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By David Harder on December, 5, 2016

Will You Ever Overcome Fear?

In a culture fixated on security we have reinforced the myth that there is something fundamentally inadequate about us when we feel fear. If that is the case, we construct our lives around avoiding fear and as a result, the real and best opportunities don’t even reach our field of vision. All of this strange ideology disappears as we cross a street and a large truck roars around the corner. As it heads directly towards us our biology takes over. An alarm goes off that pours powerful hormones and chemicals into our body. This system is perfectly designed for taking us into action. Why does our culture need to make up so many strange stories and myths about basic biology? My personal belief is the mythology developed around fear is used to manipulate others.



One of the most famous quotes of all time is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We sent over seventeen million Americans into World War II. I have yet to find any of those soldier’s stories repeating the president’s missive. On the other hand, we find countless narratives where those in the frontlines characterized the experience as the single most terrifying event in their lives. In some cases they did hide. In others they shot first. In all cases they took action.



Perhaps a healthier alternative statement would be, “The only thing have we to fear is to forget courage.” True courage isn’t about walking into difficult situations as a robot devoid of feelings. As famous male icon of that era, the brutish John Wayne once said,



“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”



Truly successful people are quite accustomed to the experience of fear. When we listen to high performers as they describe their breakthroughs, overcoming fear is invariably woven into the narrative. When Ellen DeGeneres got her first TV show, a journalist asked how she felt about it. She responded, “This elevates my terror to a whole new level.”



Cher has experienced lifelong crippling bouts of stage fright. She tells journalists that it is as bad today as it was in her twenties. But, she deals with it by hiring stage managers whose primary responsibility is to drag her to the stage door no matter how threatening the words, volume of tears, or the expletives. The manager pushes her out the door and that previously terrified woman, in an instant, becomes Cher.



I mentioned previously how some groups that I worked with in the early days would get into debates about whether our discussion concerned a vision, a mission or a purpose. This discourse would detour us from defining a new game that would put everyone into action and hence risk. So, I told them to use all three. Similarly, rather than debating whether we should overcome fear, include fear or avoid fear, let’s move the organizational culture forward by making it OK to be frightened or not but always upholding and rewarding others for courage. Promote courage. Make courage a vital part of the organizational ethos.



Our dysfunctional responses to fear erode change and engagement. If someone is afraid to look your customers in the eye, how can they connect? If a leader is afraid to look at the truth, how will employees trust they can live out their personal ambitions? If a CEO is afraid to stand for value versus short term gain, how can we build value? If we continually pine for a simpler past, how can we possibly learn how to build our future?



There are thousands of human potential leaders, motivational speakers and spiritual figures who promise we can stamp out fear. A few have been close to me and what I have observed is they are often more frightened than everyone else. Or, they are just plain obtuse.



“Don’t be frightened” is a phrase that has worn out its welcome. The debate about whether fear is good or bad distracts us from action. However, we can always rely on courage. Courage won’t tell us we are inadequate because we are frightened. Courage won’t tell us to wait until we are more comfortable.



When we applaud our children for taking action even if the process scares them, we are giving them permission to do what it takes to succeed regardless of our feelings.



Organizational culture will get more out of talent if courage is applauded over being slick, being calm or “being cool.”


This past year we lost one of our cultural greats. Muhammad Ali was an iconic fighter but it is his words that live on and on:



“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplishing nothing in life.”



The practice of courage elevates every aspect of our lives. The practice moves us out of simply seeking comfort to becoming all that we are meant to be. Why would we want to sacrifice that for a little more comfort?



Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.



(C) Copyright, Inspired Work, Inc. – 2017 – (All rights reserved)



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