On Being Fearless

Courage?!” That was the instantaneous response a senior executive gave me recently, when I asked her how she makes difficult decisions—before she launched into a series of logical decision-making steps that consider the marketplace, the competition, strategic priorities, available resources, etc.

To me, her first gut response stood head and shoulders above everything else she said, however valid and crucial those other considerations were for business. The necessity of courage gets right to the heart of why difficult decisions are, well, difficult to make. Having the courage to make tough calls amidst high stakes is a critical trait of a fearless leader in business and in life.

What are we afraid of?



Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been contemplating off and on what it means to be fearless—and to be a fearless leader in particular, since it’s part of my Divinely inspired intention for this year. Up until recently, I’ve gotten as far as concluding that being fearless doesn’t mean I don’t ever feel fear; rather, I don’t let fear stop me. Then came a series of synchronistic events, along with the above comment by that business leader about having courage to make tough decisions. These events catalyzed further contemplation about living and leading fearlessly.

Let me summarize my contemplation with the following sequence of questions and answers:

What’s behind our fear of making tough decisions or taking a stand on something that may not be popular? We’re afraid of being wrong—choosing the wrong course of action or being on the wrong side of a decision. We’re afraid of disappointing others. We’re afraid of failing. We’re afraid of looking incompetent. We’re afraid of standing in the minority or being alone.

What might happen if we disappointed, failed or appeared incompetent—if we were wrong? We could lose something really important to us—such as a job or a relationship—not to mention a battered self-esteem. We don’t want to experience the devastation from such a loss, so we’d better avoid that possibility at all costs.

What’s really going on? We’re deeply attached to the job, the relationship, the specific outcome we’ve convinced ourselves we must have to be ok—not even necessarily happy, but just ok. The fear of losing this symbol of “ok-ness” scares us into sitting on the proverbial fence, vacillating indecisively among options. The fear induced by the attachment causes us to shrink from our inner power and courage to take a stand—and be willing to live with the consequences.

I was so concerned about keeping my job that I forgot to do my job. (From the movie, “The American President“)

courageWhat if there’s nothing to lose?

Let’s consider a set of alternative questions:

What if nothing was truly ours to lose? What if that job wasn’t truly ours, but rather just “on loan” to us to fulfill a higher purpose? What if that relationship wasn’t ours, but rather just “on loan” to us to help us grow in a specific way?

What if any sense of ownership of anything was ultimately just an illusion, an ego construction to get us to believe we’d be safe if we could hang onto that job, that relationship or that specific outcome? If nothing was truly ours to lose, would taking a stand that might be wrong be as scary or as detrimental? Or might we feel empowered to make a call and take the chance that we could be wrong in our choice?

When we have nothing to lose, there’s no negative ramification for making a choice that may or may not objectively pan out. Can you imagine the freedom that comes with having nothing to lose? That’s what I’ve come to realize about living and leading fearlessly: To avoid becoming so attached to something or someone that the possibility of losing him/her/it breeds fear that blocks our inner wisdom from guiding us toward right action and causes us to shrink from innate courage.

Fearlessness = Non-attachment

Of course, non-attachment is far more easier said than done. However, I realize that if I could bring consciousness to any job without the fear-based need to hold onto it, I’d be firmly grounded in my inner wisdom and fully connected to my inner higher power. From that place, backed up by a genuine desire to serve, solid due diligence and thorough vetting of assumptions about the unknown, I’d be ready to summon the courage to make tough decisions. That’s what fearless leadership calls for.

Lotus FlowerSimilarly, if I could remember that no one is ever truly mine, I’d have no fear of losing what isn’t mine to hang onto—now or ever. In turn, I’d be free to engage with an open heart, and lovingly ask for what I need and want in full integrity with my authentic self, all without the fear of being abandoned or rejected. That consciousness of having nothing to lose empowers living—and loving—fearlessly.

In essence, leading and living fearlessly comes from practicing non-attachment, the remembrance of having nothing to lose. Ultimately, nothing and no one in any area of this human life—personal and professional—is ever truly ours. Without true ownership, there’s absolutely nothing for us to lose. The more we can ground ourselves in this truth, the less we invite fear to stifle our innate power and courage to live the life we were born to lead.

With all that said, let me issue the following invitation to you: When faced with a decision, consider how fear plays a role in your process. More specifically, can you trace the fear to that of losing something or someone if you were to make the wrong choice? (Sometimes, that “someone” you’re afraid to lose is your ego construction of who you are, i.e., not the real you.) What if you considered for a moment that you have no true ownership of what you’re afraid to lose and what you may feel desperate to hang onto? How does that affect your perspective and decision-making process?

Before you leave here today, would you kindly share your thoughts? What does being fearless mean to you? How do you lead fearlessly in your personal and/or professional life?


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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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JanetLouise8 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Alice, this post is particularly timely and inspiring for me. I've been thinking a lot lately about where my own fears come from - and my conclusion is that I often fear how things *might* feel, which isn't based in any reality or logical conclusion. Your goal to be fearless this year is giving me pause to consider not only how I approach fear, but also what my focus could be. 

This quote: "being fearless doesn’t mean I don’t ever feel fear; rather, I don’t let fear stop me. " is especially poignant for me right now, and when you add into it the element of non-attachment, I feel more courageous and brave than I have in a very long time.

Thanks for the inspiration!


DrAliceChan moderator

@JanetLouise8 Wow, Janet, thank you so much for your kind words! I'm glad that this articles serves you so well. I (and I'm sure there are others) can relate to what you said about the fear of how things might feel. Our ego is very good and producing very convincing warnings of impending pain and suffering. It's when we stop and realize that it's all just a smoke screen that we realize it's not so frightening after all. Thank you again for sharing so authentically your contemplation about fear!

karenjolly like.author.displayName 1 Like

Alice - thank you for this powerful post. My daughter came out for a visit and we watched a few episodes of "Kitchen Nightmares" with Chef Ramsey. Your post made me think of it as he really inspired me by his fearlessness in making the tough decisions and as a leader saying the "unpopular" thing because its the truth. If we don't speak the truth, we are really just retarding growth in ourselves and others. When someone cares enough about you to fearlessly tell you the truth, even when it is not the popular thing, it is a powerful opportunity for growth. 

I believe getting past our fear of "hurting someone's feelings" is really about our OWN fear of being hurt. When we set aside our own fears we are able to detach.

Thank you for always writing from the heart Alice - you always inspire me to be better.

DrAliceChan moderator

@karenjolly Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Karen! Especially appreciate what you wrote about our fear of hurting someone's feelings is really our own fear of being hurt. We constantly project our own worries and fears on others. Thank you always for contributing your wisdom here, Karen. On behalf of everyone who benefits from your words, thank you!

Samantha_S_Hall like.author.displayName 1 Like

Another wonderful post Alice.  Personally, I still wrestle with the whole non-attachment outlook in certain areas of my life.  Intellectually, I understand it.  i can see a certain value to it in regards to not suffering as much when there is loss.  However, I also have wondered how having a non-attached mindset impacts the ability to deeply connect and be intimate.  I simply haven't found the 'way' to practice non-attachment without having to deaden my heart in some way in order to do it.  Basically, to not invest all of myself or to hold myself back.  I simply haven't found the happy medium with it when it comes to certain types of relationships. : )

As for being fearless, well...that's another one I haven't experienced yet.  I still have spent most of my life taking action in spite of my fear.  Not because I didn't have any fear.  For me, to have courage means to have enough heart to do what's right even in the midst of the fear. However, fear itself can keep us paralyzed at times until we we get to the heart of it in a particular area where it's blocking the way forward. (I'm personally having an issue with this in a specific area of life right now...) Other times, fear was a good thing that blocks us from taking on something that we aren't yet strong enough to handle.  

I consider fear to be both our friend and foe, depending on the situation! : ) Sometimes one of the biggest acts of courage we can do is simply admitting to ourselves and another trusted person that we are afraid.  

Very thought provoking post Alice! Thanks for another invitation to shift perspectives on a complex topic my friend!

DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_HallMany thanks for your very genuine and authentic share, Samantha! Being human is a messy affair. While we can strive to bring consciousness to every situation, sometimes it isn't that straightforward. We simply do our best. That's all anyone can ever ask of him-/herself.

On your point of being challenged to be unattached without feeling like you have to hold something back, I can totally relate. What I've learned is to engage from a place of love and not fear. Fear makes me want to hold onto someone or not say what I need/want for fear of losing them. Love reminds me that what I want is to be my best self and to love the way I want to give and receive love. From that consciousness, the other person is simply a mirror to reflect all that back to me. If the relationship doesn't work out, it'd still hurt, but not from feeling that the hopes and dreams I've pinned onto the other person are destroyed, or that I've given away/lost a part of myself. Again, this can get really messy because emotions are involved. But, being committed to having that consciousness to always choose and act from love, not fear, is what keeps my vulnerable heart open.

As for being fearless, you described perfectly what anyone can do at best. As long as we're human, we are going to feel fear. It's not letting it stop us or keep us small that matters. And, as you also pointed out, fear is a great teacher and messenger. I've found that, aside from signaling true danger, fear tells me I'm being stretched into being more of what I can be and playing bigger. So, if I'm not afraid of fear, I can see it for what it is--an indicator of growth--and proceed in spite of fear.

Again, thank you so much for your deep, thoughtful share, Samantha!

tsihly like.author.displayName 1 Like

Interesting post. To me, being fearless means that you are willing to take risks and do what is right despite the odds. I think that successful people are those who are not afraid to venture forward and are always guided by their instincts and sense of righteousness. This fearlessness is fueled by strong faith and commitment to do what is right. 

DrAliceChan moderator

@tsihly Your comments are right on! Thank you for adding them here. It's so true that odds are about playing it safe. Breakthroughs happen because they defy the odds. Having strong faith and commitment to doing what is right indeed leads to defying the odds and powerful fearless living and leading! Thanks again.

ThinDifference like.author.displayName 1 Like

Alice, This topic has been on my mind lately as well. I believe fearfulness does have a relationship with financial independence. With some sort of foundation in place, we know we can take more calculated risks. 

The other point is that there needs to be an attachment of fearlessness to life lived. What I mean, if we attach a fearless mindset to a mindset that we only have so many day to really live, it can free us up to live more fully in the time we have. Time isn't endless, and we need to match this fact with fearlessness. It is not about taking unnecessary risks; it is about using our time to have the biggest impact possible.

Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post! Jon

DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Jon, your point about the finite days of life is a very important point to add to this conversation about living fearlessly. Personally, having had a brush with death really did make me recalibrate what risks mean relative to my life purpose and mission--and specifically why it wasn't time for me to transition yet. So, in many ways, remembering that everything could truly end in a flash without warning really gave me tremendous perspective about being fearless. And, yes, I agree that living fearlessly doesn't mean taking risks for their own sake but pushing the envelop after careful discernment. Many thanks for adding your insights, Jon!

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas like.author.displayName 1 Like

Hi Alice,

This was such an amazing post. I loved it! 

What you wrote about fear got me thinking of how I've been developing recently through my meditation. As I meditate more on the impermanent nature of what happens inside me, in terms of thoughts, emotions and feelings and continue to develop non-attachment to these, the more I understand that fear (unless a real life threat or danger) is a total ego construction that wants me to attach it. However, by dissociating myself from fearful thoughts and emotions, I experienced my real Self, which watches the havoc in action, from a distance. Doing so, allows me to witness that I can never truly be something that is constantly changing such as experiences of fear.

Thank you.

DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Great points on impermanence and that which changes isn't the real us, Hiten. That's exactly what Dr. Wayne Dyer teaches, too. I've learned that emotions--including fear--are meant to offer us guidance. When we're in fear, it signals something to us, i.e., we're either in true danger or we're about to venture into something unknown, and the uncertainty triggers our ego reactions to keep us from harm. When we can recognize this reaction, we can choose not to act from fear, but recognize that we're just embarking on a potential breakthrough, something bigger than what our ego could fathom. Thanks again, Hiten!

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