Breaking News! John Wayne, Cher, Oprah & Richard Branson – All of them – Terrified!
Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.
In 1990, I was performing with some of the greatest musicians on earth and totally bent on spending my life recording and doing concerts. It has been said that God laughs as we make plans and through a series of events I find myself 26 years later running a business that helps people transform their relationship towards work and helping organizations become great places to work.
Many people look at me as fearless but candidly, I find that action almost always brings up discomfort and fear. The truly successful are quite used to the experience of fear and they sustain themselves by finding healthy forms of comfort – like trustworthy friends and colleagues.
I have not played much music for years. I’m the kind of pianist that needs to make a two hour daily commitment to play in any fashion that is acceptable to my standards. Well, all of that changed this past week.
I was asked into a recording session with the legendary British punk rock band The Automatics. One of my closest friends founded the group but that didn’t ease my fear. I had trouble sleeping the night before. Everyone around me was saying, “Go have fun. Go have a wonderful time.” My fears included sitting down and being so rusty that everyone would screech, “This is (rhymes with full hit).” We did a few takes, my hands moved, my head was screaming, “Oh no! You shouldn’t have said yes. This is pretty rank.” But, the team responded with, “That was wonderful!” Later in the day, they told me that I was a musical mirror image of Ian Stewart, the long time pianist for the Rolling Stones. I smiled and accepted the compliments graciously not having a clue who Ian Stewart was.
As I left, I was given a check!
That frightening experience has inspired me to get a great piano back into this house – facing the ocean and I will play enough to open windows for the neighborhood.
Nelson Mandela tells us that,
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not the one who does not feel afraid,…
While I agree, language like this can be misinterpreted, which is a little like waving a drink in front of an alcoholic. Think about it, when someone tells us, “Don’t be frightened” does that pull us out of fear?
Cher disclosed to Oprah Winfrey that she has had crippling stage fright her entire life. She cries, screams, pleads and curses but her stage manager pushes her through the door and she becomes Cher. Oprah has a four decade career performing miracles as she presents herself as…utterly human.
Modern organizations cannot expect to succeed in a connected, engaged, frenzied, vastly changing world if we continue to tell people there is something wrong with fear. Right action is far more valuable than hiding in the shadows. I believe one of the highest forms of contribution comes from those who pressed through fear to create new value for customers, for the organization and for themselves. Often, the very ones telling us they have conquered their fears are not taking that much action.
When we establish the kind of workplace that is OK with fear, we now have the basis for calling colleagues out on cynicism, contempt, aimlessness, resignation and frenzy because these are the unhealthy symptoms that come out of being paralyzed by fear.
Now, we can tell our people,
Get out there and pursue anything that is really worthwhile, even if it terrifies you. If at first you fail, we will give you a hug, take a look at your strategy and send you back until you win.
In tomorrow’s workplace democracy implies that we are there for each other, we watch each other’s back, we comfort each other, we inspire each other to take risks, we push each other to grow. Above all, we applaud and uphold courage.
Courage: the ability to do something that frightens one.
Brought to you by David Harder, honorary punk rocker.
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