August 19, 2018

Does Fear Really Drive Achievement?


I am on holiday this week. I rarely take the traditional ‘lounge in the sun’ holidays. The last one was exactly 3 years ago, so this a big event for me. This year it’s Dalmatia coast in Croatia.

I’ve had a long fascination with Eastern Europe. Coming from ex-USSR, you like to think that you know the old ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries a little better than an average Western European (except Germans, who know everything). But so far my knowledge of the Balkan countries was limited to Emil Kusturica movies.

My first impressions? Pleasantly surprised. First, most of the tourists (80% or so) are Croatian. The rest seem to be German, British, Italian and occasionally French. So you feel less like a tourist in an international resort and more like a traveler ;). 

Knowing Russian helps to navigate Croatian signs, and a lot of Croatian words seem funny to a Russian speaker. Take a simple ‘Thank you’. The word Croatians use is ‘Hvala’, which in Russian means no less than Praise/Glory. And ‘Pozor’ (attention/look out) means shame in Russian.

Croatians have mastered the art of tactful service. Waitresses seem so happy to see you that you actually want to believe them. They are there when you need them, and out of sight when you don’t. And while catching an eye of the waiter that’s busy doing something else is not quite as easy as it is in the US, it’s probably easier than anywhere else.

Back to the topic I wanted to discuss today – the Fear.

I was talking to a very clever guy this week, and we were discussing what motivates people and pushes them to make decisions. I said that when there is a choice between fear of failure and potential benefit, most people will choose fear. It is well known that most people are risk-averse. The rule, however, is not universal, because high achievers are not usually motivated by fear and value the opportunity to advance more than a fear of a setback.

My counterpart disagreed and said that all human activity is driven by fear. Whatever noble cause, whatever shining beacon a person is pursuing – it all comes down to a fear of not achieving the goal, rather than the desire to get there.

I didn’t have a chance to argue my point as we didn’t talk long. That’s why I want to do it here ;).

Sure, humans are responsive to fear. We had to be to survive. Being alert and treating the sound of a twig falling to the ground as evidence of a big predator chasing us saved many lives back in the day when we still hunted with spears.

Fear is a great motivator when you are entering the ‘fight or flight’ mode.

But not every activity benefits from fear.

Fear is great when looking for mistakes. Fear makes you behave carefully, check where you step twice.

What fear can’t help you with is creativity.

Being creative means looking for new things, leaving the old behind. Away from the safety of the road well traveled.  

Is that what you would do when possessed by fear?

No, when you are afraid, you keep your head down and stick with the plan. For example, employees do not make suggestions on how to improve their job when they are afraid of losing it. An employee has to be secure and comfortable in their job to in order to be interested in improving it. 

That’s why true achievement is only possible when you are liberated from your fears.

And truth is, we do have very little to fear in our lives. If you have the means to read this article, then you have the means not to stay hungry and not to freeze to death in winter.

And once you’ve made your peace with death, there’s really nothing left to fear.

You will be surprised how much more you can achieve by being fearless – so shed your fears like a snake sheds the old skin.

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