Wisdom on Overcoming Fear - review of book Lifestorming by Alan Weiss and Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith had published a large number of good books. This author had picked up six significant strands of learning from his book "Triggers" and these were discussed in six articles. He had teamed up with Alas Weiss and published another very good book called "Lifestorming". Fear is one common weakness in most of us. A few dimensions of this are discussed in some detail in this article.


Marshall Goldsmith is now one big Guru on self-management, and also a leading Executive Coach. His simple ideas are often very meaningful. They allow us to think in so many directions and when anchored in our life's context, can be easily dissected for practical wisdom and application.

In his book, "Lifestorming", co-authored with Alan Weiss( Wiley India Private Limited, New Delhi, 2018 reprint, page 125) Marshall Goldsmith talks about six varieties of fear. The quotes are reproduced as such and then extrapolated to practical and real-world situations. The six varieties are:

a) Fear of failure: "I'm supposed to be the expert. What if my opinions are contradicted by someone who is respected?'
b) Fear of ridicule: "What if I miss the point that decides the match with everyone watching?"
c) Fear of falling short of standards set by others: " I've done well, but my performance is nowhere near the performance of my older sister"
d) Fear of disappointing others, especially parents: " My parents always told everyone I'd be a brilliant attorney, but what if I don't pass the bar exam? What if I'd rather be a teacher?"
e) Irrational Fear or superstition: "That room looks spooky. I don't want to go in there"
f) Fear of ostracism by peers: " If my friends find out how I voted, they will never talk to me again"

We will now take each variety and discuss them in the context of our own real-world experiences.

Fear of failure

This is one big problem in India. Everyone has a fear of failure. A housewife who learns to drive a car fears that her car will stop somewhere where she cannot call the mechanic and hence does not drive the car outside the four-kilometer radius of her home. Blessed with a very good offer of a new job, with inside knowledge of a very good and value-adding environment, a very young MBA gives it up, afraid of the accommodation and commuting problem in Mumbai. There are just two of the recent instances reported to this author. The list is endless. We are afraid of excess heat and hence think that we will not even succeed in a new place. "I think I will be drained out" is an irrational fear as it can only get. This is just not true. One can always find out ways and means to keep the body cool. We need to shed such fears and just get on with life. We can easily see stories of bravery from our own neighborhood. The parents encourage the children to be very brave and get things done. They never allow fear to overcome anyone of their children. We need to learn from them.

Fear of ridicule

In traditional rural and semi-urban environments, the housewife always has this fear that her culinary skills will be mocked at by the mother-in-law, on the dining table. In such environments, most emotional problems can be easily attributed to this fear of ridicule. This can be easily solved if the individual is encouraged to try and keep honing her skill. Similarly, it is absolutely ridiculous to compare children. This should be totally avoided.

Fear of falling short of standards set by others

This is very common in our society. For instance, the brilliant batsman, Rishab Pant is often compared with the legend called M.S. Dhoni, by every single commentator. This sort of comparison sometimes works on his nerves. The young man is doing his best.

In one organization, a rather irrational boss would expect every individual to do whatever he would do. For instance, he would take a big notebook and write down every single thing he needed to do. Like for example, "speak to Mr. Vishwanath, DGM/production on the forthcoming vacancies". He would expect every subordinate to come up with detailed statements similar to these. The old boss, who was already over the normal retirement age, was the hate figure of all, due to such eccentricities. Even on the routine matters, he would insist on the record. This was always resented. He finally retired and was given a very bad send-off.

Such activity traps are best avoided in the real world. Instead of adding value, they only irritate the subordinates who are already fuming that they have only routine dead-end jobs to contend with.

Fear of disappointing others, especially parents

This is the worst fear. In one real-world case study, a very young man, who actually had a very good taste and interest in Carnatic music, was forced by his father to do engineering. The boy, from a typical Brahmin family, was brainwashed by his father's sister too, saying that Carnatic music is not a career. He did engineering and entered into a cement organization. He did well on the shop floor. His interest in Carnatic music did not die down. He was happy singing in the local temple festivals. However, he would often ventilate his frustration to close family members. His contemporaries are all into film music too. He had spoiled his life, the only due to parental pressure. Many a creative artist has lost his or her life only to the stupid thinking of parents.

It is always wise to allow children to find out their own path, more so, when they are otherwise talented in one particular field. Such children will also lead miserable lives if the wife also happens to be totally commercial and without any taste for anything creative. This is also so commonly seen.

Irrational Fear or superstition

In India, Raghu and Kethu and Chevvai are all supposed to be planets in astrology. Their influence on "horoscopes" has now made hundreds of thousands simply paranoid. Every small success is attributed to such beliefs. Every small failure is also attributed to such beliefs. "My time is not good. I cannot do anything now" is a common fear in this direction. Worse, there is a commission arrangement between astrologers and the temple authorities. The moment a man or woman is trapped, the person goes on spending huge amounts on all sorts of poojas to satisfy so many Gods. The astrologer gets his cut from the amount charged in the temple. This unscrupulous practice goes in in many pockets of Tamil Nadu. Families spend even one lakh rupees believing all the trash that the astrologers dish out.

It is quite natural that life has its own ups and downs. It is only we who should take care of. This morning's edition of The Hindu carried one such sad event. Six people are chocked to death after entering a septic tank on the outskirts of Chennai. This job is best left to professionals who know how to do it. The owner wanted to check the work done and lost his life. And five others too perished. This is a sad instance. What is the learning? The learning is that we should never ever enter the septic tank at all. The same newspaper reports that a robot designed by IIT-Madras is coming soon. One understands that similar robots are already in use in Kerala. Be that as it may, only some people who regularly do the job should do it. There should not be any "checking" at all. Such instances are so common. It is only we who should take care of ourselves. It is similar to the essential expenditure of the RO and UV water purifier that actually saves so much of our money anyway. Our doctor bills come down.

Fear of ostracism by peers

This is very common in organizations. The herd mentality takes over. Workmen form sort of a cartel and resist change. No one wants to do anything big as he fears that others would mock at him. Such a fear is not only irrational, but it also does not promote creativity at all.

Indian organizations would do well to identify the sources of such fears on a very regular basis and address them. Bosses need a good amount of training on the nuances of creativity and innovation. This is an urgent imperative. Organizations like BHEL have cross-functional teams at every level and these are doing a splendid job. Similar efforts are commonplace in L&T, which has one of the finest records in execution of giant projects. Fear is not a factor at all in such organizations.


The above fears are very common in India. It is up to the reader to identify which fear he or she is trapped in and come out of it, immediately. That single action would do him or her a world of good and make life more meaningful and purposeful. This is the only solution.


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