Good Fear, Bad Fear, and How to Tell the Difference

There have been times in my life when I have been so thankful for fear. The good kind and the bad kind.

Words by Erin Sullivan of Erin Outdoors, photos by Ali V. This post is the second in a four-part series on BLDG25 about challenging yourself and living adventurously. 

There have been times in my life when I have been so thankful for fear. The good kind and the bad kind.

Let me explain.

Good fear: Helpful. Intuitive. Tells you to GTFO when something is dangerous.

Bad fear: Paralyzing. Full of self-doubt. Tells you you’re not good enough, that you can’t do it.

I’m going to talk about bad fear, and I’ll start by saying it’s normal to feel completely stuck sometimes. We have all been there, and we will all be there again. Uncertainty can rule you if you let it. Fear can get in the way.

What is actually stopping you from making a change? From ditching a bad habit? From telling him or her how you feel? From quitting your job?

When we are on the brink of shaking things up in our lives, fear says, “wait, what are we doing here?” Bad fear– the part of us that thinks we aren’t capable– wants us to be comfortable, especially when that comfort means staying put in all of the habits we have gotten ourselves stuck into.

This time last year, I was working my steady 9-5. It’s the job that brought me out to Colorado, and for that, I’m thankful. It was a safe choice. I was killing time because I thought I wasn’t “ready” to pursue a freelance career. “Ready” is a story I made up.

The decision to go freelance was made for me– I got fired over the summer. Was I terrified? Of course. But I had held onto the idea that I wasn’t capable for so long. It was time to move on from that assumption, and to prove it wrong.

My fear was doing it’s job. It was keeping me safe. But it was a harmful kind of safe– one that didn’t push me too far outside of what was comfortable. One that did nothing to help me show myself how fierce and adaptable I can be.

The stories we tell ourselves are not always true. Could I have left my job a year ago and changed my path? Of course. It wouldn’t have been easy or comfortable, but I could have done it. I would have adapted.

I truly believe that fear is a gift, we just have to learn how to read it. If fear is holding you back from challenge or change, trust that you will figure things out in the face of it. Listen to it and decide how it is going to benefit you. Hear it, and use it to make a positive change in your life. You are fierce. You are adaptable.

What is holding you back?





Turnout Leggings, Jones Tank


Erin runs a blog called Erin Outdoors, which is a documentation of her experiences traveling and out in the backcountry. For more about Erin, check out her blog at and her Instagram at @erinoutdoors, and be sure to follow her on FP Me for even more inspiration!

Ali V. is a photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. Find her more of her work at or on Instagram at @alisonvagnini.

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7 years ago

Beautiful uplifting motivation!

7 years ago

I completely understand what you mean. I’m kind in the same point of life and I can’t say I passed it already. But at least I have conscience of it and I know I can’t let the bad fear decide. Good luck to you in this new path! :)