This article lays out the five things you must know in order to defeat fear and become the hero of your own life story.
It was more than four years ago and I can still hear the sound of his head hitting the concrete floor. It was louder than I expected; more of a thunk than a smack.
A few seconds earlier, some guy I didn’t know had been walking in my direction as I stood in line at the snack bar. Then, like a puppet with its strings cut, he collapsed mid-stride. His head struck the convention hall floor. The seizure followed almost immediately, his arms and legs flailing, his head bouncing thunk, thunk, thunk.
He was only 15 feet away from me but I didn’t move. My first reaction was that it must be a joke. That he was goofing off for his friends. Then I saw the blood and I knew it wasn’t a joke.
I looked around. Nobody else was running to help. I froze. I was embarrassed, I looked away. A security guard ran up and spoke into his radio. Thank God, help had arrived! Only, it hadn’t. The security guard didn’t reach down and hold the man to protect his head. He stood there, waiting for backup.
I saw what was happening. I saw that the man needed help. But I was scared to act. I was afraid to make a scene. I was afraid to look weird jumping to help a man I didn’t know. In line, surrounded by other people, I was insulated from the suffering happening only a few meters away.
It took at least three minutes for emergency medical services to come and provide assistance. In that time, a small crowd had gathered, but none of the bystanders had stepped in to help the man. Everybody else was frozen by the same fear and insecurity that held me in place.
I never found out what happened to him; whether he lived or died. I scanned the newspapers and Google news the next day, but never saw a story.
To this day, I regret my inaction. I am ashamed that I let my own fear bring harm to another person. I was the opposite of a hero that day. I was a coward. I vowed I would never again let fear make me shrink back from doing what was right.
In order to conquer fear in my life, I knew that I needed to understand it better. So, for the last four years, I have studied fear. I’ve read about it. I’ve talked about it, I’ve thought about it, and I’ve written about it. I’ve learned how it affects my life, and I’ve learned how to overcome it.
Here are the five secrets your fear doesn’t want you to know.
1. Fear doesn’t look like fear. Sometimes it’s obvious when someone is scared. They scream, they cover their eyes, they flinch. Those are the familiar fear responses you would expect to see in an audience during a horror movie. But in our lives, fear isn’t so obvious. It shows up in these more subtle ways.
Reluctance – Often, if somebody is reluctant to take action it’s because they are afraid of the risk. If they’re having a really hard time making a decision, often there is some fear that they need to overcome before they can move forward.
Laziness – What looks like laziness is almost always fear. Typically it’s the fear of failing, of being rejected, or of looking stupid. After all, if you don’t get your butt off the couch, you can’t fail.
Arrogance – This might look like confidence, but it’s actually insecurity and fear. Truly confident people don’t act arrogant; they don’t feel the need to convince the world of how good they are. Cockiness and arrogance mask a deep fear of failure and a fear of being discovered as a fraud.
Anger – Anger is the mask for the deepest fear we have; the fear of rejection. Road rage is a classic example of this. HOW DARE that person cut you off on the freeway? Who the *&%@ does he think he is!? He didn’t even wave or acknowledge you. You take it personally that the other driver put their own needs in front of your own. You take his lane change as a message that you aren’t worthy. His attack on your personal identity is too much to handle. Anger is the result.
Other times, anger is used to cover up the fact that we’re scared. Have you ever jumped out and scared somebody only to have them get mad at you? We don’t like how it feels to be scared. It makes us feel weak, which makes us feel ashamed, which then triggers anger.
Apathy What looks like a lack of compassion is actually a fear response. My story above illustrates this perfectly. I wasn’t apathetic about the guy who had a seizure in front of me. I cared about what happened to him. The problem was that I didn’t have the confidence to step forward and do anything about it.
Regret – We regret the choices we make when we act out of weakness. We make choices from a place of weakness because we’re afraid of something. Fear is the fuel that feeds the fire of regret. If you extinguish the fear, the flames will go out.
2. Everybody is scared. I went to a leadership development retreat a few years ago. It was one of those places where they break you down and build you back up again. Kind of like a personal development boot camp. The entire weekend was full of activities and exercises that ranged from moderately uncomfortable to utterly terrifying. I even had to face my worst fear and sing in public at the graduation ceremony. The most valuable thing I learned from the experience was that EVERYBODY is scared. We had a class of about 30 business leaders; men and women ages 28 through 60. Every single person in the class was scared of looking stupid, of failing, and of letting down the people who rely on them.
This was a powerful epiphany for me. Before I learned this, I refused to put myself in situations where I could fail or be rejected. I felt like I was the only person who was afraid of looking stupid, so I refused to risk it. It’s hard to explain, but after I had this realization I wasn’t so afraid. I felt like if everybody else is scared too, I don’t have to be.
3. Fear can be helpful. It’s easy for me to tell if I have anxiety about something. It will be the first thing that races through my head when I wake in the morning. And if it’s really worrying me, it will wake me in the middle of the night. Anxiety used to make me feel powerless, and hopeless, and weak. But over time, I’ve learned that those thoughts aren’t something to be ashamed of or avoided. They are my brain’s way of saying “HEY DUDE, YOU NEED TO HANDLE THIS!” The things I’m anxious about are the things I need to take action around. So, rather than avoid the things that worry me, now I acknowledge that I’m feeling anxious, then I go do something about it.
4. Fear loses its power when we confront it. When I was a kid, there was a monster that lived under my bed. At night, in the dark, that thing terrified me. I even risked peeing my bed because I knew that if I stepped down to go to the bathroom, it would grab my ankle. One time, my friend Baba spent the night and he double dared me to look under the bed. I tried to talk my way out of it at first, but I finally relented and peeked my head down over the side of the mattress. Nothing. The monster wasn’t there. After that, when my parents would shut my door and turn off my light, I would peek under the bed and see that the monster was gone. It never came back.
Fear is the same way. When I avoid the things that scare me, they grow. They get more powerful, and so I try even harder to avoid them. But, as soon as I have the courage to take my fear head on, it disappears.
I used to be terrified of speaking in public. If I knew that I would have to stand up in a group setting and introduce myself, my heart pounded and my mouth dried out. For years, I did everything I could to get out of situations where I might have to stand up and talk. Eventually, I realized that in order to be an effective leader, I needed to handle this. So, instead of avoiding public speaking situations, I started looking for them. I swallowed the lump in my throat and just got up and spoke. I was horrible. But eventually, I got a little better. After a while, I didn’t even embarrass myself. Now, public speaking is a huge part of my job and I love it.
5. Confidence comes from doing shit that scares you. I used to think that some people were naturally blessed with confidence. That it was congenital, like great skin, or green eyes. I thought that the rest of us schmucks were doomed to lives of fear and regret; never really doing anything remarkable because we didn’t believe in ourselves.
I’ve learned that I was wrong. Confidence is a muscle that anybody can strengthen with the proper exercise. The secret to becoming more confident it this; do shit that scares you. Most people avoid the things that scare them, and as a consequence they lose confidence and become insecure. They let those fears keep them from living a big life.
To truly become an awesome husband, father, and leader, you need the authentic self confidence that comes from knowing you have the courage to do the right thing even when it terrifies you.
You need to do shit that scares you.
Every one of us faces a daily battle with fear. Will your fear keep you from having that scary but important conversation with your wife today? Will it keep you in a job you dread? Will it keep you disconnected from your kids? Will your fear keep you from living the big, meaningful, remarkable life you were destined to live?
One of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield, has a name for this fear. He calls it the Resistance. He describes the daily battle like this. “On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”
Who’s going to win the battle today? You or the dragon?
Take the lead,