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Fear as Fuel: Embracing Risk for Big Rewards

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that when I received the news of my MS diagnosis fourteen years ago, my immediate response was fear.

In the early days of grappling with this new normal, I often felt out of control. I was unsure how my daily life would change, for how long I would be able to remain physically active, or whether the disease would literally cripple me from the inside out.

My reaction probably isn’t unique, and with the advice of the right medical team, many of these concerns can be assuaged. Reassurances, education, and communication can replace overwhelming fear with hope and confidence. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t have that.

My first neurologist was cold, out of touch, and seemed to care little about how this disease would affect me physically and emotionally, both at that time and in the future. When I found a doctor who took the time to explain what was happening and how I could manage my diagnosis, the apprehension melted away. Living with MS became about mindset and, with this new perspective, my fear lost power.

Looking back now, I realize that the root of my anxiety was the unknown. Someone else’s response could be rooted in trauma, physiology, or even ignorance. In fact, many of the most challenging emotional states, like doubt, regret, shame, and perfectionism come from worry.

Fear can be protective.

Fear can be protective, sending you important signals about what to avoid and when to demonstrate caution. Fear is hard-wired into the human nervous system as a visceral response to the world around you. When you hear a loud, unexpected noise or your heart races while looking down from a great height, you’re being alerted to a situation that could cause you harm.

Functional fears are survival instincts designed to keep you safe. Not being able to distinguish the difference between functional and dysfunctional fear probably won’t support a healthy future. Left unchecked, existing in a state of constant distress can prevent you from becoming who you’re truly meant to be.

Dreading a negotiation can be rooted in a desire to avoid confrontation. You might struggle to find your voice at the bargaining table or even avoid engaging in negotiations at all. This kind of avoidant behavior could imprison you in a scarcity mentality—afraid to ask for anything more. Shifting your perspective and thinking of negotiation as a conversation rather than a conflict can undermine the power of your fear.

Perhaps you’re afraid of taking the next step in your career. Unfounded anxiety can stop you in your tracks, preventing you from trying for a promotion. Ultimately, your worries could close you off from taking chances. You might find yourself avoiding professional challenges and settling for doing just good enough. What if you stopped and asked yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Simply playing out the scenario and realizing that the outcome you’re afraid of is highly unlikely often helps. 

I’ve experienced fearfulness in different situations throughout my life. In this instance, I was afraid of being unwell, of needing others too much, of limiting myself, and of being a burden to those I care about. When I changed my mindset about those anxieties, I found I could move forward.

Hope can be motivational.

Both can motivate you, but the opposite of fear is hope. Like many of you, worry was a factor in my early career. But it was not alone. Along with an innate sense of hopefulness, and a willingness to take chances, I was driven to try different strategies, come up with new ideas, and take on new ventures until I reached my goals. 

Do you want to look back on life and realize you could have achieved so much more? I don’t, and I know excelling in any area of my life would be difficult if I always allowed fear to rule my decisions. When I imagine different scenarios for a choice I need to make, the outcome almost always comes with a greater reward than the perceived risk. 

The strength you need to achieve success is within you, but shifting your perspective and ignoring your own unease requires courage. Banishing misgivings from your mindset could open the door to incredible opportunities and set you on a path to great happiness. True, you may have to challenge your own security or comfort, but the reward just might outweigh the risk. Whether you’re willing to push through your fear and try is for you to decide.

Next time you’re confronted with an impactful decision, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”


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