How Courage and Fear are Deeply Connected

Many of us commonly think of fear and courage as conflicting forces. We often think of it as a classic battle between good and evil. While one chases us into the deepest holes, the other lifts us to new heights. At least, this is how we might think of it. The truth is, fear and courage are complementary forces. One cannot exist without the other. As we transform into becoming more courageous at work, we might want to look at the things we fear the most.

Most of us have (or at least should have) a set of fears. From fearing spiders to dying alone, our fears will define who we are as people. Naturally, we are often inclined to resent our fears. They can weigh us down in the short term and shrink our human and professional potential in the long term. Fear plays one of our favorite antagonists in the metaphorical movie of our lives.

On the other side of fear, we have courage. In the short term, it elevates us through an immediate challenge. In the long term, it gives us the confidence to reach our fullest potential.

We often associate courage with the absence of fear. However, in reality, fear is what separates courageousness from fearlessness. Fearlessness lacks the thought, foresight, and intuition required to conquer our greatest obstacles. Courage on the other hand entails a deeper understanding of the obstacles and steps necessary to achieve our most important goals.

Ironically, the catalyst between these two phenomena is the presence of fear itself. Fear allows us to recognize, understand, and assess risk. The cues that cause fear are designed by evolution to keep us safe, and in some cases, alive. To be fearless means that we are ignoring those cues – rushing into risk without considering the consequences. Fearlessness is dangerous.

With this new understanding, what steps can we all take in becoming more courageous at work?

The Benefits of Having Courage at Work

In the workplace, courage can help open doors to new experiences we otherwise might not have. It helps us overcome our imposter syndrome when asking for a raise or promotion. It helps us speak up for a colleague being mistreated in a meeting. Whatever the situation, courage invites new empowering experiences that can snowball into subsequent future experiences.

As this dynamic is compounded through more people within a workplace, the benefits become more significant. As courage is allowed to thrive so can innovation and belonging. The relationships and credibility of the people within our workplaces are enhanced. We are inspired to take credit for our achievements, and be accountable for our shortcomings. It gives us the confidence to take instruction and mentorship in some instances, while in other instances it gives us the ability to stand up to authority when appropriate.

Becoming More Courageous at Work

Define and grow strong personal and professional values: Your own happiness and fulfillment are significantly affected by courage. When you act in alignment with your values, you tend to be happier and more satisfied—so the courage to stand up for what you believe is worth cultivating. Having a well-thought-out set of values can also be empowering in difficult moments when we may want to be courageous either at work or in our personal lives.

Work hard to understand your professional goals: Your professional goals are the foundation for being more courageous at work. Your goals provide a purpose that can guide your actions daily. Like with values, your goals provide the end game when you debate challenging your fears in each instance. This isn’t easy though, it demands a lot of hard intentional self-reflection, and a nuanced big-picture vision of what you want for your career.

Understanding and confronting our fears are integral to forming our guiding values and goals. This analysis of obstacles, risks, and mitigation are how we truly come to the conception of our goals. In turn, this gives us the courage and foresight to take risks when necessary, in pursuit of our greater vision and purpose.

Channeling Fear into Courage

The stress we experience during fear is evolutionarily built to trigger our very survival. There is great power in this experience if channeled properly in a work setting. Fear can help us experience, focus, clarity, and courage. Overcoming any powerful source of fear in our lives is a significant and empowering experience. But certain instances of fear are more applicable to our work lives. If channeled properly they can have significant impacts on our career paths.

Fear of failure

Fear of failure is common, whether it concerns giving a presentation, taking on a massive project or accepting a higher post with expectations to match. And yet, “failure is one of the biggest gifts we can have because we learn from it,” says Webb. “Everyone who is successful has failed on their way — it’s a requirement. Change your relationship with failure and the better off you’ll be.”

Fear of inadequacy

Imposter Syndrome is such a common inhibitor to professionals everywhere. There are so many instances when confronted with an opportunity, we immediately resort to fear. If you do not feel skilled enough, ask yourself. Do I have the skills necessary to thrive within my job? The answer is likely yes but if not at least you have reflected on a path to growth that provides immediate value to your career. After this recognition, you can also get a more concrete vision of the steps to go about acquiring the specific skills you need. Leveraging your workplace community through mentorships and colleagues is a great first step if your culture is set up correctly.

Fear of uncertainty

Uncertainty is top of mind for several reasons that likely go without saying. 81% of Americans reported global uncertainty as a top source of stress. Uncertainty makes it difficult to plan ahead which scares many of us from taking risks or showing courageousness. Having strong goals and values can help keep the roadmap clear as we confront uncertainty. Working in a workplace that is conducive to your values and goals is invaluable in times of uncertainty. Our ability to lean on people we trust gives us support. All of this empowers us to take risks and show courage in ways that can benefit both our own careers while also benefitting a workplace’s ability to innovate through times of uncertainty.

How Fear and Courage Lead to Growth

To conclude, courage empowers us to take calculated risks, channel more from within ourselves and reach our furthest potential. Fear provides the catalyst to becoming more courageous at work. The beginning of this transformation within ourselves starts with a deep reflection of the relationship between our goals, values, and fears. Courage is the manifestation of action in important instances because of this reflection.

This is a complex and holistic exercise that we all benefit from undertaking. While it is an inherently individual exercise, our efforts are often elevated by others. Perfecting a workplace culture that empowers mutual understanding, support, and trust can really unlock the relationship between fear and courage which helps every member of a workplace truly become the best version of themselves.