3 ways I co-opt fear to use to my advantage

 October 22, 2015

By  Casey Berman

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Lately, I’ve been working through how to deal with fear.

In our lives as people in general, and as attorneys in particular, we face a lot of fears.

Some we share with most everyone else (fear of physical pain, of losing a loved one, of trying new things, of falling into depression, of loneliness, of embarrassment).

Others are more specific to us as attorneys (fear of making a typo on a brief, of making a mistake in front of a judge, of being incorrect on the legal precedent, of getting turned down as partner, of being sued for malpractice, of not being able to make our law school loan payments).

And we have many, many fears when it comes to leaving the law (we’re afraid we won’t be able to convince someone else to hire us, we’re afraid to tell our firm we actually want to leave, we’re afraid we won’t be able to say we’re really a lawyer anymore, we’re afraid it won’t be easy, we’re afraid we will be ridiculed and doubted).

Here are three methods I use to not let fear hold me back:

1. Realize that the fear may be part of our lives, but it is not part of us

Yes, the fear is there. It has manifested. It is a thing. There is no denying it.

But just like the many things in our lives that are around us and are “there†(air, a tree, happiness, stress), fear may be around us and be there … but that does not mean fear “is†us.

Fear is not an inherent part of us.

And that is important because it means we don’t have to beat ourselves up for ever getting afraid. Fear isn’t a weakness of ours that we should criticize or get down on ourselves about.

Everyone is afraid at some point. It is just part of each of our worlds, but not part of each of us.


2. When we see the fear, that is good, because we can rest assured that our desires are often close by

When we realize that fear may be in our lives, but is not an inherent characteristic of each of us, we can then be empowered to learn more about what fear really is.

Fear is a sense of powerlessness that is in contradiction to how we inherently should feel about ourselves.

In other words, fear occurs when we have a desire to do something that is in alignment with who we are and what we’re good at and what we enjoy … but this (fear based) belief is holding us back from doing so.

But identifying our fears (or unworthiness or guilt or anger or vulnerability) actually helps make more clear to us what our corresponding desires (happiness or freedom or validation or satisfaction) are. With this clarity, we can then act in a way that counters the fear and aligns us with what we want.


3. Acting on our desires first takes a change of mindset (and not just a lot of hard work)

It’s great to realize that fear is just a part of life, and not an inherent (negative) character trait of each of us.

And it feels great when we can realize that identifying our fear actually helps point us to what our desires are.

So once we have a better idea of our desire, not burdened by the weight of our fear, we can then act on them.

And how do we act on our desires?

We act on them by changing our mindset so our fears no longer exist as scary beliefs but rather begin to constructively serve us as foundations for our personal narrative’s arc.


Each of our lives as a movie

An exercise I like to do that helps me change my mindset and enable my fears to constructively identify my desires is to imagine my life as a movie. Yes, that’s right, a movie.

A movie where I’m the hero and main star. A movie with me on the screen, with each of us on the screen in our own respective films, and a packed, interested audience watching each of our every move, fascinated by our life story (yes, our normal-unhappy-lawyer-not-sure-what-to-do-with-my-life story), watching how we overcome our hurdles, wanting to be entertained by what we say, wanting to be inspired by what we do, wanting us to be true to ourselves, and rooting for us to succeed … even as we try and fail and experiment and learn and grow throughout it all.

The deeper the hole we’re in, the more interested the audience is in seeing how we’re going to climb out.

It’s a nice (imaginary) ego boost, of course, and it’s also what stories are all about. The Heroes Arc. Our arc.

We feel Incomplete and then we get the call to Adventure but we begin to Doubt our Abilities and then we find Support and Mentoring and then we Cross the Threshold and we have our Confrontations and Pain and then we find our Reward and then we Return home a different and better person.

We are the hero. We are the hero. We are the hero.

Think this through with me, close your eyes with me, let’s visualize the audience, in their seats, tickets in their pockets, getting settled in their seats, eating their treats, sipping their drinks, looking for a deep, funny, inspiring movie, a story that educates and gets them thinking, one for the ages, a story of a normal person (us), imagine the scene, you, each of us, in the office, windows looking out onto a drab street, it’s a Sunday and we’re missing our kid’s school event because there is an agreement that needs review, the light hazy and dusty air flowing in, and the anxiety in our stomach from a case we can’t get a handle on or the stress from a client who won’t pay us or the unhappiness we feel when we think of our age and we think of the potential we have lost toiling as an attorney. Our face cringes and we rub our hands through our hair and the audience gets it.

And we need to leave this, we say to ourselves, we need to stop being an attorney, we hear it, we know it, but we don’t know how, we doubt we can do it. We are so stuck (“How will I get out�).

And the audience feels us, and our pain resonates with them, and they begin to get teary in the eye, and they can’t believe they are crying so soon in the movie, but they are, because they feel our pain, it is like theirs, or like that of people close to them (“What will she do?â€).

And they shake off their tears because they look at their watch and they know there is so much more movie left (“It can’t end now, it just started, it has to get betterâ€), there has to be a better ending, they want to see us succeed, they are wondering what we will do to overcome this, and most of all, they want to feel better by watching us.

The scene now is of us battling with our unhappiness, driving home in traffic numb, searching online for non-law jobs, gritting our teeth at insensitive bosses.

And then the story slightly turns. There is an encounter or a conversation or a realization that provides us hope and information and insight and a plan. We the hero find a community of others out there who are also unhappy, and we realize that we are not alone (“I AM NOT ALONE!â€) and we have found a tribe that understands us and we have support.

We experiment and network and talk to people and can’t believe we’re actually doing this, we can’t believe we’re actually thinking in this new way, and can’t believe that there is an actual new reality we could be a part of. Motivation, confidence, baby-steps. We get butterflies in our stomach we haven’t felt in years.

But we vacillate, and we are excited, and then we doubt ourselves, and we continue to let fear encroach on us but we make strides in moving on.

But it’s back and forth, could go either way, unpredictable, it takes so long it seems. It doesn’t feel good, and we may not move forward and leave the law or find happiness after all because we don’t think we can do it, we don’t think we deserve it, we don’t think we can overcome the fear, the doubt, the depleted savings, the ridicule, the unknown, the risk. (“I knew it was too good to be true.â€) It’s touch and go.

And then it happens! Throughout the touch and go, throughout the up times and the down times, throughout the experimentation, we thought it was aimless, but when we weren’t looking, when we weren’t paying attention, we have actually done work, we have actually aligned with the Universe somehow, we have put “it†out there, we have actually created an energy and a purpose and it has manifested, yes it has turned into something we can see and feel and get behind … an opportunity, a new contact, a new interview, a new industry, a new reality, a new job, a new role, a new path.

The music builds up in this scene, and our doubt now finally turns back to optimism and we take that step, that first step to leaving the law and finding who we are.

Through it all, the audience stays with us. And we get stronger, and more experienced, and less fearful. We use our brain in ways we had never done before. We realize people will appreciate and validate us in ways we didn’t know were possible.

We still fail and make mistakes and drop the ball. But it is all okay because we also are beginning to achieve. And to learn from our mistakes. And to not be so hard on ourselves. And to push limits. And to succeed. And to modify and grasp and define our desires.

The movie ends.

The audience claps.

And the curtain falls.

We are a hero.

Look out for the sequel.

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