Why Being “Fearless” Could Be A Dangerously False Cliche

I have a sign over my kitchen sink. It says “Be fearless.” I bought it without hesitation as I worked through a scary time in my life. It was a no-brainer. It needed to be in my house.

I needed to see it every day. I needed my kids to see it, too.

And there were so many times I had to rely on those two words. Countless court hearings. An unsettling mediation session. Financial issues, broken windows, general terror.

But I’ve also needed those words with my personal limits. And hard conversations. And trust. And a whole buffet of other things. And I just do them – sometimes with some anxiety, the kind that usually subsides right before whatever the thing is I’m worked up about.

An essay being published. An interaction I don’t want any part of. A race.

(Always with a race, always. No matter how many we do).

But when I think about the phrase itself, I wonder if it’s even actually possible. If the phrase “Be fearless” sells those of us short who are actually still scared shitless yet walk through fear to conquer whatever the thing is that’s got an invisible, emotional hold on us.

We’re not being fearless. We’re stepping through the fear. We’re being courageous.

I just like to pull this stuff apart, in part because it’s in my brain and if I don’t put it out there, it’ll stay there and bop around. And I think I’m probably not the only person who tugs at concepts and flips them inside out to see what the guts look like.

Can we be truly fearless? Can we? I mean, and still be sane and rational and not a sociopath? I don’t know. Don’t we always have to acknowledge the ramifications?

Be it a jump across a stream, a big purchase, a relationship, a crazy outfit or any other thing we do that takes courage.

I just wonder if we fail to acknowledge that a healthy amount of fear is a normal thing, then will we ever be proud of the accomplishments we achieve – especially if we think we needed to be fearless in that pursuit?

I feel like I’m rambling but somehow getting deep. I just want us to give credit to ourselves when we deserve it, and not short-change it. Because we did the thing – whatever the thing is. Even if we were scared or nervous or anxious about it – we still did it.

We did it with fear and courage. And that seems, at least to me, to be a better recipe for our souls. It’s what I want to model for my kids, who are now navigating their own tumultuous waters. Step through the fear with courage, because sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing.

I’m not getting rid of that sign, though. Might just need to add a footnote to it.