Leaning Into Fear & Anxiety

"I’m Only 23."

That was what I told Chaplain Wil Gardner when he offered me a job as a chaplain at Simmons back in 2010. I tried to talk him out of hiring me. I asked him if I could come back in 30 years when I had enough life experience to do and know everything that this job requires of you.

Seriously. I'm not making that up. 

What he said next eventually compelled me to commit to Simmons, “Nick, I don’t want to hire you based on what you know. I want to hire you because of your heart for people and how you learn.” That’s what I needed to hear. I just turned 30 yesterday. I thought alot about how much I have been able to learn and how God has really transformed me through books I've read, personal experience I've gone through, and the chance to walk alongside people through some of their most difficult and challenging moments. God has been gracious and the growth has been significant. 

During my Leadership Development session on Simmons Values, I talk about how I have always come back to my age to disqualify myself from certain things. Those certain things almost always involve fear and anxiety. What if I fail? What if I don’t know enough? What if I let people down? Those were the real questions behind my excuse of, “I’m only 23.”

One of the greatest mistakes we can make in life is to be in constant fear that we will make one.
— John Maxwell

Over the years, I have learned how to navigate through some of those thoughts and emotions that could have potentially prevented me from experiencing one of the most amazing and transformational seasons of my life these past few years.

One of the books that has been helpful to me has been The Difference Maker by John Maxwell. In it he talks about the impact that our attitude can make in regards to our effectiveness in life and leadership, and he deals specifically with the challenges that living a life driven by fear has on us.


  1. Fear Breeds More Fear

“Seldom does the thing we fear come to pass. In our minds, we project coming disasters that will likely never occur. And when they don't come to pass, we think, ‘Phew, that was a close one!’ when the reality is that our own thoughts were the only thing creating potential anger for us.”

There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”
— John F. Kennedy

2. Fear Causes Inaction

“Fear makes us afraid of doing something that might be beneficial to us. Taking action will require us to move into the unknown. That can be scary. But if we give into our fear, we don’t move forward.”

3. Fear Weakens Us

“Fear and anxiety are debilitating emotions. They are interest paid in advance on a debt you may never owe. And they undermine faith - in ourselves, in others, and in God.

Fear: Weakens, Imprisons, Paralyzes, Disheartens, Sickens

Faith: Strengthens, Liberates, Empowers, Encourages, Heals

4. Fear Wastes Energy

“People waste energy fantasizing about solutions to problems they fear will come their way. Ironically what started as an unfounded fear can turn into a real problem because a person wasted energy on wishful thinking instead of productive action.”

5. Fear Keeps Us and Others From Reaching Our Potential

“Fear makes us smaller than we really are. One of the greatest mistakes we can make in life is to be in constant fear that we will make one.”

Two natures beat within my breast,
The one is foul, the other blessed.
The one I love, the other I hate;
The one I feed will dominate.”

Here is some practical advice on how to handle fear:

  1. Admit your fears

  2. Discover the source of your fears

  3. Realize how your fears can limit you

  4. Accept normal fear as the price of progress

  5. Convert fear into desire

  6. Focus on things you can control

  7. Give today your attention - not yesterday or tomorrow

  8. Feed the right emotion and starve the wrong one


What is it for you? Is fear a significant factor in your everyday life? Do you avoid anything that you would consider a risk? Does fear change the way you live?

If this is striking a chord with you, I would suggest to you to talk to a chaplain, your pastor, or a counselor to help you begin navigating how to lean into these fears. You chaplain team is here to help if there’s anything we can do to encourage you and support you as you seek to grow.

I’ll close this week's Note with a story I heard on the radio not long ago...

A young man was talking to his father about how difficult life was and the problems he was having trying to cope with the fears and anxieties of life.

“Come to the kitchen with me,” his dad said. “I need to show you something.” He walked over to the stove, put three pots of water on and turned up the heat to boil. He grabbed some carrots and put them in one pot to boil. In the second, he put two eggs. Then he poured some ground coffee into the third boiling pot of water.

After a few minutes, he strained the carrots into a bowl, peeled the eggs and put them into another, and poured the coffee into a cup. He set them in front of his son.

His dad then said, “Each of these can teach us something when it comes to dealing with the adversity of life.

The carrots started out hard, but the boiling water turned them soft and mushy.

The eggs went into the water fragile, but came out hard and rubbery.

But the coffee, on the other hand, changed the water into something better.”

“Son, you can choose how you will respond to life’s problems. You can let them make you weak. You can let them make you hard. Or you can use them to create something beneficial. It’s up to you.”

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.
— John Foster Dulles