It Is Not Fear You Are Feeling

I have become severely disinterested in fear-based living. Fear-based learning, fear-based love, fear-based religion, fear-based friendships… There is a lot of discussion out there about how we are internally afraid of so much, and we need to address that and face it and become not afraid. That does not seem useful to me.

Choosing Fear

I teach that we choose all the time. Our lives are made of a series of choices, day in and out, from morning to night, during our sleeping and waking hours. We choose all the time.

My work with young people over the last 20 years focused on decision-making in all kinds of positions in their lives, including their personal lives, their family and social lives, their educations, and all over. As adults, we constantly face decision-making opportunities, too. Constantly.

A lot of the choices we make are unconscious. They are driven by instinct and intuition that are unspoken, unacknowledged drivers throughout all of our life. Many others are conscious decisions chosen from amid fields of options, opportunities, and potentials.

There is a small plethora of psychologists, spiritualists, counselors, coaches, and other knowledgeable types who are out there promoting the idea that fear drives many of these unconscious and conscious decisions. Many of these folks frame our lives as being based in fear. I want to make it abundantly clear that I disagree with them, particularly about “fear” being a subconscious/unconscious motivator of a great deal of our decision-making. I don’t believe that is a particularly useful framework for understanding why we choose what we do, or for explaining how we come to the places where we are in life.

There is a role for acknowledging fear. When I directed ropes challenge courses I was taught the dictum about reasonable versus unreasonable fear. Reasonable fear is being chased by a man with a gun down a dark alley. Unreasonable fear is to be afraid of all alleys in any city anywhere anytime of day. After testing that rule on ropes challenge courses, with boys and girls and men and women hundreds of feet in the air with ropes and teamwork supporting them, I came to see it’s relevance for them and for me. After continuing to test the rule in daily living and when teaching it to youth and adults in other settings, I found it had diminishing value. At this point in my life I have come to understand that there is almost no value to elevating fear’s level of control in our lives, because almost all of the time, we are not afraid.

What Fear Really Is

As a noun, fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” When defined as a verb, fear means to “be afraid of someone or something likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.

What we understand to be fear is often intuition screaming at us. Our safety radars have varying degrees of acceptability for stimulus from outside sources, and they respond according to that stimulus in ways that get our attention best. We may get sick, leave relationships, quit jobs, move houses, stop friendships, or otherwise disconnect, and we may be tempted to attributing that to fear. But it’s not.

We each do the right things for ourselves in our world. If a person must frame a response as fearful and that’s useful for them, then by all means I do not want to take away another person’s comfort. But if fear does not serve you as a useful way to see the world today, then consider this permission to see it for what it is: Fear is an intuitive response to extraneous stimulus designed to keep us safe.

When we begin to understand fear for what it really is, we can discover that it is not fear that is keeping us from our relationships or jobs or love or friendships or success or a new home… Instead, there are many other factors at work. We can lump all of those under the heading “fear”, or we can see fear for it’s component parts. But generally speaking, “fear” is not what is actually at work.

I am not trying to take away fear, either, or say that it does not exist or that it does not harm you. You can feel fear or imagine feeling afraid all you want. I am simply suggesting there is another way.

Living On Purpose

If you want to choose to see fear differently, I would suggest becoming more realistic about your life. Approach decision-making deliberately, and choose to makes choices on purpose. While you make choices, see the different factors that influence you. Studies have shown us our choices are affected by:

  • past experience 
  • cognitive biases 
  • age and individual differences 
  • belief in personal relevance, and 
  • escalation of commitment

None of these include fear. See what fear is, see how you have raised it too high on your life’s radar, and choose differently. It is that easy. Choose differently. Harriet Tubman once said, “Children, if you are tired, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going.”

Let me add, “If you are fearful, keep going.”

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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