How to Use Fear to Find Your Passion

face your fears

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Do what you love.” The idea that we can and should do what we love doing in our work, and that we should choose experiences that make us feel good in life, was a pretty unconventional idea 20 years ago. These days, however, it’s an ideal that most of us believe in and want to live by.

So then why aren’t we all doing what we love? Why aren’t we all following our passion?

Do you know what you love?

One of the challenges of our internet-savvy generation is that we have access to lifestyle models and opportunities all over the world. We’ve got an abundance of choices available to us, and this can lead to being overwhelmed and a habit of questioning whatever we have and wondering whether the grass is greener on the other side. And of course we still have social pressure from our families and peers who place their expectations on us. We’re dealing with more opportunities and demands than ever before – it’s no wonder we get a little unsure of what we want!

The idea of doing what you love is of no use to you if you’re unsure what you want and love. And nobody else can tell you what you love – the whole point of doing what you love is that you’re doing what YOU love, rather than the things other people tell you you should love. But while you can’t learn what you love from other people, you can learn how to meet your true self and discover what you love for yourself. There are lots of ways to discover what you love, and one of the most unexpected routes to discovering what you love is through your fear.

How to find your passion: let your fear guide you

Fear feels horrible, and we tend to code experiences that feel horrible as “bad,”  and then we try to avoid those “bad” experiences that we’re afraid of. Avoidance is a great strategy when the experience really is an actual threat to us, but most of what we spend our time being afraid of these days doesn’t pose any real threat to us, and might even be really good for us – and then we miss out on the good stuff when we avoid it.

You see, we’re wired to feel fear whenever we’re stepping into unfamiliar territory, because fear helps us to stay alert and pay more attention in unfamiliar situations. So we need to recognize that fear doesn’t always mean that there’s an actual threat and that we need to get away from the thing that’s triggering our fear. Sometimes fear means that we’re entering new territory and learning, growing and thriving. Sometimes our fear is pointing us to exactly what’s most important to us and what we love most, in amongst the myriad of different demands and opportunities presenting themselves to us.

When something is important to us, it matters to us how it turns out. The more important that thing is to us, the more fear we’re likely to feel about it – because our heart is in it and we care deeply about it. If it wasn’t important to you, you wouldn’t worry about how it turned out.

So how do you know whether to avoid the thing you fear most or move towards it?

Martha Beck has a great metaphor she uses to help us to understand the difference between the kind of fear that’s letting you know that something is a real threat to what’s important to you so you need to avoid it, and the kind of fear that’s letting you know that something is important to you so you need to move towards it, even though it’s scary because it’s going to require you to grow. When the thing you’re fearing is a real threat, you’ll feel afraid and probably a big disgusted, as if you were  scared of heights and standing on a high-dive board, looking to dive into a pool of sewage. When the thing that you’re afraid of is something you’re meant to move towards in order to live fully and express your true self, you’ll feel afraid, but you’ll also feel a sense of excitement, as if you’re standing on a high-dive board, looking to jump into a beautiful, crystal clear pool on a hot summer’s day. My husband has taken to calling that combination of excitement and fear his “Afraidar,” because it’s like a radar that detects and reliably points him to what he loves and what would give him to opportunity to become more of the person he wants to be.

So if you’re unsure about what you want, take some time to explore your fears right now:

1. Mindmaps are a great way to access both your heart and mind, so start creating a mindmap with the words, “My fears” circled in the middle of the page.

2. Then create satellite circles round that, each labeled with an area of your life – finances, friends, recreation, work, health, family, spirituality, and any others you’d like to include.

3. Now brainstorm the opportunities and demands being presented to you in each area of your life that give you fear when you think of them right now, listing them on the page.

4. Highlight all the fears that also give you a feeling of excitement.

5. Look at the fears you’ve highlighted and ask yourself, “What’s important to me, and what do I love within these opportunities and challenges that both scare and excite me?”

6. Then finally, having discovered what you love and what’s important to you, ask yourself, “How can I bring more of that into my life right now?” and go and do that. A lot of the time we create big visions of major changes and we defer having what we want to a later time in our lives. But you can have more of what’s important to you and what you love in some small way already now. Start bringing what’s important to you into your life in small ways now already and over time, momentum will develop and before you realize it, you’ve made major changes. Taking small incremental action is a sneaky way of overcoming your fear of change itself.

There’s so much going on in and around us these days and there’s more change and therefore more uncertainty and fear triggers than ever before. Rather than getting overwhelmed by all the information or becoming paralyzed by fear, learn to use your fear to find your passion and create more of the life you want.

Photo byThe Ivory Tower

21 thoughts on “How to Use Fear to Find Your Passion”

  1. Great post Cath.
    I feel like I’ve been spending a lot of years searching (and doing personal development type things as a hobby)…hit me last year…this is my passion and since then things have started to fall into place aroound this (becoming a life coach and starring a personal development blog) recently. I’ve found realising my passion doesn’t mean I don’t doubt it sometimes, so great tips and practical steps here to keep in touch with that.
    Thanks Cath!

  2. We are all have fears about what we can do. These limiting beliefs govern how we see life, the way we behave, and how far we go. Limiting beliefs can be overcome though visualization. Visualization gives you the ability see the end result you want , in your mind before hand. So by idetifying your fears, then visualzing yourself conquering it each and every day will destroy the fear all together. You will develop a confident certainty which will guarantee success.

  3. @Jen: Awesome! If you care about it, you’ll get fear sometimes. Just keep checking if it’s the fear that’s accompanied by excitement and keep moving if it is. Completely “fearless” is not something to aspire to, because on some level, you’d have to stop caring to become fearless.

    @Jonathan: you’re so right that visualizations are incredibly powerful ways of training our brain to think differently. And rather than encouraging people to fly in the face of all their fears, I always think it’s a good idea to check out whether your “fear” is there to say, “go forward, this is right for you” (when you feel fear + excitement), or “hang on, this isn’t right for you” (when you feel fear + revulsion).

    Also, My sense of fear is that it’s my friend and it’s always doing something positive for me, so I prefer to use words that are less fight-ey, like “working with my fear/ transforming my fear/ using my fear,” even “overcoming my fear” is a bit more collaborative than using words like “conquer” and “destroy.” When you work WITH your fear, I think you’ll find that you enjoy the process more, and you can relax into the visualisations more, which makes them much more effective. Try it, and let me know how what difference this makes for you :)


  4. Hi Cath .. thanks for the idea of the mind map .. the thought of having to get yourself out of fear horrifies me! Fortunately things happen and I’ve learnt that life will move on and it will sort itself out – I’d rather not dwell on it .. but realise others need to find a way through.

    There’s always a silver lining .. and fear isn’t the end all and be all .. if it was we wouldn’t be here now .. life will move on, unless you let fear subsume you.

    Thanks .. I’m sure your words will help and guide people with their fears.
    Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  5. @Poitivelypresent: thanks, Dani! Glad you enjoyed it :)

    @Hilary: I’m sure the idea of “HAVING” to get yourself out of fear horrifies most people! Nobody HAS to get out of fear, and I’d even suggest that sometimes there’s great value is sitting with your fear for a while. It’s a perfectly safe emotion that’s always trying to do something important for you.


  6. Hi Cath .. Sorry I was a bit strong there .. like me, but not like me as much now! As you say the fear emotion will shift .. and it will be helping move me away from that difficult time.

    The thought of a pool of sewage and a pool of clear blue water .. is interesting! Difficult to dive into ..

    Thanks for replying .. Hilary

  7. I’m always fascinated that we do our best to avoid fear, and yet that’s actually a sign that we are growing. I love the mind map idea, and will be giving it a go.

    Great post!

  8. Very insightful post Cathy. Another way to conquer one’s fear is through “desensitization”. It involves exposing yourself to your fears so that you’ll be feel less threatened by it. :)

  9. Great new take on discovering your passion. As usual, your insights are spot on Cath! It is those exciting fears that have the greatest potential to change our lives. It can still be scary, but discovering passions through our fears might help us realize that we have no choice but to strive towards our dreams.

  10. This is great advice but what if your has such a stranglehold over you that it affects every part of your thinking – so you just do not know what your passions are?

    I think this is the situation with me. I have so much fear, I’m lost.

  11. One likes me who has suffered – sniff, sniff – from fears (too) many years, I say get over it. Kick it OUT. Harder than that. When it comes back knocking at the door, it will, be polite and firm, or courageous and considerate, whatever you want to call it … as long as you don’t let it back into the house. If you win, fear loses. It fears losing as much as you do. The more you win, the harder fear knocks. It might attempt to come in thru the bathroom window :-)
    Many make the mistake, like I did, to nurse their fears as if they were babies. Wake up in the morning, remember them, feed them … There’s a better choice. Read Susan Jeffer’s FeelTheFearAndDoItAnyway instead :-) Let the fear-baby slowly starve to death while you’re reading the book.

  12. Fear is normal as long as it isn’t over-exaggerated. That metaphor you shared is perfect. If your dream (the crystal clear water) is worth it, you’ll find a way to overcome your fear. Unfortunately, some people get off the board and give up and others just waste time standing there wishing they had the confidence to dive in.

  13. Fear is all around us and always will be. I am starting to believe it’s there as a guide to lead us to new territories in our life and the more comfortable we are with realising what kind of fear it is, the faster we’ll grow as human beings and the more we’ll get to know our true inner selves. It isn’t always easy but usually from my own experiences I’ve learn so far, what’s necessary in life usually isn’t going to be easy.

  14. Great post…Fear as an emotion, is one of the god’s gift to living beings..guiding, protecting, shaping life throughout and most often driving knowingly or unknowingly. It’s not the fear which has done the damage it’s “Fearing the fear” that has been a culprit, which does not allow people express and grow as a natural process..Why it appears differently to different people, is because just like any other word we have a kind of relationship with word called ‘Fear”…

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