Stay Curious to Crush Fear & Do Your Best Work

I’m sure you’ve heard it at dozens of weddings—“perfect love drives out fear…”

Which it does. It’s awfully hard to be fearful when perfectly loved, because true love involves a deep sense of safety and pursuit of justice, among other awesome things.

But what about the fear that crawls in because of our work? Because we are deeply engaged in our craft and vocation; because we have chosen the curse of a field where our work is a part of ourselves and shipping projects is like putting your very soul out into the vicious jungle of the marketplace. [Insert any more hyperbolic melodrama here].

So, what does “love” look like when we're battling the fear of putting ourselves out there—taking responsibility, leading up, making an uncommon statement with our career, creating meaningful connections, and trying to put a dent in the universe? (any more purpose-y millennial-y work clichés I’m missing here??)


To fight this work-based fear, this “love” must take the form of curiosity. It takes a love for discovery and finding out. A love for testing our assumptions. A love for uncovering truths about the craft, the market, the world. 

I remember being super curious as a kid. Collecting rocks, catching frogs, building forts, you name it. My world of the East Hudson Hills neighborhood and 2648 Harland Drive was my very own expeditionary learning school and laboratory.

From seeing how we could set effective traps for my brother, to bushwhacking trails in the woods, to searching for fossils and ecological discoveries, I was as curious as a Spanish Conquistador (and as sharp a shot as Pecos Bill with my Benjamin CO2 Powered Pellet Gun).

It didn’t matter what we found or if we found anything. Our ego was wrapped up in the hunt, not in the outcome. 

There was no fear that if I went out looking for crab apples to throw at my babysitter and never found any, that I was a failure. There was no fear that my buds in the neighborhood would think I was a laughing stock if the fort we built for paintball didn’t provide sufficient cover during a heated fire-fight. Our egos weren’t wrapped up in what we made because we were too busy being curious (and too busy just being ourselves).

"We must be free from the outcome of our efforts and let our efforts lead to an outcome of freedom for others.” — Brent Warwick

We get to be curious because our identity isn’t in what we produce or what we do (or at least it shouldn’t be). We believe we are innately valuable outside of our work.

With our identity foundations free from the outcomes of our effort, we are then free to be curious. And—from my experience—curiosity chokes out fear. We can explore our hypotheses in our businesses and organizations—seeing what works and what doesn’t. We can become "no-ego doers” as Buffer calls it.

How does my headline copy work convert? How does it compare to the copy my co-worker wrote?
How did our latest email campaign perform in marketing our recent giving/donor initiative?
Was I effective at inviting and challenging others to join us on a recent development trip to meet with potential donors in the States?
What worked in trying to pursue reconciliation and resolution with that difficult co-worker? What didn’t work?
Did the policy we created resonate with our employees and make them feel cared for? Or did it make them feel stifled? 

With our newfound level of ego-free curiosity, we are liberated from the fear of getting less-than-stellar answers or results.

We are freed to receive critical feedback, even when it’s hurtful or hard because it’s a discovery! It’s another little clue on our path to being the best damn [insert your vocation here] you can possibly be.

We’re okay with saying, “Welp, that didn’t turn out the way I thought. What can I learn from this going forward? How can I get better from this? What should I listen to? What should I ignore?"

The hope is that as we push and grind to be ever-curious, we ultimately rewire our brains to be inquisitive again, to be agog as we test our hypotheses in the clean air of freedom. Our identity is not wrapped up in the outcome.

I get it. I think it’s natural to often subconsciously question “Do I have what it takes?” in every area of our lives. I think we need to really press into and live that question with ego-free curiosity.


How do we cultivate more curiosity in our lives?

Darn good question, one I don’t think I have a complete answer for just yet. But here’s my best go at it...

I’ve found that a good place to start is sharing your fears out loud in a safe environment. Choosing your spouse or close friends seems to put them in perspective. They are able to speak into those fears, shed meaningful perspective on things, and get me excited and curious as to what the journey will be like when I pursue my hypotheses and live the questions.

Getting my fears out in the open makes them seem less scary, and is a good first step to getting curious.

Next, for me, making and having a plan of action—or at least preliminary next steps—is key. I can tend to subconsciously hide from my curiosity when the next step isn’t small and clearly defined.

So next time you’re confronted with fear, share it with someone close to you, then make a "Very Next Steps" list to push through the fear with planned curiosity. As you go step by step, your curiosity will pick up momentum and the fear will wither.