Facing Your Fears

Oct 2017

As we have now fully recovered from the onslaught of ghosts and vampires, and as our children have just about recovered from an overdose of sugary treats, it is worth remembering that the day formerly known as All Hallows’ Eve has its roots in pagan beliefs. Dating back about 2,000 years, Halloween marked the Celtic New Year and was originally called Samhain, which translates to “summer’s end” in Gaelic. In many cultures, it was a time to remember those that had passed away with places being set at the dinner table for those no longer present. Halloween today is a time when our little ghosts and goblins to take to the streets, asking for sweets and scaring one another silly. In fact, the concept of fear, and the emotional release of conquering that fear, seems to be one of the key reasons that people love this spooky night!

We can learn a lot from Halloween and translate this into the workplace. Fear is both a powerful and primitive emotion. It will provoke both a biochemical reaction within you, which is common through all of us, as well as an emotional response, which is highly individual. In a fight or flight situation, you will feel the impact of adrenaline and then have an emotional response to this stimulus.

In a working environment we sometimes come across work you need to do that makes you uncomfortable or even scared. You are lacking in confidence and you’re not sure you can get the outcome you need. But hiding from work that makes you feel like this only ensures that you don’t get the desired outcome!

Interestingly, this has nothing to do with being born with low self-confidence. It has everything to do with fear of failure being a socially acceptable behaviour. What kind of failure do we actually fear the most? Most of our fear of failure is shortsighted – meaning we don’t generally fear failing to do something well after years of practice, hard work and repetition. What we really fear is failing to do something right the first time.

The “fear of failure” is not a useful fear at all. It’s a kind of neurosis that keeps us from attempting to accomplish anything at all. Is it really reasonable to expect ourselves or anyone else to do anything right the first time around? No. Most people require several attempts and lots of practicing to get things right at all. Yet we go on expecting ourselves to “do it right” the first time.

Failing is certainly not seen as a prerequisite for success. But is “getting it right the first time” really the way entrepreneurs succeed in the real world? Not at all.

We need to take comfort from this, experience failure, face our fears and move on. From a coaching perspective, a coach can assist you in overcoming any work-based fears whilst those with coaching skills to look at the work environment and review the organisation’s approach to failure. Thinking back to Halloween, why do so many of us embrace this festival of getting scared? The fact is that we are facing up to our fears in the knowledge that it is being done in an environment where it is intrinsically safe – whilst we may scream when a loved one jumps out of cupboard, deep down we know we are not in real danger. Accordingly, the ambition should be for any organisation is to have an environment where the employees are bold enough to make that step into the unknown, safe in the knowledge that they have the support of the organisation as whole.