One of the toughest parts about overcoming fear is knowing exactly what that fear is.

That statement feels a little counter intuitive…most people know that they’re afraid of heights, or rattlesnakes, or Sarah Palin, etc.

But what about the fears that we subconsciously disguise and mask as something else?

For example, I have a friend named Glenn (not his real name) who hates going to bars.  He says they’re loud, he doesn’t like drinking or being around raucous people, and so forth.  But it’s not just the loud, raucous bars he detests.  He avoids the quiet, chill bars just as much.

Why?

Whether he’s willing to admit it to himself, Glenn hates the feeling he gets when he’s in a situation where he’s encouraged to approach women.  He starts overthinking what he’s going to say, who he’s going to approach, etc.  It makes him uncomfortable, so he avoids it.  And before our other friends and I were married/involved, we would approach women in these same bars.

Here’s the thing…growth is hard.  Growth doesn’t happen from taking a pill or wishing it so.  You only get better at something when you work at it.  And working at it means getting out of your comfort zone.  There’s a reason they call them “growing pains.”

But to push out of your comfort zone, you have to first be aware that it’s there.  And that means actually staring your fears straight in the face and feeling that discomfort.  That takes courage and humility, because you have to admit that you’re not always perfect or in control of your situation.

However, when you do admit to yourself that you’re afraid of something, you can then begin to attack it, one piece at a time.

A few years ago, I made some bad choices with my finances and got saddled with tens of thousands of debt.  My business wasn’t making enough money, so I put expenses on credit cards, didn’t pay bills on time.

Not long after, the harassing letters from creditors started rolling in.  Then the phone calls.  Transactions were being declined.  And the whole time, I kept running away, thinking that one day I would just make enough to take care of all this.

Every time I saw an unfamiliar on my caller ID, a bolt of panic shot down my spine.  Fear and shame brewed acid into the pit of my stomach.  The world became a gloomy place, and it really affected my own self image.

One day I was looking over all of these letters.  I started thinking about what I really wanted for myself and my life. I decided I’d had enough and it was time to “man up.”

I opened up a blank spreadsheet and titled it “Life Optimization.”  I collected all the threatening letters I’d received and counted them the companies to whom I owed money.

Roughly 12.  I wrote down all the details I could in this spreadsheet — how much I owed, names, phone numbers, and left a column for “PAID?”

With every paycheck that came in, 20% immediately went into a special account I set up called “Pay Debt — 20%.”  I stayed true to this pledge, and after about two years of saving, negotiating, and tracking every debt paid off, I went from 12 to ZERO.

The day I paid off that last debt was amazing.  I haven’t felt that sense of victory and pride in a long time.

But the thing is, I’d already won that battle when on that first day when I stomped my foot to the floor and realized how fearful I’d become of actually living my life.

The same is true with any life experience; only when you open your eyes to what’s really scaring you and own that fear as part of your current situation, only then can you begin to push past it and work towards the life you’ve always wanted.