What Are You Afraid Of?


Fear. It’s one of the most misunderstood human emotions.

Fear isn’t the desire to avoid something; that’s indifference. Nor is fear the opposite of courage. As John Wayne, legendary star of many cowboy movies, once said: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” 

Fear is the challenge of understanding the unknown.

When we are fearful, we want something, but we simultaneously realize we could lose something important. For example, when something goes bump in the night, you want to investigate the bump. But you realize you may encounter something that causes injury or even loss of life, so you are afraid.

In our work lives, we want to succeed in giving that speech in front of our colleagues, but we’re unsure of how our material will be received. We fear it will go badly and spoil our reputation. Fear is our response to trying to protect ourselves from losing something we cherish.

Fear can be quite useful. When an angry bear emerges from the dark underbrush, or that thing goes bump in the night, or our boss assigns us the leadership position for that game-changing new initiative, we may react with fear. But it’s what we do with the fear that defines its usefulness.

Fear can lead us to hide, retreat, freeze up, or jump into action. Jumping into action is probably not the most useful thing to do with the bear coming out of the woods, but it might be the perfect reaction to that leadership opportunity.

I find a misapplied reaction to fear is common among marketing teams. Why do many businesses outsource the most interesting aspects of innovation, strategy, and creativity, yet insource mundane and executional tasks? Skills, knowledge, and cost considerations play a part when these activities are outsourced.

Business leaders sometimes worry they don’t understand the right questions to ask or don’t know the right answer to a thorny challenge.

Bringing in an expert with experience can be exactly the right response.

Just as often, I hear about marketing teams outsourcing innovative activities their teams feel passionate about, simply because they are afraid. Leaders of small teams often ask me how they can fit something innovative like content marketing into their already stretched efforts. When I ask if they can outsource some of the tasks, they nod and say, “Yes, you’re right, we could find an agency to help develop our content.”

I suggest they should look for an agency to take on the areas where they’re already stretched and develop and manage the cool, new, innovative content strategy in house. “Well,” I often hear, “I’m afraid we might fail.”

A VP of marketing recently asked me about hiring an agency to manage a new content hub. I asked why he didn’t plan to use his smart corporate blog team to do that and suggested hiring an agency to help reboot the corporate blog. “I’m afraid my team doesn’t know what they should do,” he said. That’s fear.

In both cases, content marketing is the proverbial bump in the night. Both the VP and the leader of the smaller team decided to err on the perceived safe side, by keeping routine, executional tasks with the existing team and relegating the risky and innovative tasks to a hired gun. And that might be the right decision given a clear-eyed assessment of the situation. But, in both cases, the decision was based on fear.

Recognize the fear and make sure you’re not making a decision based on it. The emotion of fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about our future. To move on, acknowledge it – and then decide how to react. One of the best feelings in the world is when you discover you actually can do something you were afraid you couldn’t do.

It’s your story. Tell it well.        

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