At a Seattle women-in-business networking event last Thursday (thanks Su-Zette Sparks and all the other amazing women at Russell Investments) a woman I had just met called me fearless. When the word touched my ears, I turned around and looked behind me certain that it couldn’t possibly be me she was referring to. But it was me. Have you ever had one of those moments? It was as if she said to me “Oh you’re the star center for the Seattle Storm basketball team!” Yeah right. All 5’2” and every non-athletic, slightly overweight bit of me!

I used to have tons of fears, so being called fearless by a stranger is something new. I looked back across the Collective Self blog entries from the past year to see what happened to me and my fears that would warrant this reaction. As it turns out, I’m not fearless: surprise, surprise. It’s just that I’ve gotten a remarkable amount of experience seeing, facing, and moving through those fears as part of self-organizing groups and communities. To the point that, as of this summer, I became able to easily identify individual fears that show up as one of three types:

  1. Type 1: Scooby-Doo ghosts: that is, illusions that aren’t based in reality, can’t actually hurt me and those I care about, and therefore I don’t actually need (non-cartoon watching friends, Scooby Doo was a cartoon TV show favorite from my childhood that involved a group of friends solving mysteries and unmasking ghosts or monsters that ended up never actually being real ghosts or monsters)
  2. Type 2: Self-organizing group boundary indicators: a sign that I’m nearing the boundary of one of my self-organizing groups and should pay closer attention to the needs of the group and my individual self to either bring the group closer together or recognize that it’s time for me to let go of the group
  3. Type 3: Warnings of imminent danger to my individual self’s life, like the time a mother bear with cubs crossed my path while I was hiking in the woods


Fearless work colleagues Grady, Ansel, Joe, and Blue Hedgehog

As an individual, I have #3 hard-wired into me. I think we all do. As self-organizing groups and communities, we also appear to have a triage system hard-wired into us that allows us to distinguish different types of fear and make smarter choices about how we choose to act.

Being seen by a stranger as fearless has its perks, I suppose. That woman, for example, may decide to actually look at the business card I gave her, connect with me again, or read the Collective Self blog, or even hire members of my community as consultants. But get closer to me, and you’ll know that this isn’t fearlessness. I move in the world today as self-organizing groups and communities—living beings that have remarkably good fear-identification and triage systems built into them.

Reflection on past Collective Self blog posts reveals a 3-step process for moving through individual fears that I’ve been living as these groups:

  1. Step 1: As an individual, feel fear/be afraid of something
  2. Step 2: As a self-organizing group, experience facing your fears, together, in a safe environment and get lots of practice identifying what type of fears your fears actually are (Scooby-Doo ghost? Boundary indicator? My self-organizing groups teach me both when they have my full attention “Lori, you’re being an idiot right now. That fear is unwarranted.” and just as often when they have just part of my attention or we’re focusing on something else entirely, as the examples that follow demonstrate.)
  3. Step 3: As a self-organizing community, move with and through the fear to the point that it no longer matters (just a Scooby Doo ghost) or is experienced as an important tool (a self-organizing group boundary indicator, for example)

I love examples, so here are three from my own experience. Suggest reading the example that sounds most interesting now and coming back to read all three when you’re consciously trying to understand and move through a fear of your own.

Fear example 1 – using a crowded urban park:

  1. Lori’s individual fear: “I will be mugged, bothered, and/or saddened by pan-handling and homeless people if I use Cal Anderson Park —the large park in my busy urban neighborhood—in the evenings.” This fear stopped me from using this park for years.
  2. Practicing using Cal Anderson Park  as self-organizing groups:
  3. More fearlessly using Cal Anderson Park in the evenings as a self-organizing community (read from “In the Park” down): May 2011 example 

Fear example 2 – using “woo woo” language:

  1. Lori’s individual fear: “I regularly experience synchronicity as these groups, but if I use words like synchronicity or serendipity in my writing, I may not be taken seriously as a researcher.”
  2. Practicing using the word synchronicity in my work, in February 2011
  3. In August 2011, more fearlessly using synchronicity (also notice community response in comments following the blog posts):
  • Instance 1 (scroll to the details of hint #9 in this post)
  • Instance 2 (scroll to The River Place in this post)

Fear example 3 – sharing my whole self:

  1. Lori’s individual fear: “If I share my whole self in the Collective Self blog, my individual experiences may interfere with the group and community experiences I am trying to document.”
  2. Practicing showing up as my whole self on the Collective Self blog (in both cases, as/helped by a self-organizing group):
  3. In August 2011, more fearlessly showing up as my whole self  (more visibly showing up as a learner within the Collective Self community than ever before)

My self-organizing groups help me practice moving with and letting go of fear, and my self-organizing community pulls and pushes me through fears to give me an even broader and deeper perspective on them. As we pass through these fears together, the fears that don’t matter cease to exist and the fears that do matter have become valuable teachers and tools.