My most common fear is failing and looking bad to others. It goes across all parts of my life, from work to family to church to community. I have tried to manage and suppress these fears by being super competent and working really hard. For years, I over functioned as a manager, wife, and mother, which meant that I would fill any gaps that I saw, which devalued other’s contributions and left me exhausted. I have worked hard to change and know I have made significant progress. However, I was unaware how ingrained these thought patterns were in my life, until I started working to improve my skills through a coaching program I developed with Kim Knapp called “Fear to Freedom.”
As I became more curious about my reactions and emotions, I realized that many things each day were triggers for my fear. It could be someone not showing up for a meeting, which I interpreted as disrespectful. It could be my kids ignoring my text and phone calls, which left me worried about their safety or annoyed that they were ignoring me. It could be selecting whether I attended a meeting not based on the content, but whether it would be good politically to be seen there. The inputs were constant and each time I felt knots in my stomach, I knew I was draining my energy and diluting my focus.
The “Fear to Freedom” model has been helpful to me in disrupting my long held patterns. Kim Knapp developed the “Fear to Freedom” model when she was working as a turnaround consultant who would come in when a company was failing. She now works as an executive coach, and has been working within Medical School Information Services for many years.
So how do you get an entire organization to change when they know that if they don’t do something different, they will go out of business? Kim focused on shifting everyone to a place of creativity and collaboration so they could do their best thinking.
When we start a new coaching cohort in our group, we use a simple exercise to describe the “Fear to Freedom” model. We have completed five coaching cohorts and the responses have been similar in each group.
We start by asking, “What do you do when you are afraid?” or “What behaviors have you observed in others when they afraid?” The brainstormed list will include many of the following: avoid, procrastinate, blame, bully, push ideas, defend, or exert control.
The next question is “Think of a time at work when you loved what you were doing at work. What did you love about it?” These answers will probably include: engaged, focused, authentic, creative, fun, or amazing team.
We then talk about where the focus is when someone is fearful. When someone is in fear, they are focused on themselves. For me, it is often about ego and looking good. When we are operating in fear, we are usually focused on losing something like a job, status, promotion, esteem, love, etc.
In contrast, when someone is operating in freedom, they are focused on something other than themselves. Much has been written about being purpose driven, either as an individual or organization. Clear purpose brings clarity and energy that enables excellence. This is true for individuals as well as organizations.
The first step for me has been awareness. I use the scale from 1 to 10 to help me assess where I am, with 1 being completely in fear and 10 being in complete freedom. It was uncomfortable to let myself feel fear rather than suppressing it, and then ultimately dealing with deep sadness that comes with loss. The loss is giving up the idea that I can control what happens.
The hardest work we do in on ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to be curious and allow ourselves to question why we are afraid. Our emotions come from the stories that we tell ourselves. It is our interpretation of events, not the events themselves that cause most of our suffering. It takes practice to be mindful of where you are on the spectrum and to identify ways that you can move toward freedom.
I hope you find this model useful. It has become a tool for me to become more of the person that I want to be.