Courage conquering fear is a tale as old as time: the superhero fights the villain; the explorer sails across an unknown ocean; the ragtag team of misfits takes on the corporate conglomerate. These tales are part of history and of legend, of fact and fiction, of movies, novels, museums, and bedtime stories.
That’s all fine and good…but what about the rest of us? Those of us who aren’t tasked with defeating an evil regime, or discovering a new land, or rescuing people from burning buildings? What does “courage conquering fear” look like to us?
The truth is, “courage vs. fear” isn’t just the stuff of heroes and legends; it’s the stuff of everyday life. And especially if you’re a creative (or want to be more creative), the ability to choose courage over fear is a skill you’re going to need.
So let’s break this down, shall we?
What is fear?
First, if we’re going to understand how to conquer fear in our lives, we need an understanding of what fear is.
At the most basic level, fear is an emotion that arises when we feel threatened. That threat could be real or perceived; it can be physical, mental, or emotional; it can be minor or major, even playing a key role in mental health conditions like anxiety, panic disorder, and phobias.
Now, before we go into attack mode on fear, it’s important to acknowledge that fear plays a real and important role in human existence. Fear has served as protection for humans from the very beginning, allowing us to recognize real threats and avoid pain or harm. It also guides our “fight or flight” response, connecting fear to beneficial action and survival.
Fear is normal. Everyone is afraid of something. In fact, if you aren’t, there’s likely something very wrong with your brain. There are more tangible fears, like spiders or heights, but there are also deep psychological fears, like loneliness and failure.
It may be easy to recognize some of our fears, and difficult to recognize others, but one thing is for sure: it’s important to acknowledge the fact that your fear is real. When you’re in denial about your fears, they’re going to have more power over you when they show up. Only by identifying and acknowledging them can you effectively overcome them.
Only by facing fear can you get to courage.
What is courage?
There’s a reason I’m using the words “courage” or “bravery” instead of “fearlessness.” While these words are often used interchangeably, I think it’s important to acknowledge the subtle implication of being “fearless.” Namely, that when you’re fearless, you’re without fear.
Courage, however, recognizes fear, and acts anyway. It’s not being without fear; in fact, it’s allowing yourself to be with fear and to be—with fear.
When you’re brave, you’re scared…and you go for it anyway.
In this way, courage becomes something more deliberate. It’s not a primal emotion like fear is. Rather, it’s a mastery of that emotion. It’s being able to design your thoughts and actions in such a way that you’re able to push through your fear.
To be lovingly direct, you need to have more courage. You need to face the demons within and stand up to them. For yourself and for those you really love. For those who rely on you and need your magic. Your bravery can conquer anything, even subduing some forms of mental illness. And if that condition truly cannot be limited by thoughts alone, you will need to find the courage to get the real help you need, even if it’s scary or difficult to find. It’s time to make that choice, be brave and take action.
As Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” We may not be able to always control when we feel fear, but we can always choose to act in courage, even with that fear being ever present.
Note: If you need help, get help. If you have a mental illness or suspect you might, seek a medical professional to help you. Visit PsychologyToday.com for a list of professionals in your local area.
Using courage to conquer fear
With a better understanding of what fear and courage actually are, we can start to look at the relationship between the two, and how courage can conquer fear if we let it.
To do that, let’s start by examining some big truths about the relationship between courage and fear.
Fear is a “default” setting.
Part of the Second Law of Thermodynamics states (and I’ll paraphrase here) that the universe tends toward entropy, or a state of chaos. If left alone, closed systems devolve into a more disordered state. To avoid this state requires extra energy in the opposite direction.
Because fear is a primal human emotion, it’s what our brains default to. It’s like entropy: if left alone, the system devolves into fear.
What we need to do instead is learn to apply energy (courage) in the opposite direction. If we aren’t doing this, deliberately and continually, our thoughts will trend back toward the default setting of fear.
Fear is always present.
As a default setting, fear is always hanging around somewhere in your brain. We can’t turn off our fears or completely get rid of all of them. It’s important to recognize this, because we don’t want to shame ourselves for our fears. If you do that, you’ll be more likely to hide from the fear, rather than confront it. This allows fears to grow, making it less likely that we’ll even want to confront them next time.
Here’s a hard truth: you’re never going to completely rid yourself of fear. But that doesn’t mean you have to give it control (or allow it to “drive,” as Elizabeth Gilbert mentions in this brilliant excerpt from her book Big Magic). You have to learn how to let the fear be present without letting it be in charge.
Courage moves you forward. Fear holds you back.
The above quote by Aristotle really resonates with me. If you think about it, it makes so much sense.
If everyone lived in a constant state of unmitigated fear, nothing would get done. In fact, we’d probably never leave our houses, or even get out of bed. Waking up and facing the day, with a willingness to do what you need to do—at your job, at home, in your relationships—is itself an act of courage. You’re flying in the face of the entropy that’s constantly threatening you, and you’re claiming your power over it.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see that courage propels us forward, while fear holds us back. Whether we’re afraid of failure, rejection, or just looking stupid, that fear threatens to stifle creative energy and halt action.
Suzy Kassem said, “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.” And it’s true. Because with fear, you never even get started.
Love is courageous.
Acting from a place of love, rather than from a place of fear, is always, always, the more courageous choice. Why? Because love requires extreme vulnerability. When you’re acting from love, you’re moving toward something you want. You’re working to create the world you want to live in. You’re acknowledging your wants and needs, and you’re going after them.
Love is open, sharing, cooperative, freeing. Oddly enough, you could say that love is scary, in its own way. But as long as you take action that’s based on love—as long as you don’t allow the fear to overcome that love and hold you back—then you’re being courageous.
Love is taking a risk and requires immense courage. Sometimes you open your feelings up, sharing what’s deep and true in your heart and you get burned. You are told you are just worried about yourself, that you’re not good enough, you are told to go away, you are criticized for being willing to share the feelings deep inside.
If you really love yourself and the special ones in your life, stand tall and let them know the deep, real, raw, tender feelings of your heart. And be truly open to theirs. Be brave in the face of fear. Have courage, like that of the inner dragon inside you. It’s been my experience, that in the end, the ones you’re supposed to be on this life’s journey with will be touched by your uncommon bravery. They will be drawn to your courageous, tender heart. It will deepen their love and appreciation for your honest, heart-felt consideration. And you will desire to return that favor often. The great ones will realize what they have in you, what you have in them, and draw you closer. A courageous love is rare. It requires bravery and trust to access and grow.
Courage to conquer fear: in practice
Knowing these truths about the relationship between courage and fear, the next obvious question is this: what does that look like in practice, in our day-to-day lives?
- Taking chances. Many times, being brave means going with your gut and taking a chance that might seem risky in some way. It could be starting a new project, taking a different approach, or expressing yourself and deep feelings in a new way.
- Showing up. Additionally, as I mentioned above, showing up for your life is, in and of itself, an act of courage. The more you can show up in love and vulnerability, the more courageous you’re being. This could mean being there for others in a time of need, going above and beyond, or even simply doing your best in your day-to-day life. It could mean showing up for someone else, even when you don’t feel you can.
- Having hard conversations. Is there anything more likely to instill fear than a tough conversation? And yet, such conversations are often extremely important to happiness. Whether you’re delivering bad news to a client, expressing frustration with a coworker, having a heart-to-heart with a child, or expressing deep inner needs to strengthen your relationship, hard conversations display courage.
- Being willing to mess up. Perfectionism is rooted in fear. It’s being afraid of making mistakes or looking stupid. And that will always hold you back. But when you’re willing to mess up, you’re being courageous. You’re acknowledging that failure is possible, and yet, you’re moving forward anyway.
- Reach out. Another example of vulnerability, reaching out to others is an act of bravery. Maybe you’re connecting with an old friend (or a potential new one). Maybe you’re volunteering in your community, or welcoming a new neighbor, or serving someone who needs it. Maybe you are feeling down and dig deep to find the energy to love someone important in your life. In any case, you’re being courageous by putting yourself out there, without knowing how people will respond.
- Sharing. As a creative, you probably have plenty of work that has never seen the light of day. Well, why not? Why not share something you created? Sure, it opens you up to criticism, but guess what? Courageous people can handle criticism. And you can, too.
- Think brave thoughts. Sometimes, it’s all we can do to be brave inside our own heads. I think that deserves some credit, too, because ultimately, I believe that our thoughts shape our actions, which shape our lives. Design thoughts that point you to courage, and you’ll feel more courageous. Examples might be:
“I know who I am.”
“No matter what I face, I am worthy and capable of facing it.”
“I am afraid AND I am courageous.”
“I was born to face this fear.”
“I am always able to love myself and others deeply, even when I think I cannot.”
Courage versus fear exists beyond the boundaries of war stories and epic fantasies. In fact, it’s a battle that each of us fights daily. If we’re truly going to “create happy” for ourselves, we have to acknowledge our fears and be willing to face them.
We have to ask, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”
And then, we have to do it. And we can.
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