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“What’s on the other side of fear? …Nothing…”Jamie Foxx
Fear is a killer. It’s a killer of the mind, of ambition, and of potential. It’s a killer of joy, of logic, and of possibility. It’s a killer of dreams, of the spirit, and of trust. Fear can cripple you, if you allow it.
Fear is also a fuel. It’s a fuel for thought, for creativity, and for change. It’s fuel for imagination, for innovation, and for originality. It’s a fuel for determination, willpower, and grit. Fear can drive you, if you can harness it.
Fear is a double-edged sword that can easily manipulate or be manipulated. Those who understand this unwritten truth, who realize they can mold their fear to their wishes, are most likely to become the leaders among us. But they can only do so by heading towards the sharp teeth of their fear, by moving through it, and by embracing it.
Unfortunately, fear cannot be unlearned. It’s essential for survival and has served us so well in the past that it has gotten us through ice ages, helped us evade predators on the savannah, and has been the driving force behind the rise of civilization. Fortunately, however, our fears (with an “s”) are more malleable and can be unlearned. These are the thoughts that live rent-free in our head, cultivated by the conscious mind, and held hostage by our subconscious. They are the voices that say you can’t stand up in front of a crowd to speak, or that you shouldn’t confront a wrongdoer. Fears often have no basis in reality, and almost always lead to inaction or indecisiveness—qualities that no leader can afford. Here are a few effective strategies I’ve used to overcome my fears and use fear to my advantage:
Stretch Your Comfort Zone
I write a lot about why you should step out of your comfort zone. I talk about the concentric circles of fear and that by incrementally expanding outward, you naturally increase your comfort level in any uncomfortable situation. The above photo was from my 35-day, 500-mile solo pilgrimage across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. It was one of most emotionally challenging and physically grueling things I have done in my life, and I soon realized that my fears in any domain could be conquered by simply heading towards them and pushing through them. You don’t have to walk 500 miles alone across a foreign country, but you should be purposeful in conquering discomfort.
Take out a piece of paper and, instead of writing your goals, define what’s your fears in specific detail. What’s the worst that can happen? What would you do in the worst-case scenario? What opportunities and experiences are you sacrificing in service of your fears? For a more thorough approach to fear-setting, Tim Ferriss’ post is a must-read.
Lead from the Front
True leaders are not ones who have eliminated all fear. In fact, they still feel it as much as anyone else. However, they have learned to use it to their advantage, just like imposter syndrome, insecurity, the bystander effect, and the lessons of their failures. When you take initiative by leading from the front, you are setting the example for yourself, and for those you lead, that most fears are nothing more than strawmen that can be obliterated at will.
Your ability to conquer your fears will make you a great leader. Your ability to transcend your fears will make you a transformative leader. And while Jamie Foxx may have said what’s on the other side of fear is nothing, you must also keep in mind what else is on the other side of fear: everything. Everything you wake up early for. Everything you stay up late for. Everything you worry about incessantly. Everything you’ve ever wanted…is available to you as an individual and as a leader…if you just step forward and step through that pathway to the other side of fear.
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