Commusings: Fear Is Your Soul’s GPS by Marie Forleo

Feb 10, 2024

Dear Commune Community,

My stomach turned and my fingers tingled. We were down one point with three seconds left on the clock. There was time for one more play. The outcome of the game hung in the balance. I wanted the ball.

I always felt this way on the basketball court. I wanted to take the last shot. Yes, the old saying goes, “You miss every shot you don’t take.” But the valence I laid over that feeling of uneasiness in my guts was positive. It was exciting. I was un-attached to the result – the potential celebration or disappointment, the judgment of hero or goat.

My stomach turned and my fingers tingled. The auditorium was packed to the gills. Sweaty-palmed, I nervously paced backstage, awaiting my turn at the podium. I didn’t want the ball.

That feeling backstage was virtually the same sensation as the one on the sideline. But the valence I laid over that feeling of uneasiness was negative. I was attached to the result. The fear of failure and the fear of success share the same etiology – the fear of judgment.

Fear, at a purely biological level, is adaptive. It keeps us alive. Psychologically, fear is a double-edged sword. It can be protective. But, too often, fear is a self-constructed barrier between you and your potential. It is a phantom of your own projection designed to ward off judgment.

Courage is not a reckless abandonment of fear. It is a conscious appraisal of it. It witnesses the feeling without assignment of valence and assesses situations for what they are.

Sure, I was scared starting Commune five years ago. What if it failed? What would people think of me? Did my hand tremble writing that first check? Of course, it did. But, I knew what I was doing, and I took the shot.

Marie Forleo has been helping people confront their fears and step into their best selves for decades. She’s an expert by dint of her own experience, building B-School from an imaginary shimmer to a thriving mission-driven enterprise. I am thrilled to feature her essay here today. 

And … if you need a laugh right now … well, here’s “fearless” me OMing on IG. ;-)

In love, include me,

• • •

Fear Is Your Soul’s GPS
by Marie Forleo

Excerpted from Everything is Figureoutable

Fear is one of the most misunderstood F-words. 

Left unexamined, it's a dream killer. A soul squelcher. The grand maester of mediocrity. If this were Family Feud and Steve Harvey asked, “What stops us humans from achieving our highest potential?” survey says fear would take the top spot.

Guess what? Everyone feels afraid. Every top artist, athlete, writer, performer, parent, businessperson, social activist, entrepreneur, scientist, and military leader. Newbies to icons. Every person you know and admire. They all experience fear on a regular basis. You’re not broken or weak if you’re afraid. You’re human.

But this begs the question: Why does fear paralyze some people while others move through it? This one ability is what separates those who aspire from those who achieve. You can become part of the latter group. 

Fear, like everything else, is figureoutable.

And figure it out you must, because no matter what you want to explore, change, or overcome, fear will surface throughout your journey. The good news is that unexamined fear is like unmined gold. It contains riches for those wise and patient enough to pan through the dirt.

Fear comes in many flavors and intensities, from sweaty palms and knotty tummies to nightmare scenarios in your head to full-blown phobias. Add to that, we all have our own pet names for fear — concern, stress, anxiety, panic, terror, and stage fright, just to name a few. Finally, we each bring our own unique and layered emotional history into the mix, from childhood trauma and teenage humiliation to a tapestry of emotional experiences accumulated throughout our adult lives. All this is to state the obvious: fear is complex and multifaceted. 

Our first and biggest mistake is that we’ve turned fear into the enemy. A big, burly, malignant monster standing between us and our dreams. But what if this idea is not only wrong, but doing us more harm than good? What if we’ve been taught to believe a disempowering story about this natural emotion that’s actually designed to serve us, not stop us?

Your fear doesn’t need to be “crushed” or annihilated. It needs to be listened to and appreciated for the gift it offers. Think about an infant who wails in her crib or a dog who incessantly barks. They’re trying their best to communicate something, they just don’t have the language skills to articulate it.

The same is true with fear. Fear communicates using the only tool she has: the ability to make you feel. When you sense her presence, she’s sounding a compassionate alarm. She’s doing her best to get you to pay attention. This subtle yet important distinction will help you put down your combat gear and, instead, meet your fear with open arms and a smile. 

Fear is not the enemy — waiting to stop feeling afraid is. 

Spending too much time trying to “defeat” or “eliminate” your fear will keep you stuck. Fear will be your companion as long as you’re alive. It doesn’t matter how much experience, success, or fame you acquire. You will always feel fear. Don’t get seduced into thinking some magical day will arrive when you no longer feel afraid and only then will you be ready to act. That’s not how it works. Action is the antidote to fear. Action metabolizes it. The trick is allowing yourself to feel fear while you take action.

Make the call, even if your pits are sweating. Speak up, even if your voice shakes. Ride the scooter, even if your body trembles. Raise your rates, even if it makes you want to hurl. Send your pitch deck, even if your tummy is in knots. Have the difficult conversation, even if it makes you squirm. Doing the thing is far easier than the terror we inflict upon ourselves by stressing over it in our heads. The fastest way out of our fear is through it. 

Fear is healthy if it inspires you to act. If the fear of losing custody of your kids gets you clean and sober, say thank you. Fear guided you back to love. If the fear of being suffocated under a pile of debt inspires you to get your financial act together, say thank you. Fear gave birth to freedom. If the fear of having a fatal heart attack before your grandkids graduate helps you eat more veggies, say thank you. Fear just gave you a longer, healthier life.

Fear is your ally. She’s a caring messenger and a supportive friend — and she’s always got your back. 

Nine times out of ten, our fear is directive. It’s a signpost, pointing us in the exact direction our soul wants to go.

How do you know if your fear is directive (as opposed to keeping you alive)? One sign is if you can’t get a certain idea out of your heart or mind. No matter how hard you try, it keeps popping back. Ideas like taking singing lessons, opening a bakery, writing a children’s book, moving across the country, starting a business, learning Spanish, running for local office, saving or ending a relationship — you know, any number of delightful or risky creative endeavors.

Anytime you imagine moving toward that idea, you may feel afraid. But fear doesn’t speak with words, she’s doing her best to send a message by making you feel. And this is where we often get it wrong. We interpret any fear-like sensation to mean, “Danger. Stop. Don’t move ahead.” On cue, the voice in our head rattles off a list of rationalizations designed to keep us away from the perceived danger:

Are you NUTS? Just don’t.
You’re way too old for that.
You’re too young—who’s going to take you seriously?
Can’t you just be grateful for what you have?
Your time has passed. Accept it.
You have NO clue how to start.
You’re not focused enough.
You’ve got zero follow-through.
You’ll wind up in massive debt.
You’ll get torn apart online.
You can’t afford this.
You’ll ruin everything you’ve worked so hard for.
Stay in your lane.
You don’t have the talent.
Everyone’s done it already. Way better.
What a stupid idea.

The result? We take no action. Zero growth occurs. Comfort zone intact.

But what if we misinterpreted the signal? What if fear’s message wasn’t “Danger” but “DO IT!” Fear was jumping up and down, waving her hands and causing the biggest ruckus she could: YES! YES! YES! This is important!! Go ahead—do THIS thing! Fear did her job and sent her signal. It was our interpretation that was off.

In his game-changing book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes:

The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it… Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. 

From this perspective, our fear is supportive and directive, not shameful or weak. Certainly not something to ignore. In fact, we should appreciate the fact that we’re getting such clear, visceral guidance. We’ve tapped a vein of gold. Think about it. If an idea in your heart evokes that much visceral reaction, doesn’t it mean there must be something worth exploring?

Just because your soul wants to pursue something doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. I guarantee it won’t be. Check the control panel, put on your crash helmet, and strap yourself in. You’re going on an adventure. Expect joy, tears, surprises, confusion, stumbles, and plenty of breakthroughs (and breakdowns) along the way. The figureoutable philosophy doesn’t promise a life free from pain, just one free from regret. 

Ready to hear what your fear wants to tell you? Let’s turn this insight into action with a powerful exercise.

Explore Fear As Your GPS

This exercise calls you to bravely choose curiosity over fear. Because while fear is a valuable asset — it keeps you from walking into traffic — it’s not the voice of your heart. Curiosity, on the other hand, calls forth a sense of playfulness, openness, and wonder. From that emotional space, you’re much more likely to hear your inner voice.

Grab a journal and answer these questions honestly:

  1. What helpful, positive signal might my fear be sending? 
  2. What productive message is she attempting to communicate? 
  3. What is my fear directing me toward?

Resist the urge to edit or judge. Get all of your ideas, dreams, and possibilities on the page. Do this often, and I promise you’ll feel more connected to your true self — with the clarity and courage to pursue your most expressive, joyful, and fulfilling life.


About Marie Forleo:
Marie Forleo is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Everything is Figureoutable and creator of the award-winning show MarieTV. Named by Oprah as a thought leader for the next generation and owner of one of Inc.’s 500 fastest growing companies, Marie's mission is to help you realize your greatest potential and use your gifts to change the world. She’s helped over 80,000 entrepreneurs start and grow freedom-rich businesses through her acclaimed business training program, B-School.

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