How to Know Whether to Ignore or Follow Your Fear

Stepping out...  (Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park)

Stepping out...  (Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park)

This whole time I thought there was only one type of fear. The deep-rooted, irrational, worst-case scenario lizard-brain fear. The kind that tells us to avoid that conversation when our partner says, “We need to talk” because it’s uncomfortable and we might get broken up with and never find love again. It’s the fear that tells us not to press ‘publish’ because people may not like what we wrote. It warns us that if we quit our full-time job, we won’t be able to pay our rent or afford health insurance. We’ll be forced to eat $0.10 ramen and everyone will shake their heads and say, “I told you so.” The Hebrew word for this type of fear is pachad.

There’s another kind of fear. But it has a much different type of energy. It’s what you feel when you step onto the stage as the lead actor and you’re ready and excited and the energy is pulsing through your veins. It’s standing underneath El Capitan and feeling awe-struck amidst the grandeur of nature. It’s what washes over you when you hold your newborn for the first time. This is the overwhelming feeling of reverence and magic when we enter into a larger space (physical or psychological) than we’re used to inhabiting, or when we’re filled with more energy than we’re used to possessing. It’s when we’re in the presence of God and deeply connected to our spiritual essence. It’s a holy fear. The Hebrew word for this is yirah.

When we’re still and quiet, we can discern one from the other. Pachad keeps us small, safe and hidden, but discontentment silently breeds here. Most people’s lives are largely dictated by pachad. But yirah feels much different. We lean into this when we listen to our intuition, turn our heads to acknowledge what our hearts are crying out for, and follow our calling.

Truly stepping into our lives means learning how to manage the screaming pachad. To soothe it, quiet it down, rock it to sleep. And then tiptoe away and swing open the door and step fully into yirah, which has celebratory balloons and streamers and confetti and has been waiting for us to cut the cake all along.