Right Here, Right Now: Lean into Your Fears and Vulnerability

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We won’t see growth in ourselves until we are truthful about our fears and lean into the discomfort. Learn how to lean into your fears and address your own vulnerability, right here, right now!

Putting together a personal development plan can seem daunting. It can feel overwhelming to put together a list of personal priorities for the future when the present feels uncertain. How do I know who I want to be six months or a year from now when I am trying to keep myself afloat right now?

I know this from personal experience.

In the two years, I have had to adjust how I thought about my own personal and professional development. No longer relying on an employer paying for my professional development, or asking me to complete a self-assessment once a year, or even having anyone give me feedback on the work I am doing, I have had to figure out what to do next all on my own.

Coupled with trying to kick-start a new business, manage a never-ending job search, and learning to pivot my skills in the middle of a pandemic – well, it’s a wonder I can look past the next hour much less the next month or more.

But I believe we all have the capacity to at least think about the here and now. We can one thing, something, that will propel us forward to meet our goals. This post will be part of a series: in this post, I will explore ways lean into your feelings of vulnerability and fears keeping you from meeting your goals, right here, right now.

Lesson Learned: What We Tell Others We Fear Might Not Be the Real Fear

When people play the icebreaker Two Truths and a Lie, I usually have one of the best true stories among the group. I tell people, truthfully, that when I was 8 years old, a car ran into my house and hit me while I was sleeping in my bed. True story, this actually did happen to me. I usually make a joke about getting thrown across the room into the closet, and then came out 10 years later.

But the incident belies a long-standing fear I have had since then.

A Lingering Fear

Needless to say, I never got around to getting a driver’s license. I have tried in the past. More than once. Unsuccessfully, each time.

During my last driving lesson in Los Angeles in 2013, I tried to drive around a parked ice cream truck, overcorrected, and broke a side mirror of a car parked on the street. I was so paralyzed from what is a pretty fixable accident (solved with $75 cash and a new mirror from the auto shop down the street) that I haven’t been behind the wheel since then.

I have been cajoled, pushed, questioned, mocked for not have a driver’s license. None of that has ever helped me get behind the wheel of a car, not recently. Even the fact that I was disqualified for a job because I didn’t have a valid driver’s license hasn’t made me want to get a driver’s license.

Because I know that my fear of cars isn’t rooted in driving. It’s the loss of control I feel when I drive. Losing control of a car would result is an accident I or someone else might not recover from. But this fear isn’t generalized into only driving.

The Real Fear

The bigger fear is losing control of my fate. That things happening around me and to me will affect my ability to shape my own future. Driving is just one example, but there are others.

When the college closed nearly two years ago, I was full of hope that I would be able to control my fate. Until landing a full-time job didn’t pan out in the first year. And now the second year. And I have had to confront that my biggest fear was coming to life.

The fear I feel is real and I acknowledge it.

I can name it. And when I put my heart and head in alignment, I have found that I can overcome its paralyzing effects. Much like tapping into my authenticity and vulnerability, I am stronger when I share with others how fear is impacting my life.

I have found that the only way to overcome my fear is to lean into it.

Leaning Into the Fear

As I have been writing about being authentic and vulnerable, all sorts of competing emotions have been rising to the surface about dealing with the current reality. Some of them are about what I am capable of doing. Some are about what I expect from others. And I recognize that so much of these emotions are based in fear. Again, Jaylyn wrote about these emotions in her Twitter feed:

I’m seeing “normalcy” tossed around A LOT. Even though like what even is “normal” in the midst of a global pandemic. There’s two things that stand out to me about wanting to create a sense of community. 1. We don’t do this during any of the other time periods when we’re apart.

And 2. I think we underestimate our students’ ability to create and maintain their own digital communities in ways that organic and intuitive to them. They know how to do this. They’re actually really good at this! And we should lean into that!


The fear that we can’t operate outside of ‘normal’ is a natural reaction to the radical changes we’re all experiencing. Trying to create normalcy within the face of this uncertainty is also a natural reaction. But there are ways to harness these feelings of fear – especially about the unknown – that will help is grow.

FOMO is No Joke

Kristen Hick, a clinical psychologist, offers six lessons that show us the benefits of leaning into our fears. She wrote about a year-long journey into learning to live fearlessly. One of the lessons that resonated with me was FOMO is no joke. It related to my fear that people don’t need me and my skills to create a community.

It can be challenging to accept that others can create a community without our direct support or ideas. That students can self-guide their education and leadership development without our hand leading them. And that a natural response to a radical change to our daily work lives has been to try and replicate our in-person work in a different platform, regardless of whether it is the right response. And we can be afraid that we are no longer useful for our strengths and what we can contribute to the work we know.

Her final lesson, fearlessness changes all relationships, is the key to breaking through the grips of fear as a boundary. Hicks shares, “Through utilizing the power of fearlessness in all my relationships, it ultimately changed the way I thought and felt about myself, and my perceived limits. Breaking through the wall of fear that limited my work, my relationships, and my relationship with myself, felt like opening up a door to uncharted territory.” I knew that finding a way to break down this wall about my own fears would lead to new ways to see how I related to others, better ways, more innovative ways.

Finding My Own Utility

I used to be so afraid that I would never be able to influence and educate others like I used to in my former jobs. I used to miss the day to day contact with others, because it was thrilling to watch people learn. It crippled me that the work I thought defined my usefulness would never have the same impact again.

But once I named my fear, I realized that the only thing limiting me was the boundaries I felt defined me.

I may not work in a student affairs department, but I can train and influence others through different media. While I haven’t found full-time employment for some time, I can create work for myself that fulfills me and showcases my strengths until I do. Even now, I might need to reframe the manuscript that I worked on before the lock-down. But I can pivot my thoughts and feelings toward something that feels relevant, like helping others navigate their emotions and harnessing their fears.

Lesson Learned: Harnessing Your Fears and Moving Forward is In My Control

One thing in the last two years I have learned personally is that fear can cripple you. The waves of feelings – doubt, insecurity, blame, grief, sadness – all of these feelings make your body do different things. For me, it made me feel tired, like all I wanted to do was rest until I caught my breath, under a blanket, in the dark. I could intellectualize the experience of fear, but that hardly helped me.

Personally, I needed a way to redirect this energy without pretending it wasn’t happening to me. I needed to create some new ways to measure my productivity, utility and relevance.

Liz Bentley, in How to overcome fear and get better results from NBC Digital, shares a story about practicing a downhill ski race. Her instructor reminded her that if she felt she was going too fast, she needed to go faster. Unintuitive, but true. When we are gripped in fear, “your body can pull up out of your tuck, which causes you to lose control and often fall. However, if you lean into the speed and lean into your fear, you can regain control. Essentially, by embracing your fear — you gain back the control.”

I believe this to be true. By recognizing that my fears are based on losing control, I found there was no better time to launch myself into something I never would have done before – start my own business. Even if it failed, I could still measure its success by what I learned. Below are three steps to leaning into your fears by Liz Bentley.

Exercise: Leaning Into Your Fear

If we lean into our fear and embrace it, we will regain control. To do this we need to:

  1. Diagnose the fear – Calmly assess what is causing the fear so that you can understand the root of it. This will help you do a cost/benefit analysis on how to approach it.
  2. Stay with it – Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Look at the situation as an opportunity not an obstacle. Don’t avoid the fear; lean into it so you can problem solve.
  3. Take action – Once you understand the challenge, meet fear with action. This way you will influence circumstances rather than letting circumstances influence you.

A Personal Application

I have shared what my fear is – losing control of my own fate. It can be applied generally to many aspects of my life. Lately, it has taken the shape of feeling relevant in a field I have worked in but not as of late. As I’ve unpacked my fears, I found that I had relied on others – institutions, supervisors, students – to tell me what my relevance and impact and role should be. On my own, I have to take ownership of my failures. But it also meant for the first time owning all of my own success.

I have spent the past two years feeling discomfort. When asked by others how I am doing, no longer do I avoid the subject and instead name what I am afraid of. One of the biggest ways this showed up was asking myself ‘how will I know I’m doing what’s right without feedback from someone.’ I have had to work through this problem calmly and deliberately. I have listened to different cues – like feedback on a blog post, or a nice follow up following a coaching session.

Ironically, what I thought would stop me from succeeding was mostly the messages I had in my head. So I would take note and make sure the messages never came true. Some of my projects didn’t work out, but what I learned was applied to future projects. Now that I have created new metrics for measuring success, I can better learn and apply new knowledge.

My fear shows up often – like the problem I have finding relevance in a changing higher education world that I am no longer working within. But I am no longer scared of taking risks and trying something. Because the fear wins when I do nothing.

Leaning Into Your Fears and Moving Forward

It has taken me weeks of being enveloped in my fears, recently, to re-assess what stopped me from moving forward. As I watch and listen to others undergoing similar situations during this global pandemic, I want to remind others to start naming what their fears are. Taking the risk to say all of this publicly, and then asking others to do the same, will help all of us. Much like vulnerability and authenticity, we are better when we are all taking a risk.

Bentley shares, “By paying attention to your fears and understanding their root, you will be able to divert a number of problems before they arise. Many industry leaders across the board see challenges coming far in advance and will proactively shift to face them head-on or avoid them all together. So stare down your fears, lean into your discomfort and gain a competitive advantage that will drive better results – and even win the race.”

Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional

I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them learn how to lean into their fears, reconsider their strengths, and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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