You need fear. You need fear like Superman needed Lex Luther. Or like you need a steep downhill descent at the end of a long run. That is how much you need fear. It is vital to life, to finding your calling.

Benefit of Fear
Listen to fear. It’s telling you what is important. That is why you need it. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

What Fear Tells Us

In his bestseller, War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes,

…fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

He goes on to say that,

The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. (emphasis mine)

Important work scares you. Important work invokes fear. Important work calls out to fear and says, “hey, something amazing is about to happen, you’d better come stop it.”

The thing you have to do (your calling) will always be opposed. It will always stretch you. Fear will tell you that you are not qualified. It will tell you that you don’t have enough experience, training or knowledge. It will tell you that you will be uncomfortable.

It will tell you that you will fail.

How to Use Fear

But that same fear, that same doubt, and that same voice in your head telling you to stay in your comfort zone...that is the voice that is secretly telling you:

This is what you have been made for.
This is your life’s work, your purpose, your reason for being.
Without this one thing, you will never find contentment or joy.
If you give in, I will always haunt you; always remind you that you listened to me.
I will own you.

A Lesson from Actors

Actors who stretch are the ones who get rave reviews. They are the ones who win awards. And they are the ones who have the most professional satisfaction.

When the creator of the hit TV show Breaking Bad, a serious drama, was looking for a lead actor, he chose Bryan Cranston. The producers only knew him from his role as the goofy father on the comedy Malcolm in the Middle. They said this role was too much of a stretch for him.

That is exactly why he was perfect for the role. His awards speak for themselves.

Or think about Robin Williams at his finest. You think of Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting, don’t you? Not Mork and Mindy.

Why? Because the roles stretched him. They called on him to go beyond what he thought was possible, to dare to step outside of his comfort zone and what others expected, and he made two hit movies and became a superstar in Hollywood.

The critics scoffed when he was cast, even for Good Will Hunting. They said Dead Poet’s Society was a one-time thing. The critics were the voice of fear. They could have persuaded Robin Williams to give up or to never try, but they only made it clearer that the roles were right for him.

Before Dead Poet’s Society, fear probably told him, “Robin, you are a comedian. Take the comfortable role. This job is too hard. What if I fail? Can I ever go back to comedy?”

But he shut fear up. He followed his calling. He stretched…and his greatest stretches produced his greatest successes.

Listen to fear. It’s telling you what is important. That is why you need it.

How can you use fear to discover your calling?

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23 thoughts on “The Benefit of Fear

  1. David Mike says:

    “Smack fear in the face!” Jon Acuff

  2. Fear is funny. I used it to stay in the same job forever. Now it is motivating me to learn a new career at 53. Most days I wish I was not scared. But I’m not sure where I would be without it.

    Thanks for the post, made me think.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I love that Jim. A new career at 53. You are part of a movement of 50+ year-olds starting new careers.

      1. I like that re-frame! I think there’s a blog post about that Starting Over at After 50. Hmmmm

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        It’s called an encore career. 20% of new businesses in 2011 were started by people 50+

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    Fear has been a driving factor in my writing books. I was able to take the fear and use it to create rather than run from it. In the end the process minimized that fear.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Great example Dan.

      “The process minimized the fear.” Great way of saying that.

  4. Beauty Lady says:

    Really nice post. ive been trying to ignore that fear, mostly because it’s uncomfortable and I just dont like it! Thank you for the new perspective. Very motivational!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Awesome! No doubt it’s not fun, but like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes…it kind of even becomes a game 🙂

  5. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    What a great perspective. I had never thought of fear as directing your towards your calling. But I think you’re absolutely right. Fear could be a useful tool to help you discover exactly what you would (ironically) be most comfortable doing in the long run!
    Great post Matt, love it!

  6. Steve Pate says:

    I used it to move to Washington Sate almost five years ago. I was looking(for my vocation) for something near Michigan so I wouldn’t be to far from family. It goes to show the amount of distance doesn’t matter how “close” you can be to family it just matters how much effort you make it to be close!

    Last night during FPU I was thinking I wouldn’t be doing this if I was still back in MI, and was thankful for moving out of my comfortable lie.

    Not saying its been all roses with the move, but the trials I’ve been through in these last two years have been great for my growth and I’m pretty sure the growth wouldn’t happen if I have stayed in my Comfortable place.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Awesome Steve. I experienced the same thing moving to Indiana. I still don’t like the weather but it’s the best thing I have ever done for my spiritual life.

    2. Kathy Leicester says:

      Nice. I’m working on moving back home to Seattle no later than this October. My fear-thing is that my resume showswhat I can do if I have to, not what my passions and talents really are. So I’m revising my resume, using the book 48-Days To The Work You Love as a guide, and praying a lot. Not necessarily in that order.
      I could go on for days about how career has been the one area in my life that has produced the most fear and frustration, but I suspect will be my biggest triumph when I go into business for myself, or find a job that really truly suits.

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Awesome book. I revamped my resume after reading it for the very same reason!

  7. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Fear is the indication that you’re moving in the right direction. If you attempt something and it’s too easy, you’re overlooking something. The way you handle that fear will predict your chances of success. Moving to a foreign country to marry a guy that I had seen 4 times in my life has been one of the scariest things I have done (I don’t recommend this as a standard method to find a spouse either), but it’s been one of the greatest. I’ve blossomed into the person God created me to be. I’ve been stretched like Mister Fantastic and there’s more to come. I’ve shed enough tears to fill the Grand Canyon, but wouldn’t trade places with anyone. When it gets really scary, I listen to Veggie Tales theology “God is bigger than anything you fear”. The End.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Veggie Tales theology…love it.

      What an awesome story Lily!

      1. Lily Kreitinger says:

        Maybe I should write a book about it…

      2. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        I think you should too…

      3. Matt McWilliams says:


  8. Kathy Leicester says:

    Eric Metaxas went from Veggie Tales to Bonhoeffer. Stretch? Fear? You bet.

    1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

      Eric Metaxas was on Veggie Tales? Really? wow.

      1. Matt McWilliams says:

        He was the narrator on Esther.

        Look up his speech to Liberty University approx. 2011.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      With Wilberforce in between. Stretch and fear yes!

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