It’s been a long year for all of us—full of upheaval, tests of our endurance, isolation, new patterns, survival, and a weariness that can suck the purpose out of anyone. In my professional career, I have never seen such a strong need for emotional connection and camaraderie pulled into the work sphere. And at the same time, the need to create, reimagine, and repurpose has been driven at an epic rate. It’s been a marathon run at a sprint pace with often difficult challenges around every corner for so many.
For as many bold, life-altering choices I see, I also see a
renewed and prevalent embracing of fear as a major guiding principle—rooting
people to lives that are not what they imagined for themselves. These lives are
safe, acceptable, utilitarian, and bland at their best, and soul-sucking,
wasteful, unhappy, and purposeless at their worst.
I believe that all of us fundamentally want joy, to be seen and known, to do work that matters, and to understand and express our authenticity. As we age, we all seem less willing to fight for these desires, more likely to be small in our actions and to stay rooted in the life we have slowly cultivated for decades. Why? Fear. When I hear people describe their decision-making criteria, the underlying principle can usually be unpacked down to that one word. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of being alone. Fear of being judged. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of making a decision that leads to “less,” not “more” than the status quo. Fear of crashing and burning a bland but safe life. Fear of not being able to learn, change, or adapt.
I have always been punctuated by a fearlessness that has led me to test, try, and push the envelope for most of my life. Sometimes to great effect; sometimes to hard, brutal lessons.
But I realized as I aged that I was never fearless. I was just good at “doing it scared.” White knuckles. Deep breath. All wits and courage. It didn’t always work out, but I learned that I could get through the fear, and the pay-off was usually worth it.
A few years ago, I wanted to learn to scuba dive, but after the classroom training was complete and I had to get in the ocean, I panicked. Just practicing clearing my mask of water was terrifying. I worried about my lungs filling with water out in the open ocean. I worried about swimming with the heavy equipment. I thought about being evacuated because I was incompetent and embarrassing myself in front of more experienced divers. I wanted to abandon the entire experience. I was terrified, but I put on my wetsuit anyway and did it. I loved it so much that I went on 3 more dives that same day after my first dive. I would have missed a new love if I had allowed my fear to guide my decision.
I’m deeply grateful for this pattern of behavior, as it’s
has been a primary driver of my evolution and growth. And it can work for you,
You do not need to be a fearless warrior or some great focused achiever.
You often just need some acknowledgment and a little self-belief.
scared” will unlock new horizons in your life, and here is my blueprint for how
to take that plunge:
1) Reflection and Honesty Must Come First
As a first step, it is critically important to understand what you truly want,
why you haven’t or won’t act, and capture your fear in a specific statement. I
am a fan of writing this down or taking a quick moment to reflect. It’s
important to crystalize your thoughts and organize them, so you can acknowledge
the desire and the fear. I had to reflect quickly on my scuba adventure, assess
why I lacked confidence in my capabilities, and then assess if that was a
rationale and accurate view. I also had to weigh my desire to pursue scuba
initially, and why I wanted to learn versus being overcome by my fear.
2) Understand Your Options and Weigh Them
scenarios have options, and it’s important to structure your thinking here, too.
I recommend a quick matrix. Whatever your fear may be or your desired state,
you need to look hard at each of your options, the pros/cons, the risk, and the
reward from each choice. Often, fear clouds the mind, and you are more likely to
fixate on a single thing versus
surveying the spectrum of options in a fact-based model. Rank them by the most
desirable outcome, and then add in your best assessment of your fear. What will
you do if your fear is realized? What can you do to mitigate those feelings?
Are you being realistic or is your fear driven by past experiences that are
coloring your judgment? This is a time to reflect and process what is really
holding you back from the outcome you want. In the case of scuba, my fear was
driven by some very low-probability outcomes that I had allowed to become
bigger than they were.
3) Have a Plan, Pick Your Time, or Don’t
When it comes to conquering fear, you can have a specific plan around how,
when, and what you will do. Making that plan once you settle on your decision
point can be comforting and focus your action and next steps. However,
sometimes the best next step is just to step forward and execute. If I have a
fear I want to conquer, and I know it is especially debilitating, I might just
take that next step immediately—knowing that I won’t be able to turn back once
I initiate the sequence of events. Often, the first step is the hardest, so just
take it! I made the decision to move forward with scuba straight away once I
determined my fears were low probability, and I was undervaluing my own skill
4) Failure and Trouble Are Coming No Matter What
When confronting a fear, I think it’s important to remember that you
will face scary and unpredictable events in your life that you did not choose,
and you will come up with your strategy on the fly for those scenarios. You may
already have those tools in your kit. Often managing fear is about your
confidence in your ability to manage and weigh risk, and then develop a plan,
so take stock that you can face it down or you already have. Use that
psychology to build your confidence to deliberately act! A few years ago, I got
trapped under a whitewater raft in a Category 5 rapid while rafting, and I
managed to save myself in that scenario. If I can do that, I knew I could apply
the same tenacity to trouble-shooting any scary scuba challenges.
5) Have Confidence in Your Perseverance
is an underrated trait, but it is also often the difference in being successful
in a tough challenge. When it comes to working through a fear, Robert Frost has
my favorite advice, “The best way out is always through.” All of us have more
endurance than we know, more tenacity, and more grit. But we often give up too
early, let doubt erode our courage, and end up quitting before we are
And the ONE difference in the victorious person is often the
ability to stay the course, commit to a choice, and see it all the way through.
Next time you are tempted to quit, bail out, or change your mind. Don’t. You
will miss the sweetest moments and the biggest wins by allowing fear to turn
you into a coward. I knew I might not be the best scuba diver, but I made up my
mind to go all the way through and not give up.If I had to pick out one
single trait for overcoming fear, it is to never give up on a rational pursuit
once you commit. Never.
6) Be Fully Committed to Your Happiness
choices that focus on your deepest desires and happiness leads to the best overall
outcomes. When you are at your happiest, you inherently create that environment
for others, you are the most productive, and you honor your life to its
fullest. I encourage everyone to take stock of their happiness meter. If you are
not truly, deeply happy, and purposeful, it’s time to make a change. Face down
those fears because what is on the other side is worth it. This commitment to
your personal happiness and vision is essential to creating the perseverance
needed to overcome fear.
Above all, I wish to see more and more tenacious humans
focusing on chasing joy and purpose, and not allowing fears to deter great
experiences. Each of us has been gifted with a beautiful period of time on this
planet, so do not live a life where fear is the baseline for decisions. You might
just have to “do it scared”. Win or lose, you will have the satisfaction of
advancing your courage, your focus, and building your tool kit for conquering
all those fearful challenges that are coming for all of us. Be victorious and make yourself proud of