Courage in the Face of Fear

By Susan David

There are few experiences as scary as a diagnosis of terminal cancer. A close friend of mine found herself in this heartbreaking situation with all of the fear and anxiety that came with it. 

She shared with me that well-meaning friends and family seemed determined to keep her from feeling these emotions. Their mantra: “Think positive.” 

While she understood their intentions, this was an inadequate narrative for someone facing their mortality, and one that she noted inadvertently made her feel responsible for her own illness. (If she never recovered, was it because of her bad attitude?)

Putting on a fake smile and trying to “grin and bear it” through difficult times can prevent us from living authentically and learning from our feelings. 

The world pushes us to handle our difficult emotions by faking positivity, pushing them aside or even banishing them from our lives. Grief is to be overcome. Anxiety is to be defeated. Fear is to be conquered. 

But the truth is that feelings cannot be so easily suppressed. As anyone who has watched a scary movie just before bedtime can tell you, trying to bury our emotions only amplifies their hold on us.

The truth is, society’s narratives of bravery are broken. Wonder Woman and Superman can make it seem like courage belongs only to the invincible. If you’re not faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive, you need not apply. 

The denial of fear is even embedded in our language, where “fearless” is used as a synonym for courageous. If you’re feeling fearful, I encourage you flip that script. 

​Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking.

Give yourself permission to be afraid. Don’t treat fear as an enemy. Treat it with compassion. Be curious: What is the function of the fear? Why are you feeling fearful?

When you look at fear head on, you can begin draining it of its power. It ceases to be something unspeakable and starts to be something you can analyze and take steps to move forward with.

There’s no need to be afraid of fear. 

It doesn’t have to call the shots. We can choose courage over comfort and put one foot in front of the other in the direction of our values and goals.

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