Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

When Fear Is Your Friend (and When It’s Not)

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Alexis Grant. Alexis is an entrepreneurial writer, digital strategist and thought leader in the careers community. She offers a free newsletter that’s pretty popular with writers.

Do you feel a twinge of nervousness every time you publish a blog post? Need an extra gym session when you submit a manuscript revision? Have to give yourself a pep talk before reading aloud at your writer’s group?

Here’s a secret: We all do. We all are afraid.

Scary Gargoyle Statue

Photo credit: Steven Depolo (Creative Commons)

Feeling nervous before you ship is normal. In fact, if you don’t feel a little fear when you release your work into the world, you’re probably not putting your whole heart into it.

So how do you get past that scary feeling in your gut and get your work out into the world?

The key is being able to tell Good Fear from Bad Fear.

After that, all you need to know is how to make that fear work for you (believe it or not, it’s possible).

The difference between Good Fear and Bad Fear

What’s the difference between these two types of fear?

Good Fear is the kind that screams, “RUN!” when a bear shows up at your campsite.

It’s that knowing feeling in your gut when you’re about to make a bad decision. It’s the lump in your throat that tells you to hold back when you’re not ready to put your best foot forward.

In other words, Good Fear is the kind you should listen to. And Bad Fear is its evil stepsister.

Bad Fear is what stands in your way when you try to leap outside your comfort zone. It says you’re safer when you stay put. It’s the enemy you need to stare down — if you’re going to achieve your dreams.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to tell the two fears apart. It’s easy to mistake the good kind from the bad kind, and sometimes Good Fear even turns into Bad Fear that holds you back.

How I faced the fear of quitting

In the weeks leading up to my decision to quit my job and make a living as a writer, I had a horrible feeling in my stomach. I was scared. Scared to make the right choice. Scared to tell my boss. Scared to leave behind a reliable paycheck.

Much of this anxiety stemmed from the decision to leave a “good job.” I didn’t hate my job; it was good and secure.

So why in the world would I think about leaving? Was I crazy? I mean, who does that — in this economy?

Even though I was head-over-heels excited about the potential of working for myself, I was still petrified of taking the leap. That feeling was Bad Fear, and I knew it.

I knew if I allowed that fear to guide me, it would keep me from accomplishing something great. To kick it to the curb, I reminded myself: When you’re preparing to take a big risk, anxiety is normal.

The fear might never go away

Every time I release a new guide as part of my business, I face this same fear. I wonder: Will people like it? Will they learn something? Will they be satisfied? Will they tell their friends?

I think the same thing we all think when taking a risk: What if I fail? When this happens, I bring out the Good Fear/Bad Fear meter. I ask myself:

Is this the kind of fear that will push me to create my best work, or will it instead prevent me from releasing my ideas to the world?

If the former, I hold back. I wait until I get to excellence. If the latter, I push through and persevere.

You have a decision to make

You have a message the world needs to hear. Believe it or not, whether they hear it is up to you — and you alone. You can let fear control you, or you can use it:

  • Let fear propel you toward your goals. But don’t let it scare you away from bigger dreams.
  • Let fear push you to do your best. But don’t let it keep you from shipping.
  • Let fear help you stay grounded. But don’t let it keep you from living the life you’re meant to live.

Know the difference between Good Fear and Bad Fear — when it deserves your attention, and when you should tell it to take a hike and just keep chugging along.

When’s the last time you were afraid to move forward, and how did you? Share in the comments.

Note: Alexis has a special offer for readers of this blog for the next week. You can buy two of her eBooks for the price of one. If you’re interested in starting a side business and/or launching a successful social media strategy, check out these guides.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Good post. Fear ABOUT something you are DOING is normal.  Whenever we step out of our comfort zone there is inevitable fear – it’s what keeps us safe.  Fear OF DOING something is the bad kind – when we DON’T do something (we want/need/know will help us) because we’re scared.  The difference is the choice of doing.  I choose to do something even though I will be scared compared with I choose not to do something because I’m scared. Thanks!

  • ChadMillerBlog

    Every time we face the fear of failure, and we find ourselves successful on the other side, that same level of fear is never found again. This is how we truly become excellent. We grow in our tolerance of fear.
    Wonderful distinction between the Good and the Bad, Alexis.

  • AnnieCarterUK

    I was pretty fearful about publishing my latest blog post Christians & Social Media – How are we perceived.  How many people am I going to offend or annoy? But I believe in its message, so I hit ‘publish’ anyway and sent it into the twittersphere. This post in my inbox this morning has encouraged me to continue to step out boldly and write what I feel compelled to write. Thank you, Alexis – just what I needed to hear today.

  • Robert Rizzo

    Great post! A lesson we always need to remember. I doubt anyone has a day without some fear. But it’s critical to distinguish what’s leading us in the right direction and what’s leading us in the wrong. 

  • Thank you Jeff. I appreciate your good vs bad fear description. I remind myself that fear means False Evidence Appearing Real and this helps.  Thanks, Robin

  • Thank you so much for your post – it is very timely. And a sense of encouragement and inspiration for me! And it is something I truly needed today especially. I am just wrapping a post for wider distribution and I have been a little hesitant – and now I’m confident – it’s ready for editing on the other side.

  • I definitely become afraid when God asks me to share the Gospel to people. I am prompted by the Holy Spirit to talk to people often but I rarely follow through. It is most definitely bad fear because it is holding me back. I need to have the strength to overcome!

  • I sometimes wish conquering fears could be like riding a bike.  I wish I could just learn it once and instinctively choose to keep peddling and moving forward.  Thank you for the encouragement to keep going.  

  • Needed to hear this today. Thanks!

  • Reminds me of my football days where the coaches told us to distinguish between pain and injury.

  • Christinekylemoore

    What a great and needed post. I have enjoyed learning and being inspired! 

  • Leila Wilson

    Stepping out into our risk area is not an easy thing to do and fear can blight my confidence. As a widow of 76 I love to write poetry, short stories and articles on topics that touch me and encourage me to put my thought down. I have had a fair number of what to me, comes across as patronising comments from family and friends who view my efforts with affectionate amusement. Yet I have won or have been placed in competitions quite a few times. I have given some thought to publishing but perhaps my old friend fear prevents me from doing so! Good fear versus bad fear is an interesting concept and one that I haven’t thought of before.

    Jeff, thank you for the joy of reading all your posts and the guest posts you offer. Today I have voted for you without hesitastion as the blogger of the year. I was delighted to see that the four voters before me have also given their vote to you. I would love to see you win for you deserve it.

  • may we never give into the bad fear and quit!

  • I think I was afraid of giving blogging my best effort. Before if I failed, I could say I wasn’t really trying. Now I know I am putting myself out there, but honestly I’d rather move past the fear. I really appreciate your post, Alexis, because fear is such a pervasive issue.

  • I was afraid to tell the world about my novel, but I think people are seeing me as an author now. I never considered the concept of good fear and bad fear, and using it to achieve a goal. Good stuff.

  • David

    I will sometimes let fear make me anxious over job opportunities. I paralyze myself over whether to apply, whether & how to follow up. When I’ve eventually convinced myself just get on with it, I’ve become so anxious I stumble over myself. Is this fear of success?

  • Great stuff. I agree that there is good and bad fear. Faith and Fear have the same definition: The belief that what you cannot see actually exists. The difference is that faith attracts the positive and fear the negative. I recently blog on this topic: https://www.pauljolicoeur.com/gotfear/

    • interesting correlation, Paul. I like it.

  • Thomas Schwaiger

    While its a big step forward knowing there are different fears I was hoping for some insight on how to distinguish the two. Awareness helps and let’s you reframe it better but being able to identify would really change it.

    Any insights on that?

  • I fear rejection a lot when it comes to my poetry because it so personal.  Still working on that one.

  • Great post.  I’ve struggled with intense fear due to my childhood.  You are right about good fear and bad fear.  Fear is not a bad emotion in itself, but needs to be monitored and controlled.  We need to understand bad fear has no place in our lives.  Personally, I have found that fear in sharing my views in writing and speaking have lessened as I get older.  Unless I’m broaching a very controversial topic from an opposing view I’m becoming very confident and honest in sharing my words without fear.

  • SO, so good. Great distinction between the two!! It feels so wonderful to realize I’m normal. 🙂