Fear.

It’s even kind of a scary word, isn’t it?

I’m starting to realize how much of what I do and what I think about is driven by fear in all areas of my life.  But since this is a financial blog, let’s talk about how fear affects our financial decisions.  Because this is big.  And if you can recognize the fear, then perhaps you can defeat it.

Here are 5 ways I see fear keeping you from reaching your financial goals:

1) You don’t make a plan

This is kind of my default reaction to fear.  Run away.  Hide.  Ignore.  Withdrawal.  Procrastinate.  Basically, do nothing.  Certainly, don’t take any meaningful action!

Making a plan would first require you to take an honest look at where you are today.  That can be pretty scary right there.  If you’re “financially overweight”, you don’t really want to face that.  If you’re behind on your savings, if you don’t know how you can generate enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement, if the debt seems insurmountable, then isn’t it easier to just ignore it?

Next, you would have to assess where you want to be and analyze what it would take to get you there.  This is where fear can turn to outright despair.  There may be a voice in the back of your head that says, “There’s no way.  It’s too late.  You’re too far behind.  There’s nothing you can do.”

Here’s the truth, though.  It’s never too late.  The hole is never too deep.  And any plan you outline and any action you take will result in a far better outcome than ignoring the issue.

So take action.  Set a meeting with a spouse.  Reach out to a financial planner.  Do something.  Anything!

2) You never reach out for help

If you’re not happy with where you are financially or where you’re going to be, then the last thing you want to do is let someone else see that.  Our financial condition can be a source of shame.  And shame wants to stay in the shadows, buried deep inside.

Acknowledge the shame and the fear.  Say it out loud.  To your spouse.  To anyone who will listen.

We weren’t meant to journey alone, but that’s exactly where fear wants us.  Isolated, alone, stuck in our own head.  Take a step of courage and reach out to someone who can help.  A financial planner, an accountant, a friend who is really great with money, a pastor, anyone.

3) You don’t wholeheartedly pursue your career

This one is the most personal on the list for me.  I love what I do.  I love helping people.  I love finances and numbers.  I love strategy.  But I’m terrified of rejection.  I’m afraid of giving someone advice that doesn’t pan out.  I’m even more afraid of giving advice and having it ignored.  It hurts.

So the easy path for me is not to market, not to prospect, not to network, not to take my career too seriously.  Pretend it doesn’t hurt when a prospective client says no or when a client doesn’t take my advice.

It’s easier not to go for it and pursue my career with all of my heart.  There’s even a part of me who fears “success” and how that might change me.

Maybe this is just me, but I know if I could get past my fears about my career, I could help so many more people.  And therefore make more money.  I’m guessing you could too.

So whatever it is for you.  Fear of rejection from your boss.  Going at it full bore and having co-workers resent your ambition.

Acknowledge that it isn’t your talent or your experience that holds you back.  It’s your fear.  So try to find the root of that fear and recognize that it can only hurt you if you let it.  If you ask for a raise and your boss says no, that’s not a personal attack.  That doesn’t mean you are unlikeable, unworthy, unacceptable, unlovable, and all the other garbage the voice of fear whispers to us.

It just means you’ll have to keep asking.  And know that as you keep working and keep asking and move past your fear, you’ll not only be happier, but you’ll probably be making more money!

4) You don’t talk about money with your spouse

This gets back to the shame we talked about earlier.  When we don’t like a part of who we are, we keep it hidden.  So if you don’t like where you are financially, you’re not going to talk to your spouse about money.

Again, we weren’t meant to do life on our own.  And you certainly don’t need to carry the stress and shame and fear about finances alone.  Spouses, especially those who aren’t “financially savvy”, are the best hope we have of financial success.  We tend to marry opposites so our spouses work as a wonderful check to our weaknesses with money.

If you’re a risk taker, chances are your spouse is pretty conservative.  If you’ll let him or her in, you’ll probably save yourself a costly investment blunder several times over.  I see this over and over with couples I work with.

5) You invest in order to protect your principal rather than grow your wealth…and investment income

This one is so insidious and I see it especially as couples build a larger nest egg and near retirement.  It’s natural to want to protect what you’ve built, but suddenly the fear of losing money drives investment decisions.

And the fear misdirects.  It whispers the perverse lie that bonds are safe and stocks are risky.  However, the historical record would show the exact opposite.  Stocks have been the “safe” place to invest for decades of generating a retirement income that keeps up with rising living costs.

However, the fear inhibits us from seeing the facts and the historical record.  And suddenly our emotions are in the drivers seat and we make investment decisions not out of faith and rational thought, but out of fear.  This will always result in poor results and take you from financial peace to financial turmoil.

Have faith and take action

This is what it boils down too.  To combat the fear, you have to start with faith and then take action.  Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, but again, this is why you should reach out for help.  We are all restrained to some extent by fear and it’s much easier for someone who isn’t us to see that and help us move past it.

The greatest service I provide my clients is helping them change their behavior and make wise, rational decisions.  If you recognize that fear is holding you back, then you’ve made an important discovery.  Now take that step of faith and courage and reach out!