The Fears That Hold You Back (And How To Fight Them)

The Fears That Hold You Back (And How To Fight Them)

Note from Jonathan: When Maneesh asked if he could write a guest post for Paid to Exist, I was eager to see what he’d come up with. I’d seen his work at several other places, such as Scott H Young’s blog, and I knew it would be great. Of course, Maneesh didn’t disappoint.

Please take the post below to heart, and try to commit to doing one thing this week that scares you. Also, don’t miss the special bonus he’s put together just for Paid to Exist readers below.

Take it away Maneesh…


A few weeks ago, an intense feeling came over me.


It was about 3pm on a Thursday afternoon in sunny Medellin, Colombia. I sat down at a table to eat lunch, and noticed two beautiful women a table over. I really wanted to talk to them, but a sudden fear came over me. I was fixed in my chair.

“Well dammit, maybe if I write about this situation, I’ll feel a tiny bit less embarrassed.”

So I pulled out a notebook and wrote, for the first time ever, a list of my fears. I composed an email for my readers on paper, headed upstairs to my office, and hit the send button without proofreading it:

Subject: Fear
I’ve spent the last several years trying to engineer a lifestyle of freedom. I’ve followed my instincts. I’ve tried to only listen to myself, and flip the bird at naysayers and conformists.But right now, as I look around me, all I can feel is a single emotion–the emotion that, for years, I didn’t believe I experienced.


  •  I’m afraid of failing.
  • I’m afraid that I’m wasting my life—that what I’m doing doesn’t really have meaning.
  • There are two insanely beautiful paisas sitting a table away, and I’m afraid of approaching them.
  • I’m afraid that I’m fat, that I’m ugly, that I’m unemployable, that I’m unlikeable, that I’m annoying, or — worst of all — that I’m boring.

And I don’t know what do about it.

I’ve known for a long time that I’m 50x more productive when I don’t have my laptop, but I’m afraid to go anywhere without it. Not having my laptop or phone inspired this post—I’m feeling naked without technology.

This essay has no answers. I’m not here to tell you how to face your fear, or become a digital nomad, or sell you shit, or whatever-the-hell you expect me to do.

I’m just here to tell you that I know you’re afraid of something. Me too. And it’s killing me.

And maybe if I reveal my fears to you, you’ll reveal yours to me. And we’ll fight them together.

The #1 and #2 Most Common Fears

Now, usually when I write an email to my newsletter, I get around five or six email responses. But this time, when I checked my email the next morning, my jaw dropped. I had received over 120 emails.

The responses arrived like a tidal wave. Men, women, old, young, American, non-American—every demographic had something to say about fear. And these hundreds of emails helped me understand something very significant.

For many people — maybe most — fear determines the way they live their life.

So I sat down to respond to these emails and I watched a pattern emerge. The most common fear, as I expected, was a fear of failure. Dozens of people wrote their stories, how they wanted to build a business, how they wanted to quit their job, how they wanted to travel the world—but they were afraid of failing.

They were afraid how their family and friends would look at them if it didn’t work out as they hoped.

But the second most common fear intrigued me. It was the fear of success.

That’s right. The most common fear and the second most common fear were exact opposites of one another. Dozens of readers were afraid that, if they did in fact succeed, they would be even worse off. They might have too much responsibility. They might not like the kind of person that they would become.

These two fears — the fear of success, and the fear of failure — were so debilitating that it left the majority of my readers unable to do anything. They were, quite literally, paralyzed by fear.

Think about it, if you are afraid of both failing and succeeding, what are you left with? Doing nothing. And that is what most people ended up doing — simply existing, engulfing information, reading blog articles, but being too afraid to actually take any action.

Do you find yourself afraid to take action?

My biggest goal at Hack the System is to get readers to actually DO something. Actionability is one of my central tenets—how can someone use the info I provide, TODAY, to actually make something happen?

So when I delved deeply into these paralyzing fears, I realized that there are deep-set fears that prevent people from taking action. That is the real consequence of fear—inaction.

But, to achieve any goal, action is the most important step. So what’s stopping you from taking action?

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
— Dale Carnegie

If you are ready to start facing your fear, check out my recent article on Fear and Getting Thrown Out of An Airport Lounge. And, by grabbing my special guide, written just for Paid to Exist readers,  you’ll learn the exact actionable steps to fighting your fear via systems.

What do I mean by systems? A system, as I define it, is an automatic, self-perpetuating contextual set of instructions that induce success. One of my most famous examples is how I forced myself to lose 23 pounds in 28 days. I knew from years of experience that I always fail when I try to use willpower to force myself to succeed. Instead, I built a context that required me to succeed—I moved to the desert with a limited amount of food and water for 28 days. I shaped the context around me, so that there was no way to fail.

Listen—I’ve spent years dramatically helping others face their fears and achieve their goals by shifting their context and mindset. And I want to help you do the same. No fluff, just pure actionable content. That’s why I prepared this special resource just for you.


About the Author: Check out Maneesh Sethi over at Hack the System where he shows you the ultimate Cheat Codes for Life. He’s put together a free resource just for Paid to Exist readers. Head on over and grab your copy of How to Fight your Fear through Systems and his free travel hacking guide today.

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22 Comments on "The Fears That Hold You Back (And How To Fight Them)"

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So you were sitting next to two beautiful ladies you were afraid to talk to and to confront your fear you went upstairs and wrote??… :-)

John D'Alessandro
Paisas can be intimidating. Especially if you’ve read or seen Rosario Tijeras… For me my fear is never actually taking action. I’m usually chomping at the bit to do what I think is right while ignoring the consequences. But, that doesn’t mean I’m fearless. It’s just after I start that the fear of failure sets in. Am I doing it right? Is this going to work out? Did I make a mistake? I’ll have to put some more thought into a fear of success, because honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. Will it change me? Probably. For better… Read more »

Hi Maneesh, I totally agree with what you are saying. We only truly learn our potential and how we can strengthen our ability to cope with change or challenges that push our buttons when we take action. Lack of action only just brings more fear into our minds. The common fear of success and failure can easily sit comfortably in the background of our minds, whilst the souls desire to create awaits. Creativity and productivity is within us all, it all depends on how we choose to use the time with have. Thanks for sharing.


Thanks for the inspiration Maneesh. I have been victim of my own fears for so long, but now i am learning how to deal with them, although is not easy. I have always been very conscious about what other people expect me to do, or what I ‘should be doing’ and the fear of being left alone or being abandoned has stopped me from expanding in many occasions. Your post gives me a lot of courage. Thank you again! :)

Jim Krenz

A great post. Very authentic, very genuine. Thanks!


One of the most honest posts on the internet I’ve read in a long time. Thanking you.

Melissa Kennedy

I agree. It feels both scary and liberating to share something so vulnerable.

Thanks for sharing and for the reminder – we are all in this together.

Sarah Marshall

I am afraid of not getting it right, of missing the mark, of coming up short. I think I am more afraid of being mediocre then a failure. It’s the fear of maintaining the status qua, average, as Maneesh said – being boring. I am afraid to shout my message from the roof tops and I am equally afraid of how the world will react when I do.

Thank you for your authenticity.

Kate Bacon

Perfect – a system for actually taking action when you are paralysed by fear. Thanks you Maneesh and Jonathan for publishing!

Hi Maneesh, I’m afraid I might be heading in the wrong direction with my website. I am currently employed and working on a website on the side. I just started out and there’s a long way to go, but sometimes I feel I should be focusing more on my artwork instead. I’m not sure what to do but I know I’ll figure it out in due time. I guess I’m afraid to fail at this and that I’m wasting my time. I work on my artwork sometimes, but my website (non art related) is taking so much of my time.
Loved this, thank you for sharing. This is me, exactly. Been paralyzed with inaction. Yesterday I DID take action, starting a facebook page and optin for a business that has been on my mind for a long time, helping mothers overcome trauma related to birth, pregnancy and postpartum, and today I’m looking at it wondering what the hell I’m thinking starting something like this. #scared. Scared I’m not good enough, scared I won’t know what to say, scared no one will like it/believe I can help them, scared it will be too much work/wear me out, etc. Basically fear of… Read more »
Paul Jun
Love the Dale Carnegie quote. I, too, find clarity through actions — not dwelling or over-thinking or over-analyzing. I like calling it failing forward. Initiative is hard to harness, but that’s because people developed the habit of staying comfortable. Second, it helped me to identify where fear comes from: the amygdala or aka, the lizard brain. Once we understand its purpose, how it affects us, then we can start developing the habit of relentlessly shattering our comfort zone. I try to break through my comfort zone once a day. It can be anything, really. It can as simple as dreading… Read more »
Dustin Lee

Man, great post Maneesh. I struggle with these kinds of fears from time to time. It’s good to know others do as well. I’ll be checking out your guide on how to fight fears as well. Thanks for the post.


This started off as an interesting post, particularly as we all have fears to face. But soon turned into a marketing post for your other pages and blogs. I’ve enjoyed your other work, Maneesh, but am getting a sense that a lot of your posts are just mirrors back to a few of the more salient pieces. That’s fine if that is your overall strategy; just be wary of diluting your impact.


You nailed it, over the years I have failed to take ACTION for those very two reasons. The fear I would fail and reinforce the(false) belief that I don’t have what it takes. The fear I will succeed and then find out that, in spite of the success it wasn’t the direction I really wanted to go, and feel stuck to take another direction.


[…] The Fears That Hold You Back And How To Face Them […]

cj renzi

A completely spot-on post! My wife and I have automated risk-taking since we quit our jobs in 2005 and have felt totally alive ever since. Sure wish more people were thinking like this. Now we use fear to help propel us into action, the fear of sitting in my armchair with soggy Depends, wishing we had done “X”

cj renzi

Richard Leonard

The greatest fear is knowing you are going to die. True, it is a fear that is easy dismissed, but if we are honest, nothing adds greater stress to life.

Scott Stephens

Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing. I guess I hadn’t considered the fear of success part, but in retrospect, I’ve definitely found myself between the two wallowing in inaction on more than one occasion.

Thanks for the post Maneesh!

There are FEARS and there are fears and I think the challenge many of us face today (including me) are what to do with the fears we’ve turned into FEARS. We’re operating in such a high stress, high anxiety, fast-paced society. And living constantly at this speed puts on us high alert. We’re stressing out our systems beyond what we can handle, physically and emotionally. I believe in taking action to move past our true fears, but I also believe we should be putting into practice more down time, nothing time, meditation time, love time…the more slow time we intentionally… Read more »
I can relate…I’ve let fear rule me, I’ve never loved for fear that I’m unlovable. I’ve never reached out for fear I’ll touch nothing. I’ve always been lost and confused, and I’m now 29 and have wasted 7 years of my life trying to shut out the world. I don’t even know what I’m good at cause I’m afraid it’ll be nothing. Most people are settled, married, have kids and know what their career is at this point…I haven’t a clue who i am…I have no identity cause i never let myself have one. Fight or Flight?? Well I’m Flight,… Read more »

‘What could inspire one person might dishearten another. For example, one artist might be inspired by seeing the work of masters, whereas another might come to the realization that he or she will never be as good, and give up (which in itself is inspiration, just not the “good” kind implied by inspirational zealots). Not all things inspire all people, not all inspiration is good and there’s no reason you should be expected to know how to tinker with someone’s ambition.’

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