APRIL 2020 — I’m above the clouds right now. It was a surprisingly rough ascent out of Charlotte heading back to Little Rock. On the way up to +40,000 ft., we experienced heavy turbulence and at one point, a sudden and unexpected drop in altitude. I watched the eyes of the other passengers widen and everybody looked at each other for assurance.
“It’s fine”, one of them said. And that was the assurance.
The rest of the flight was smooth.
I always wonder when I fly – if one or both of the engine(s) were to fail, how would different people react? Would anybody be calm? Who would panic? Who would pray? Who would turn to action and try to help? What would everybody’s individual fear look like?
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the greatest U.S. president to ever live. He is the only (first and last) president to serve four terms, and he pretty much saved the United States as commander in chief three different times. True story. In Roosevelt’s first inaugural speech he famously said:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”FDR, 1933
What is fear? Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined. Fear is one of the seven universal emotions, meaning if you show me someone who has never been afraid, I’ll show you a liar. Fear doesn’t always look like fear. Sometimes it looks like trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. Sometimes it looks like marrying the wrong person. Sometimes it looks like doing nothing at all. Whether it’s fear of heights, being ashamed, feeling guilty, feeling jealous, fear of intimacy (“fear of commitment”), fear of public speaking, or fear of spiders — these are all variations of basic fear; most of which I have personally experienced.
Fear is also a survival instinct. We may fear something dangerous because it threatens our existence or because we have learned from it. Fear can mobilize us and tell us to “fight or flight”, but ironically, it can also do the opposite. Fear can prevent action when our senses become overwhelmed, such as described by the phrase, “deer in headlights”. Hence, fear can be immobilizing.
It’s hard to talk about fear without talking about fear of failure. Have you ever been so afraid at failing something that you decided not to try it at all? We forget that everybody who’s ever been great at something probably sucked at some point, but they overcame fear of failure in order to get better.
The human brain avoids discomfort. When fear sets in, it’s hard to overcome because our mind has a tactical advantage over us. Our mind knows what we’re good at, what we’re bad at, and what we fear… and we can’t lie to it. Without preparation, our mind will always be two steps ahead of us. Our mind would rather be comfortable, and making excuses is an example of the brain’s preference for comfort.
Do you think growth is supposed to be comfortable? Will you risk failing in order to achieve your dreams? Think about the amount of justification we allow ourselves in order to avoid challenges that would get us closer to our goals. Excuses are an attempt to cover up our fears.
What is your biggest fear? What are you really afraid of?
What keeps me up at night is the fear of being normal. I look around and I see so many people being just – I don’t know… normal. Talking about things that we want to do, but we can’t for whatever reason we tell ourselves. Being stuck in toxic relationships because we fear what people will think when it doesn’t work out. Watching other people’s lives on TV or listening to news that doesn’t effect us at all. Living in fear.
My biggest fear is sitting in a rocking chair at 85 years old and looking back on my life, wondering what coulda, woulda, shoulda been different. Tony Robbins calls this the Rocking Chair Method.
I should have quit that job. I should have started that company. I should have moved out of Arkansas. I should have said yes. I should have said no. I should have asked the pretty girl out.
I should have majored in film in college, but I feared what my parents would think. True story.
I should have done it when I had the chance.
That absolutely terrifies me; settling for less than I deserve, compromising my aspirations for comfort or security. I have been blessed with a healthy body and an able mind. What a disservice it would be to allow myself to be anything less than my greatest potential. The more I accept that failure is a necessary part of “growing up”, the less I fear failing on my way to greatness.
My fear = my potential ability minus my actual ability. What’s left over is my wasted capacity; laziness, procrastination, self-sabatoging fear. That is how I’ve learned to use my fear. My fear of regret later in life, coupled with my fear of normalcy far outweighs my fear of failing in a given instance.
My fear = my potential ability minus my actual abilityTweet
Kobe Bryant skipped college and went straight from high school to the NBA at 18 years old. We all know the star that he became, but it was not without its hurdles. His rookie season was not impressive, and in the very last game that year, Kobe decided it was his time to shine. He thought he would single-handedly beat the Utah Jazz and take the Lakers to the playoffs. What a tremendous amount of pressure on an 18 year old. You won’t believe what happened…
Tied at 89-89 with under a minute left in the game. Kobe Bryant took four shots that would have won the game. Four shots. He. Air-balled. Every. Single. Shot.
Consider the amount courage it took after the first airball, as an 18-year old rookie, to win the game, to shoot the second shot. And then a third? A stunning fourth airball in under five minutes with tens of thousands of people cheering against him, and the biggest game of his life at the time on the line. The Lakers lost, and Kobe walked off the court with his head hanging low.
That night, when he returned to LA, Bryant worked on his shot “until the sun came up.” He spent the rest of his offseason repeating that routine every day.
Kobe defined it as, “an early turning point in being able to deal with adversity, public scrutiny, and self-doubt“, and the very first game of the next season, the Lakers played the Jazz. He got his revenge.
The general manager of the Lakers at the time, Jerry West, described the situation. “He was fearless. I think that’s one of the things that spurred him to greatness. He wasn’t going to allow himself to fail.”
“It may be the most classic Kobe story”, said Tim Klein.
Failure is inevitable so embrace it.
Entrepreneurs are by definition people who generally lose more than they win; and they are glorified for it because they represent resilience. 90% of startups fail – do you think each billionaire got it right the first time?
- Warren Buffet was rejected by Harvard University.
- Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs dropped out of school.
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
- MacKenzie Scott Bezos divorced Jeff. haha, just kidding (but she did).
It would take you roughly 30 years to count to a billion.
The only way to defeat an enemy as powerful as fear is to know it well. To be the best version of ourselves, we can’t be immobilized by fear, and the only way to overcome it is to acknowledge it. The next step is being able to recognize it in real time, and being able to choose to move through it.
So – when you’re 85 years old, sitting in your rocking chair, looking back on your life, what is it that you will regret not doing. What are you waiting for?