicopter or whatever, but by no means would have jumped! For other things I might be able to overcome my fears, but when it comes to deal with heights…

    Very often I’m impressed by the way kids react to challenges. I take mental note and try to show a “younger” attitude. And I admit it — sometimes I just relax and let them be better than I am!

    This was a very inspiring post. Loved it.

    • I have to credit Bill from the Damn Fine Words course for being the inspiration that reminded me of this story!

      As for overcoming ALL our fears… I’m with you. There are limits. You won’t catch me bungee-jumping, ever, or even considering it. But there are also all sorts of activities that don’t even come CLOSE to being that level of ‘hm, I may not like this!’, and I see so many writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs hold themselves back because of it.

      So yeah – let’s tackle the stuff that a 6-year-old could, eh?

  9. Killer close. You are my hero.

  10. Thsi is truly inspiring, the way you have written the account of how your daughter and your self over came the fear of climbing…. Yes, kids do have a way about them and always teach us by their own little heartening ways of how to still keep going on, despite the odds!
    It reminded me of the time when my own daughter went up on stage for the first time as a 3 half yr old and was the ‘Ugly Duckling’ a part she played so naturally! And I remember it was me who was more afraid that she should not goof up in any way, while she simply touched my forehead saying, Ma I will be fine and its so much fun, we have practised this a 100 times with teacher and friends.

    Yes, fear of failure truly stunts our growth and once one overcomes it … we can leap out to a very promising future. While its alright to take steps ahead with courage and conviction and practise ; handling fear, dealing with what triggers us to behave and think the way we do, helps us in the first step to moving towards the path of achieving our dreams, desires and goals.

    Indeed very well written and would like to know if I could ‘connect with you’ via my blog as well.
    Sorry, I had no idea ‘James’ is a girl’s name and perhaps I have referred to you as Sir on earlier replies.

    I do appreciate the ‘Men with Pens’ blog a lot and read your posts though have replied only once earlier.
    I have also penned a poem on ‘Courage and determination’ and another ‘Dare to Dream’ published in my first book ‘From the Silence Within’ available in paperback cover via Amazon and uRead links where I have written on Fear and how to deal with it. Can I share it on your blog ?

    Many thanks & Best wishes
    Madhavi Sood aka Madhavi Mohandas

    • Your daughter had it right: “I’ve practiced this 100 times…” So many people think they need to be instant superstars and neglect the practice and training that makes everything effortless. But training is the key to building superior confidence – and doing what we need to do without any fear at all!

      • Dear James,
        Thanks for writing and replying. Your post on putting fear in the back seat and the kinds of responses we are getting here is amazing! Thanks and wish to share a big hug with you for penning it down so well out here.

        Though I have responded earlier, I could not help myself but reply back to one of the posted threads here. Yes, Fear, Fear of failure does but a brake to ALL that we could Be and All that Life gives to us in small wonderful ways.
        Fear to do something different, traverse an unexplored path or simply being one’s own unique self – that kind of fear needs a whole dollop of Confidence which comes from simply Doing, moving on and perhaps from practicing more on that path we wish to travel.

        Right now, I am dealing with fear too, though having said yes to giving a Seminar to College students on ‘Confidence building measures’ – I still have those few fluttering butterflies in my own stomach too !! But I know as I prepare my presentation topic, write down, read on the points I have made – I WILL overcome or as one says RIDE over these silly fears and simply be myself as I speak and interact with those eager students day after!

        On the whole a very wonderful post which has evoked so many responses, thanks once again and be blessed,
        Best Regards
        madhavi sood

  11. How delightful to see your by-line today.

    When my son was in first grade, his teacher told me that he had artistic talent, and not to be surprised if he colored people’s faces purple. “He would say they’re angry people, for instance.”

    We were with grandpa the next weekend, at what soon became a rained-out picnic. Patrick said, “Grandpa, the clouds are still pretty. They look just like trees in a forest.”

    “What? They don’t look like trees at all,” grandpa scoffed.

    “Yes, they do, grandpa. They’re trees all covered in snow.”

    Thank you for encouraging us to stay encouraged. And how to use storytelling to make a point.

    (I still draw the line at karaoke, however.)

    • Your comment made me grin. Because just an hour before you posted it, my daughter grabbed her Wii, her copy of Glee Karaoke and shamelessly started belting out the tunes. Bravado? You bet – but she also kept saying, “Let me try this again; I can do better.”

      (Then of course she shoved the mic at me and demanded I do a star performance of Gold Digger… jeez.)

      Ah, but slowly, that fear of embarrassment slips in… later on that night, she picked up the mic again – and then asked my spouse/partner/boyfriend/whateveryoucallthemthesedays to go somewhere else because she didn’t want him to listen. Ha!

  12. what an inspiration your daughter is – and FEARLESS, too! good for her, and good for you to have raised her that way!! this is definitely a post I could read over & over…and SHOULD.

    thanks for sharing!

    • Believe me, raising her this way isn’t always easy. You have to face your own fears and make them look like nothing to be a good role model… as they say, fake it ’til you make it!

  13. I perform weddings as my work as an officiant. Often I am inspired by those brave souls who risk opening their hearts, yet once again to love.

    As we age and learn the many perils of loving , we have gathered plenty of great excuses to never love again. Many have had our hearts bashed and broken.

    So wonderful to be inspired by those brave enough, gutsy enough, to open up , and love again !

    • Sarah, that’s so true. Broken relationships HURT – and so many people choose to never experience that hurt again… which is so sad, because it means they’ve chosen to never experience the possible wonderful life they could have instead.

  14. “I can do it, I can do it..”.your daughter obviously knows what most adults forget…what we tell ourselves usually comes true. Good job dad for helping your daughter grow into a confident women who faces her fears and knows she can do it and when she feels like she can’t all she has to do it look behind her for a little support

    Wonderful!

  15. Jill Hamilton says:

    Love this, James! We need to remind ouselves constantly about this…I read a quote recently that went something like this:

    “The man who has never made a mistake has likely not made anything.”

    I enjoy this website.

  16. Your daughter is really brave.

    I also think children have no fear of things they perceive as fun, not knowing how dangerous it really is, while adults always try to stay on the safe side, even if its not dangerous. Our brains really program us as we get older. Sometimes you really have to admire a child’s point of view.

    Great post.

    • I’m not so sure children don’t naturally understand risks. I’ve never told my child she shouldn’t jump off cliffs, for example, but I’m pretty positive she’s aware that this would be dangerous!

  17. I believe fear should be dealt according to the situation; sometimes we fear rather silly things like “I shouldn’t start a blog, nobody will read it” but there are times when we should let the fear save our butt… my brother-like cousin lost his life only because of total fearlessness. B.t.w did you ever study psychology, James?

    • That’s true, Ali – it’s important to weigh the risks of actual life-threatening danger and take an informed decision. But on the other hand, some people do know they’re walking into high-level risk and are prepared to face the consequences.

      I guess it all depends on what you value most – some folk do value experience over existence.

      As for psychology, I have indeed! :)

  18. Children are the best teachers. I know mine are.

    • Depends. My daughter’s at that age where apparently I’m stupid and don’t know anything (because of course she’s a mini-genius in the making), so there’s not much I can learn from that! ;)

  19. This post is just fantastic.
    It revels a particular side of my life(maybe of many more) .
    When i was children i was just as free as wind with no fear of failure, no worry for embarrassment, just doing what i want with true heart. And the result for everything i did i tried for was good too.

    But I don’t know what happened to me as time passed the situation reversed. Now i don’t try a single damn thing i wanna do because of fear of failure. I am just trying to solve this problem, by following one great line from Prison Break-

    We are captives of our own identities, living in prison of our own creation

    • That’s exactly why I wrote the post – to try and help break the fear of failure so many people out there experience every single day.

      But question for you – doesn’t that quote actually carry a very foreboding, gloomy and “trapped” emotion with it? If I started repeating that quote to myself every day, I’d soon probably never want to get out of bed!

      So my big suggestion would be to replace that quote with something far better and healthier:

      We are all free to choose whether to live as captive victims… or walk into the joy of experiencing life with hope.

  20. I loved this!

    Oddly enough, I was studying this very subject matter the other day–the psychology of fear vs courage. Here’s the explanation:
    “courage is the ability to get yourself to take action in spite of fear. The word courage derives from the Latin cor, which means “heart.” But true courage is more a matter of intellect than of feeling. It requires using the uniquely human part of your brain (the neocortex) to wrest control away from the emotional limbic brain you share in common with other mammals. Your limbic brain signals danger, but your neocortex reasons that the danger isn’t real, so you simply feel the fear and take action anyway. The more you learn to act in spite of fear, the more human you become. The more you follow the fear, the more you live like a lower mammal. So the question, “Are you a man or a mouse?” is consistent with human neurology.” StevePavlina.com

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