We spend far too much time trying to figure out how to eliminate fear, stuffing it into our pinky toes and acting like we are not afraid.
Except we are afraid. We know it. Our bodies know it.
We are self-deprecating, medicating ourselves, obsessing over self-care for our mind/body/spirit and making work-life balance the holy grail because of our fear of fear.
We are afraid of fear. And, when we use words like fearless, we are reinforcing the notion that fear is the scary thing.
I have had enough of the word fearless. We use it to mean bold, but that is not what it actually messages. When we mean “be bold”, we say “be fearless.” I get it, there is no room to keep it completely real with the whole truth - “Act as if you do not have fear, even though we know you do and you know you do and it’s natural and has helped our species survive but right now, if you had all the confidence in the world, which also doesn’t mean to not have fear it just means to believe in your ability, do that thing, the thing you want more than anything to do but something you are afraid of is making you think you can’t or shouldn’t do it.” - so we shorthand it and say “Be fearless!”
Like, we called her the ‘Fearless Girl” - the most modern monument offered as a beacon for courage to girls and women - and we titled her something that real women can never really be if they also want to be brave. We meant the Brave Girl. The Courageous Girl. Instead, we told her to be something so unattainable and so inauthentic.
Bravery is defined as persistence and perseverance despite having fear. Fear is a foundational element to courage, it is a critical alarm. And, it’s not something we can control.
The absence of fear is not bravery. The absense of fear doesn’t require courage..
In our work at Brave, we have recognized an interesting trend in how people of all ages respond to our question “What is your biggest fear?”. With over 4000 people responding, we know that there is a dramatic shift in threats to physical well being (bugs, dark, heights) toward threats to emotional well being (failure, abandonment, rejection) starting at the age of 11. By age 15, 80% of people report emotional fears. During this exact same time, we begin to see a decrease in kids’ self-reported bravery and confidence.
We have called this the fear inflection point, where, we hypothesize, physical fears go from being very manageable, that is a kid can run away from a bug, turn on the lights, or come down from a tall place, to now occupy less manageable, internal spaces. Without an upgraded toolkit to manage these new emotional fears, kids have no escape from the things that frighten them the most.
Then they hear that being fearless is being bold. In sports, we charge them to “not be afraid” to mess up, make mistakes or take action. How many times have you been told to have no fear?
And how many times were you able to control what you were afraid of?
Fear is essential to courage. Its existence proves action to be brave. By heralding the word fearless as a thing to be – to strive for – we are identifying fear as something to suppress or minimize.
In our work with young people, kids without fully formed prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain that tends to fully form around age 24, we are telling them to make decisions (already hard) ignoring the feelings they shouldn’t have (fear).
Ø Definition of brave
Ø Fearless girl
Ø Affects youngs kids
Ø How to ignore fear
We do work with tons of kids - boys and girls. We find, as ungendered as want to see the world, that there are very clear differences between the ways that boys view bravery vs. girls.
In response to parents wondering how they could support their Brave girls at home, we created a parent guide called Raising Brave. Forbes article.
If we invest the same amount of time in naming and addressing fear, we’d be honing two important skills at least: honesty with self and taking brave action.