If I learned anything from The Princess Diaries, it is first, to never go for the conventionally hot guy, second, that eyebrows really do have the power to transform your entire face, and finally, that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. And it’s like, okay Eduard Christoff Philippe Gérard Renaldi, prince of Genovia, that’s a lovely sentiment, but can you say easier said than done?
Sure, I believe that taking risks and trying new things is objectively more important than my petty anxieties, but that doesn’t mean they stop existing (See: my Fears as a New Graduate and my Fears in the First Few Years of My Career). Making that judgment means nothing if you don’t have the strength to act on it.
[Related: Inside The Fears Of A Go-Getter Girl]
So how can we be more like the seemingly fearless doers of the world? The bold entrepreneurs? The people who obviously have doubts and anxieties but seem unfettered by them? Who take risks that lead to both massive failures and massive successes? Who allow themselves to experience the fear, then take a deep breath and do it anyway?
This advice made me immediately think of the Salvador Dali quote: “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” At the root of being fearless is strong self-awareness—understanding that you have flaws, you will make mistakes, you will fail. “The idea that an overblown self-confidence is going to render you fearless is a misconception,” says psychology writer John Vespasian. “Self-delusion is not going to protect you from discouragement, depression, or anxiety. Individuals become fearless only when they accept their own weaknesses, and as a result, learn to deal calmly with stressful situations. They become fearless because they are willing to give up the pretension of invulnerability, while at the same time, they are committed to remaining effective and alert.” As I wrote in “4 Totally Counterintuitive Lessons about Success,” embracing vulnerability makes you powerful.
. . . but still optimistic. Yeah, it’s a tough balance. “Individuals who hold unrealistic expectations are those who prove the most susceptible to feelings of helplessness and fear,” Vespasian says. “One of the key aspects of becoming fearless is learning to be realistic without falling prey to cynicism and disillusionment. You have to learn to view reality as it is, but also maintain your ability to view the positive in each negative situation. Fearless people are always able to see hopeful signs, even when everything seems to be falling apart. Learning to be realistic will help you stay calm and fully operational in crisis situations, and reinforce your self-confidence.”
Fear is a natural human response to threatening situations. Fear can warn you of approaching danger or potentially save you from a career disaster . . . but only if it is kept in balance. “You can dramatically reduce such negative emotional reactions if you have cultivated balance in all areas of your life,” Vespasian says. “And I mean balance between your professional and private life, and between your short-term and long-term goals. Balance makes you strong and self-confident, because you are not dependent on just one thing. It removes from your mind the compulsion to win all the time. A balanced life is the greatest contributor to a fearless personality.”
[Related: 7 Notable Women On Work-Life Balance]
According to Dr. Robert Mauerer, author of Mastering Fear, at the root of fearlessness is the pattern of conversations we have with ourselves. “People tend have either a nurturing or a harsh inner voice,” Mauerer says. During times of adversity, successful people have a voice that reminds them it is okay to make mistakes, be afraid, or ask for help. On the other hand, he says, “People who are afraid of risk will often confess they are afraid of the emotional beating they will give themselves if their efforts fail.” If your inner voice is your harshest critic, don’t despair—it can be reprogrammed. First, Mauerer says, identify what you say to yourself when facing setbacks. “Is the conversation you are having inside the same one you’d have if you were supporting and comforting a colleague or friend? [If it isn’t], write out what you would say to someone else facing the same challenge you are facing.” He suggests reading those thoughts aloud two or three times a day in a comforting, affirming voice. Over time, this will train your inner voice to be less of an asshole.
[Related: 4 Reasons Why Women Need To Embrace Failure]
One of the worst responses to fear is letting it fester internally, bouncing around between you and your asshole inner voice. In order to understand your fears and turn them into excitement or positive action, you’re going to need to consult someone you trust. “Seek out a mentor, teacher, colleague to discuss fears and brainstorm strategies for the situation,” Mauerer says. “This can be hard for people moving up the career ladder, as much of our success comes from individual competition. Being able to compete against others and outshine other applicants or colleagues is essential up to a point. The next set of skills, equally crucial, is the ability to ask for help, seek support, and collaborate. Ultimately, both skills are essential: competing and collaborating.” Sharing fears or insecurities doesn’t make you weak—you will learn that other people share your fears, and ultimately, it will empower you to press on.
[Related: 7 Empowering Tales Of Mentorship]
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.