When You’re Scared to Death, Do Something Anyway

We all face fears. Fear of flying. Fear of heights. And the worst of all: fear of failure. Fear has the uncanny ability to paralyze us. So what do we do when we feel its icy-cold hands of restraint? What we must: we move.

Photo of Child Leaping
Photo credit: Creative Commons

For the longest time, I was afraid to be who I was. I was trying to live someone else’s dream.

But then one day, a friend came along and told me the words I was longing to hear:

You are a writer. You just need to write.

After that, something amazing happened: I began to live my true calling.

Friends, family, coworkers all saw it. They encouraged and affirmed my passion, which only fueled my pursuit even more. I began to do better work and enjoy life more. My wife saw it, too.

How you’re robbing the world

When we forsake our dreams for the sake of others, we deprive the world of a gift.

I’ve had my fair share of fears in life. I’ve been timid and intimidated, shy and apprehensive. But even when I was acting courageously, those feelings never went away.

Recently, I interviewed a preacher who had delivered thousands of sermons in his lifetime. When I asked if he still got nervous, he said, “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious.”

There’s something to learn here: Even pros feel fear. They just do something different with it.

You know that fear you feel when you’re about to do something great? That never goes away. It just so happens that the courageous ones name the feeling, move through it, and do something, anyway.

Live your dream and learn

When I stepped into my passion, I was afraid but decided to act, anyway. And it made all the difference. Through the process, I realized a few things:

  • Failure isn’t as scary as you think.
  • The universe makes room for big dreams.
  • Courage is contagious.

I wrote about this on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Here’s an excerpt:

After years of procrastinating, I finally pursued my dream. I decided to become a writer. To my surprise, I saw success far more quickly than expected: I launched a popular blog, got a publishing contract, and found my true fans—all within a year.

How did this happen? Simple. I believed in the dream before it happened. I didn’t wait for fear to go away; I started living into the reality I was longing for.

Waiting for the fear to go away isn’t a good strategy — it won’t happen. For those called to do important work, you’re going to have to move through it.

When was the last time you were afraid — and did something anyway? Share it in the comments.

85 thoughts on “When You’re Scared to Death, Do Something Anyway

  1. You know, we’re about to graduate from our undergrad, and moving is always scary. On top of that, I’m starting a Master’s program in the fall, and it was terrifying to apply for it, but it was worthwhile when I was accepted!

  2. This couldn’t come at a more perfect time. Our magazine launches tomorrow, and I didn’t anticipate this fear/ nervousness/ anxiety, but it is there and very, very real. My biggest fear is letting down our readers and already huge support. Thanks so much for this.

  3. A friend of mine tells me, “Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff and build the wings on the way down.” I’m finding that’s true.

    I’ve started a photo project to raise money for a cancer center. It’s going to cost a couple of thousand to build a display and print & frame 20 images. I’m counting on businesses to support it, anything they donate over the cost goes to the center. I went to a local radio station and asked them to promote it. They’re on board. It’s a big project, but it’s coming together.

  4. This was the conversation I had this morning in the early quiet.  Thank you, Jeff.  Just “move anyway.”  Good stuff.

  5. I’ve started referring to myself as a writer, and a suprising number of people want to take a look at my novel when it’s finished.  I get the idea that they’re impressed I’ve taken a leap. My boys are proud too that mom has a passion like they have a passion. Their passion is baseball.

  6. Jeff. thanks in part to you, my wife and I took a leap and started marriageyouneverwanted.com. We felt we had this amazing message, but for a few years kept putting it off in fear. Then, we decided to go for it starting at the begininng of April and it has been awesome. We feel like we have a message that needs to be shared regardless of our fear

  7. LOVED this… “People love following courage”   Great encouragement.  Thanks Jeff!

  8. Thanks for reminding me of this – and that we need to be courageous even after success has been achieved. It’s not something that we realise I don’t think. This courage is so important and that we need to display it even in success was at first a surprise – but deep down something I felt and have experienced myself. It takes so much courage to keep choosing yourself, to believe you are a writer, and to act – and write – like one. 

    Thanks for sharing Jeff.

  9. I really patted myself on the back for starting my book, but now the fear that I’m wasting my time has started. I have to push through it and keep going. Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. You write and I feel encouraged.  What a gift you have.  I for one am grateful that you step out and use your gifts as you do.  Thank you for your newletter, your Writers Manifesto and now for this ebook.  I know where to go for doses of authentic writing and for big chunks of inspiration. I first discovered you through my friend and fellow blogger Shelly Miller at Redemptions Beauty. Again, gratitude right here.

  11. You write and I feel encouraged.  What a gift you have.  I for one am grateful that you step out and use your gifts as you do.  Thank you for your newletter, your Writers Manifesto and now for this ebook.  I know where to go for doses of authentic writing and for big chunks of inspiration. I first discovered you through my friend and fellow blogger Shelly Miller at Redemptions Beauty. Again, gratitude right here.

  12. Great post on Michael Hyatt’s blog- really enjoyed it! 

    Love the realizations you had- especially that the world will make room for my dream.

    Also important is that people really do like to follow someone- why not be someone worth following?


  13. I’m just now learning that the fears won’t always go away, you just need to work through them. It’s only taken me 30 years. Better late than never.

    I bet there’s a study on why writers have such a hard time believing they’re writers. It seems so common among us all.

  14. First of all, congratulations on the launch of your new eBook. I downloaded it to my kindle and will read it this weekend.

    Hesitation, in that first moment of fear, is the leading cause of death in gazelles and dreams.

    The last time I was afraid and did something anyway was this past Tuesday when I setup my blog and began creating content. I’ve had “it’s all about me” blogs before. I’ve learned more about blogging lurking here than I ever did in all those self-absorbed blogs of my past.

    I am a writer. You have reawakened that reality in me and for that I will forever be grateful.

      1. Allow me to clarify. I SUSPECT hesitation, in that first moment of fear, is the leading cause of death in gazelles and dreams.

        Disclaimer: As to the gazelleness of any specific person. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. But, if the hoof fits… =)

  15. Yes.  I am most afraid when I am writing about things that really matter to me, women in the evangelical church, women in ministry, …  I suppose that gut clench is the sign that you’re doing something important?  I dunno, but I found myself wondering that yesterday when I was writing about discovering  my voice as an evangelical woman.

  16. Jeff,  over and over, you write so directly TO ME 🙂   This is the 2nd time this has happened: when I’m still noodling my post, I check your always-inspiring words, and today I see not only the idea, but the IMAGE that matches my post.  Can I steal your image? (kidding).  I have to be bold and invite you to my idea of “vibrating thresholds.” Thank you and have a great Friday! I am blessed by your work. -suzy!

  17. Great post, Jeff! Glad you’ve conquered your fear and are living your dream. I’ve realized that life is too short to live it afraid so I’ve been doing things the last few years that I can check off my mental bucket list. I really need to add the list to my blog because I love the satisfaction of being able to cross things off a paper or digital list. My top three favorite conquered fears (not physical fear but fear due to the thought of rejection or ridicule): Started a blog, began flying lessons, and occasionally work as a background actor in TV/film as my schedule permits.

  18. When was the last time I was scared and did something anyway? I feel like this is the story of my life. Being a fairly shy introvert, I think I’d rather hide out in my house all day. However, I’m constantly being forced out of my comfort zone. As well as a writer, I’m a singer who’s trying to put my own songs out there. Performing is not something I’m really comfortable with, but it comes with the territory. 

  19. Really enjoyed this post Jeff. Timely. I “liked” the book at Amazon. Great work.

  20. “When you pursue your passion, the universe makes room for your dream” I love this quote, Jeff and it really speaks to my experience. I have been pursuing and developing my reflective writing workshops since January and I really do feel now, after only a few months, that an energetic field has opened up which I have stepped into, with much trepidation, but with commitment and soul. Things are now unfolding because I allowed myself to ‘own’ all of my strengths and experiences without denigrating myself for trying. You explain things simply and I love that. Dance with fear and find growth and meaning. And then share the love – as you are doing! Life is never smooth, but when the bumpy bits are actually fun – enjoy them! Continued success with the new book – it is well deserved.

  21. Hey Jeff,
    I talk about this with my clients a lot. Fear is a funny thing. It can manifest and cloak itself in many ways. You mentioned the fear of failure, but an often unrecognized manifestation of fear is actually the fear of success. Sometimes we are afraid of what will happen if we DO achieve – and that fear is so much harder to identify.

    Ironically, fear is natural. It’s our bodies sensor for protecting us from danger. The problem is our brain can’t distinguish legitimate fear from illegitimate fear.  So the only way to overcome fear is to do as you suggest – feel the fear and do it anyway.

    And I think that is the hardest part. What I’ve found most helpful in overcoming that obstacle, however, is my faith. My belief that I don’t have a spirit of fear, the belief that  I’m commanded to trust instead of fear, and the belief that I’m never without ever present help in all I do has helped me to take those steps of courage required to life out my purpose.

    You know what I mean?

  22. Fear is a natural part of taking risks. One of the first things I had to do to overcome my fear when starting my business many years ago was to face it and turn it into fuel.

    To this day, and everyday, I accept my fears as part of the process and do my best to overcome them with optimism, innovation, ideas and action. It’s okay to fear failure too as long as you learn from it, don’t give up and keep moving.

    I loved your post Jeff and as a recent subscriber, I’m enjoying them all and looking forward to more to come. 

  23. Yesterday. And it felt good.

    I’m learning that fear only comes when it relates to something important to me. It doesn’t just show up for meaningless stuff. For me that means fear can be an indicator for me: stop, listen, take note – something meaningful is going on here.  

      1. Cool Jeff. I’m glad.

        Just wanted you to know that I don’t get notified when you respond to one of my comments. I just happened to come back to this post and saw your response here. Do you know if that’s a login problem? Do you know if others get your replies? I know you reply often to readers, so thought I’d ask. I would have thought Disqus would notify via email…

  24. So very true. I have huge anxieties, but you just need to push through and follow what feels right

    It’s scary and at times crazy, but great things never happened without some sort of risk

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  25. Jeff – I just came across your blog. Great writing. I look forward to reading more. Its amazing how much writing (or not) is driven by fear. I recently took a poetry class from David Wagoner that was totally out of my league, but I muddled through. Faced my fears and hopefully am a better writer for it. Thanks for the gentle reminder to persevere. 

  26. I’ve started to use fear as my compass to do things that are relevant. Whenever something scares me I know to keep moving forward.

  27. Jeff, I do a lot of corporate training and every time I train a new subject I’m scared to death I’m going to flub the class. 

    I have visions of the the class participants renting a plane and sky writing, “This is the best you could get us! Next time give us someone who knows what they’re doing.”

    Thank goodness it’s only happened once so far… 😉

    But thanks for your post. Always inspiring. 

  28. A couple of weeks ago when I was about to pack a bag and take off – again… Good to hear others feel the same way – that the fear is still there, despite how many times we do that thing that frightenes us…

  29. Great post here and on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Congrats on the success of the new book, it’s awesome to see you moving forward everyday Jeff. You’re living your dreams and inspiring others, that’s a killer combination.

  30. Yes, death is inevitable as far a we know, and frightening. What I think it is so frightening is the unknown, we really don’t know  anything certainly. That is why I came up with this thought: ‘Faith gives us the courage to live with the only certainty of the unknown’

    My story about writting my blog started when I felt like dead, the second time. I can tell you that the sensation of not knowing where I was had been the most terrorific one in my life.

    I recovered, and It hasn’t been until last week when I felt fear of death again. With all what I have learnt, I shared my conclusions in one of my last posts. In summary, it seems life prepare us to death, as Ric Elias said in his TED speech, so, that is my faith to face the unknown inevitable. For me, is like living going back, advancing in life to death, looking bacwards to avoid looking at the unknown and learning from our past.

    I have other thought right now, I don’t want to be prepared for death too fast.

  31. People DO love following courage.  When I see someone about to launch something new, I naturally follow along, and silently root for them to succeed – it’s fun to watch.

  32. your post reminds of a wonderful quote by Howard Thurman that i’ve tried to live by for the last ten years: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

  33. This is one of those serendipitous articles for me. I’m going through a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching split with my wife. The love of my life, the mother to my 2 amazing kids. She is my everything and I have to let her go. So, as you might imagine, one of the most powerful emotions in me at the moment (along with a trillion others), is fear. Fear of the future, fear for my kids, fear for myself, fear for my wife, fear for holding down my job. Although your article is about finding your passion and making it happen, it also chides well with other fears in life. It has given me a lift when I am in a horrible place, that I desperately want to leave, but at the moment the walls have been built around me and I can’t get out. I just have to learn to live in this space, until I can find the courage to take down the walls and walk into the unknown.

  34. I traded an art major for an accounting major over thirty years ago because it was the “smart” thing to do at the time.  It is one of the biggest regrets of my life.  Over the past year or so, my job of eleven years has become increasingly complex, raising the standard of excellence I aspire to, farther from my reach.  At the same time, I’ve had opportunities to write and paint again, which in turn have stirred up a lot of positive support and affirmation.  I know quitting one’s day job, isn’t generally regarded as a “smart” thing to do, but I am sensing that this particular chapter in my life is calling for more faith and trust, and less leaning on “smart”.  I have put my notice in and will be transitioning to my new career as a artist and writer this summer.  Although I have a surprising peace about this most of the time, there have been (and no doubt will continue to be) hurdles of fear to clear along the way.  Steven Pressfield says “the real (artist or writer) is scared to death”.  It seems like peculiar criteria, but I can absolutely identify with it, so it is strangely affirming.

  35.  I think fear is a constant companion for insecure people like me.
    The last time that I felt his “bite” is very recent.

    I decided to take a trip and I started thinking about all the possible problems that invariably began with the magic word “IF”, for example, and “If I were wrong?”. I know this is a stupid attitude and when we manage to overcome fear, any fear that paralyzes us, we can become stronger than before, so I left all my fears at home and I left for my trip.

  36. “Don’t rob the world.” That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I usually view my writing time as selfish navel-gazing. I’m not sure if I can believe that my stories make the world a better place. Then again, I only need to touch one person for it to count, right?

  37. Great post on Michael Hyatt’s blog! And congrats on your book and the best seller lists! I’m heading over to Amazon now to buy it for my Kindle.

  38. A few years ago I met the daughter I gave up for adoption when I was 21, it was open adoption, but I remember in the hospital after giving birth I wrote her a lengthy letter for her parents to give her once she was old enough-one of the things I must have shared with her is my ambition to write a book.  One of the very first things she asked me when we met 18 years later, have you wrote your book?  Reality hit me hard and I felt as if I was a failure in her eyes.
    I did start a spiritual blog a few years ago but have since left it hanging, many tell me to get back to my writing because they loved my writing, this blog was forwarded to me by a dear friend, I think she is telling me something.   Looking forward to your words of encouragement and learning more!
    Now to stop commenting and get back to a few incomplete writings I need to get out there!

    1. It’s never too late to start again, and again, and  again. I left writing for 15 yrs and began again 6 years ago. Since then, I took writing courses, was president of the writers’ guild, wrote a YA novel and got a job at the local newspaper where I worked for three years and had my very own column. It’s never too late to start again and be a writer.

  39. First time commenting, hello!

    It seems there are daily reasons to fight fear, small and large. But I feel like for the first time I’m actively working at fighting against it, and so for that I am grateful. And I am so thankful for those who encourage, support, and give a helping hand. So, thank you.

  40. I am a writer. Both you and Stephen Pressfield have opened my eyes in recent days. I have changes to make in my life to realise the real me and face down my fears. Your book ‘You are a Writer’ has been the catalyst – thank you

  41. I feel trapped in a Jeff Goins push to the next level game world that spins out of control and upon stopping all makes sense somehow.  and follows some sense of inner relief of peace-cool–

  42. This is an outstanding post Jeff.  I will link to this in my blog today.  Thanks.

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