I was visiting with an old friend about 18 months ago, taking a walk and talking one amazing late summer afternoon.  We used to work together back in our younger days, and I’ve always respected her as very smart and savvy.  She tends to cut to the chase, get down to the bottom-line in her thinking and communication, and you usually know where you stand with her.  She comes off as confident, capable and ready to take anything on.

And at the same time she is completely frozen in her tracks (career and life-wise) because she is deeply afraid of doing what she wants to really do.  You wouldn’t know that right away when you meet her, but as you talk with her and listen to what she is thinking about you can tell she feels trapped by her job and her (in her head) inability to chase down the career and passion she wants to follow. 

I was telling her (back 18 months ago) about the work I wanted to do, the writing of my book on Fear Mastery.  She was interested, and asked me to talk about the concepts for the book.  When I finished she said “well, that’s pretty great, for people who deal with fear and anxiety.  I’ve never been afraid myself, so I guess I’m pretty lucky.”

I was so surprised by this response that I my jaw literally dropped open.  I was surprised for three reasons:  1) I know that every human being in the world has one or more things that they are, at the very least, rattled or worried about in their lives.  That’s just the result of having the Flight or Fight Reflex as part of our biology, and the resulting Comfort Zone issues that each of us inevitably develop because of that reflex.  2) I hadn’t realized until that statement that she was clearly unaware of her own Comfort Zone issues, because 3) As I’ve already said, despite her apparent self-confidence and capable nature, she has been very afraid to do what she really wants to do with her life, and so stays with work that is slowly sucking the life out of her.

The Story We Tell Ourselves

You see, she is a very successful Senior Manager at the company she works for at the moment.  As long as I’ve known her she’s been a work leader of some kind – she likes to be in charge, and is good at it.  She’s a confident leader who is good at collaboration and getting work done.  People like, even love working with her, and despite often working for companies who don’t really get what a great catch she is she gives 110% to her work.  She understands her industry, she is involved in the professional association of that industry in a serious way, she is articulate and current and experienced. 

And the work she is doing is just about the LAST thing she wants to do!  Because very early on in our friendship (one indication that this really calls to her, matters to her) she told me that she loves to teach dance to kids.  And the moment she said it I knew it was true – you could see it in her eyes, hear it in the tone of her voice, feel it from the energy she poured out through that statement to me.  It was like catching a glimpse of her truest self in that moment.

But then that moment passed, and she spent the next couple of minutes telling me why that could never happen.  She has to make X amount of money, she has to support her family, she has a house and credit bills and – well, you know.  What she was telling me (to put it in Fear Mastery terms) was that her Comfort Zone said she couldn’t do what she wanted to do, because it would be scary and hard to focus on her real passion, instead of supporting a house and credit bills and work that didn’t interest her.  Worse than that – this is sucking the life out of her.

Being Straight With Ourselves About Our Fears

I’m not saying supporting a family and paying the bills isn’t important!  What I am saying is that she is very much afraid to look directly at the things that hold her back from chasing down what she wants in her life.  She’s afraid she’ll run out of money.  She’s afraid that chasing her dreams means she is somehow irresponsible, because she already is CERTAIN that she can’t make enough money doing what she wants to do to possibly support herself or her family.  She’s afraid that people will think she’s crazy for wanting to teach dance to kids when she’s making all this great money, and is so respected in her industry, etc. 

But the truth is she would come alive in ways she can only dream about right now if she was willing and had the tools to really look at what she wants to do, and face through the attending fears around those desires.  She has turned a set of problems (what she wants to do, how to make sufficient money to meet her obligations, etc.) into a crisis (if I tried this everything would go to hell, I’m trapped in this stupid job, I HAVE to stay here or we’ll all go hungry, etc.) and because she has done that she of course is running away from that crisis. 

Isn’t that wacky?  But that’s exactly what she’s done!  This friend of mine, a brilliant problem-solver and thinker, can’t think clearly around this issue because her thinking generates emotions and physical sensations that warn her away from the scary thoughts around doing what she wants to do.  So she does what we ALL do when we’re afraid of something – we get away from it.  We talk ourselves out of it.  We shut down that uncomfortable conversation.  Worse still, we convince ourselves that we can’t face it, can’t DO whatever we’re wanting so much to do, so we stop thinking about it.

Thinking is the Key

And that’s precisely what we need to be doing – THINKING.  In the last several posts I’ve talked about the physical sensations around the Flight or Fight Response being triggered, and I’ve talked about how our Comfort Zone (that mental construct that grows up in response to our fears, with the single goal of keeping us safe/unafraid) becomes a Drama Queen, turning our fears into terrors, turning problems into crises.  The answer to all of this is THINKING.

HOW is thinking the answer?  Because thinking is the start of the problem, and thinking is the unplugging of the problem. 

1. You have to sit with the scary thing you’re thinking and really identify what you’re afraid of.  That’s the process I call triad.  This means deciding, deliberately, that you’re going to sit with the problem.  That’s step 1.  And right away you’re engaging in the work, because your Comfort Zone is going to really kick up a fuss about you doing this.  You’ve been telling it the whole time NOT to let you think about this (whether you were aware of that or not), and now, suddenly, you want to think about it.  What are you, crazy?  No, not crazy.  Just determined to not let this thing scare you any more, and be willing to be able/comfortable to think about this thing.

In the case of my friend, she needs, very much, to reopen the conversation with herself about what is and isn’t possible in the direction of her heart’s passion.

2) She’s going to have to wade through her discomfort.  That’s the emotional and physical responses to the Comfort Zone that she’ll experience when she makes the decision to face this and sits down to do it.  Notice I said both when she decides, and when she actually does it.  Even the decision to do this work can make us fearful/start the reactions churning.  She’ll have to ride out those sensations and feelings, and practice the clear and single thought that nothing bad is actually happening right now.  Nothing at all!  She’s just experiencing her Flight or Fight reactions to her pushing through her Comfort Zone.

Let me say that again – she is ONLY experiencing the warning signals of her natural defenses against danger – but there IS no danger in THINKING about it.  It feels like it, it is damn uncomfortable, it is even scary and frightening – but there’s still no danger in thinking about it.

3) What is she specifically afraid of?  Running out of money?  Her conviction that it is too late for her to do this?  That she will have to live in a hovel or grass hut if she tries this change of careers?  That she might fail if she tries?  Whatever the reasons (and they are probably multiple) then she has to nail that down.  That’s the place she can get to once she makes the  decision to do it, sits down to do it, lets her feelings and body try to scare her away, and wades through to a place of lucid thinking. 

Because at this point she can now use that formidable brain she’s got (that, really, all of us have, once we’ve unplugged our fear to some extent) and begin to frame this as a set of problems to solve, not a crisis in the making.  And this is the case for ANY of the things that frighten us, depress us, scare us, shut us down, since we are very rarely facing down a tiger or caught in an earthquake.  THOSE are real dangers, and that’s what Flight or Fight evolved for.  Everything is something to work through, attempt, try, strategize, problem-solve.

That’s It?  Really?

Is it simple?  Yes, weirdly enough.  Is it easy?  Not at the start.  It takes some practice and time (I know, I keep saying that.)  But the energy cost is no greater than the energy we spend to keep our fears at bay, to not think about what frightens us or depresses us, and better still, it is energy spent actually doing something about it!  We don’t learn to walk in a day, we don’t master new job skills in a day, we don’t get the answer right on the first try always.  We need a little time and practice – and we need a little patience with ourselves along the way.

This was a bruiser of a post length-wise – thanks for staying with me.  Next post I’m going to offer more examples of using triad to shake free of the Comfort Zone.  If you’re reading this and you think you’d like to tackle a Comfort Zone Boundary, let me know!  Very happy to cheer you on, listen to you vent while you get mad and freaked out, answer questions – however I can help.

You don’t have to stay afraid.  You don’t have to stay depressed.  You are much stronger, smarter, and more capable than you know when you’re feeling anxious or afraid.