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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery


Jack, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, couldn’t believe what had just happened. The Board of Directors had just given him a vote of no confidence for insider trading and asked for his resignation.

His worst fear and recurring nightmare had just come true—he had failed to be successful as a business leader. It wasn’t fair. He had tried so sincerely to be the rock hard person that he thought the position required. Maybe he had taken a few shortcuts here and there; but what could you expect with the demands that he had on him? Where had he gone wrong? Had his Dad been right all those years when he told Jack that he was a loser?

It all began with a father who viewed him as a chronic failure. No matter what Jack did, it wasn’t good enough. He developed an obsessive fear of failing and not being able to measure up. He was so determined not to fail that he began to use poor judgment, to take short cuts into illegal activities early on such as plagiarism and cheating in school. His fears became a self fulfilling prophecy, and ultimately he did fail—how ironic.

This leads us to one of the great cosmic questions in life: “Is fear your friend or your enemy?” As a trained organizational psychologist and business consultant, I feel very confident about one of the great cosmic answers in life: “It depends.”

Many of us, especially we men, are taught from a young age that to be afraid is to be weak; that fear is something to be ashamed of and to be hidden. The thinking behind this approach is that it prepares us better to endure pain and to compete out there in a world that is not always kind.

Unfortunately, not acknowledging your fears or feeling ashamed of them leaves them as unresolved nagging doubts that can interfere with doing what is in your best interests in life. For example, in organizations the fear that others will be unkind to us kills trust and therefore teamwork and productivity. On a grander scale this is the primary cause of wars between countries. Think of these wars as a fear-based lack of trust and teamwork among countries, and ultimately among human beings.

There is merit to having “mental toughness” skills, because there truly are situations in which they come in handy, but there is a better way to acquire these skills. To start, not all fears are meant to be overcome. Your fear of stepping in front of a moving bus is a healthy survival instinct, and overcoming it can leave you feeling really “depressed” (sic).

Acknowledge and accept your fears as an important part of who you are as an individual. Once you’ve completed this important step, then you can rationally evaluate your fears to decide whether it’s in your best interests to honor them or overcome them.

For example, the fear of public speaking is purportedly second only to the fear of death for many people. This fear is a specific case of the more generalized fear of rejection, and it is a mild form of “paranoia,” or unrealistic self-created fear. Most people who suffer from the fear of public speaking tend to be too self critical. When they get in front of an audience, they fear that everyone else will be too critical of them as well.

Having more people in the audience provides more folks to “project” that unrealistic fear onto, therefore amplifying it geometrically. I mean really, if you’re convinced that you’re going to be rejected, wouldn’t you rather be rejected by two people than two hundred? It’s no wonder that many people don’t even try to succeed in this arena. They’ve frightened themselves out of success before they’ve even begun—another case of the self fulfilling prophecy.

What are your greatest fears? Can you acknowledge them, are they realistic, and are they interfering with your happiness and success?


Technique #1: Acknowledge and accept your fears; they are an important part of who you are as an individual.

Technique #2: Next, analyze your fears to determine whether it’s in your best interests to honor them or to overcome them (having a trusted helper makes this a lot easier).

Technique #3: Pat yourself on the back for being both wise and resilient, and then go out there and conquer the world!

Copyright Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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