when fear grabs you by the throat

This week, we got a call from a client who asked to meet immediately. He came into the office and said he was “freaked out” after a meeting with a key client.

He explained that, as a consultant himself, he’d gone to meet with a client—an important and quite large corporate client—and the COO had implied there were concerns about a project he’d worked on for the company. He said that he’d been professional and open in the conversation, but by the time he got into his car he was in a panic.

All he could think about was that he would lose this contract, and if he lost this contract his business would struggle, if his business struggled he’d need to lay off some key employees, if he laid off his key employees, he couldn’t make the money he depended on, if he didn’t make the money he might have to sell his house… you get the picture.

From a vague comment about the project, he was preparing for bankruptcy. And he’s not alone. We all have those times when something grabs us and causes fear and anxiety to shoot through our bodies. And, then it continues to bounce around under our skin for hours or even days.

“What can I do?” he asked.

There are a couple of things you can do when you find yourself gripped by fear.

First: this comes directly out of our Leader in You Framework:

  • Ask yourself:
    • What am I afraid of in this situation?
      In his case, he was afraid that the consequences of this one negative comment would ruin his life.
    • What do I do when I feel that?
      In his case, he got very anxious, then angry with himself, and then unsure about his value as a consultant.
    • What would I do if I felt safe?
      It took us a little bit to get to this, but he discovered that if he felt safe he would connect with the CEO in the upcoming week to get more details on the concerns, and he would send out a note to some former clients to see if there were other projects available so he wouldn’t be so dependent on this one company for revenue.
  • The act of leadership is working through these questions and then doing what you would do if you felt safe—even when you don’t.
  • Second: if you find you cannot interrupt the fear even after going through the process above, then it is important to find a trusted friend, colleague, or coach to talk through your fear and find your way back to yourself.

    • It’s profoundly helpful to take the anxiety that’s swirling around in your head (and body) and explore it with someone you respect. It gives you the opportunity to put your concerns into words and allow you to challenge some of the distortions that fear creates.
    • This process can help you consider a way to move forward, and has the potential to change your relationship with your fear.

    If you’ve had the experience of fear grabbing you by the throat, please know that you’re not alone, crazy, or stupid. Our brains can get caught and derailed when we perceive we are threatened.

    You probably can’t stop the feelings from ever occurring again; therefore, the goal is to make sure you know how to take steps on your own behalf to remember who you are and all that you have to offer.

    Next time you’re gripped by fear, try interrupting it by using the process above. It can really help you in moving forward.

    We’re here for you,

    Your Coaches and Allies at Carpenter Smith Consulting

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