Tell us if you think any of the following people are cowards. Alexander the Great. Mahatma Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Rosa Parks. George Washington. Muhammad Ali. Amelia Earhart.
“Coward” may be the furthest word from your mind to describe these people? How about, “courage”? It certainly took courage for them to accomplish all they did.
Does this mean they were actually fearless though? As in, did they lack fear? We’d put our head on the block, and say that not one of them was fearless. Why? Well, apart from people with abnormal brain functions, feeling fear makes us human.
The courageous person does not lack fear. Instead, the courageous person has learned to kick fear to the curb, and do what needs to be done. (If you don't have a college degree, you may be all too familiar with "doing what needs to be done") Courage is the triumph over fear. We all want that.
But hold your horses. Before we can talk about beating fear, We first have to understand it.
What is Fear?
Imagine driving 70MPH down the freeway. All of a sudden you hear a loud bang. Instead of driving down the freeway you are now careening down the freeway. A tire has blown out and you know you might end up dead. “ Danger!” screams your brain. And maybe you’re screaming too.
What happens before you scream? A small organ in the middle of your brain (called the amygdala) goes to work. It sounds the alarm and your nervous system responds. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released. Your blood pressure and heart rate increase. This is fear, and you scream your heart out.
But we don’t only experience fear in dramatic situations. We experience this emotion for simpler things in life too. In fact, fear is vital in everyday life. It helps us to safeguard ourselves physically and emotionally. For example, you may fear getting hurt as you did in a previous relationship, so you avoid toxic people. You may fear being mugged, so you avoid walking down dark alleys. In the complete absence of fear, people wouldn’t think of protecting themselves from legitimate threats. Alright, that’s nice. We’re happy with that end of the stick. What about the short end? The kind of fear that prevents progress.
Unfortunately, it isn’t one dimensional. We really don’t have time to talk about fear and all its faces. But understanding the difference between rational fears and irrational fears will give us a huge leg up,
Separating the Rational and the Irrational
Let’s go back to our ‘ careening on the freeway’ scenario. One of your tires has cracks and cuts in its sidewall, but you still take to driving 70MPH on the freeway. It’s rational for you to fear having a tire blow out. If all your tires were in pristine shape when you got in the car but you fear having a tire blow-out anyway, your fear is irrational.
Let’s imagine another scenario. You’re an entrepreneur at the Investor Summit 2022. Of course, there are dozens of other entrepreneurs in the room. Like you, they are also trying to get the attention of the biggest investors. But unlike you, many of them have college credentials to flaunt. You’re a college dropout. The clock is ticking and you are minutes away from delivering your pitch. You run through it over and over again. You know it like the back of your hands. Sweet! But you find a flaw in your pitch. Just great!
This is where separating the rational from the irrational is crucial. Feeling that the other entrepreneurs have an upper hand because of their credentials is a rational fear. It’s also rational to fear that the flaw in your pitch can break your chances of securing an investor.
BUT! It’s irrational to fear that the other entrepreneurs will certainly do a better job than you ever could just because they have a degree. It is irrational to fear that the one flaw you’ve found in your pitch surely means that the rest of your pitch is garbage.
So you’ve separated the rational from the irrational. Now what?
Now that you’ve separated your rational fears from your irrational fears, you are in the position to do something about it.
The secret is what you choose to focus on. If you choose to focus on your irrational fears, they will only get worse. Before you know it, you’ll be heading for the doors, truly believing that you had no chance of securing an investor in the first place. If you choose to focus on your rational fears, they may quickly escalate into irrational fears. What you need to do is focus on what you can do about the cause of your fears. You have no degree. Can you do anything about that at this summit? You can’t, so let it go. In the same way it would be crazy for you to worry about tires you just checked before driving. It’s crazy for you to think you don’t have a chance at this summit after you worked your butt off preparing your pitch. So there’s a flaw in that pitch. Well,that you can do something about, so get to it.
Maybe you don’t exactly relate to the above scenario. But you’re reading this blog so you must be human. Fear is something you know well. Have you given it too much control over your life though? What can you do to change that?
Get Some Perspective
- When stepping into uncharted territory fear is inevitable. It is only natural that you experience fear when you’re about to do something you’ve never done before. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Choose to be a go getter anyway.
- There is an antidote to fear. Nike’s advertising campaign has been focused on just three words. “JUST DO IT”. There’s more to those words than just buying nice shoes. When you fear something that needs to be done, one of the best antidotes is preparing well then getting out there and doing it.
Just like jumping into a pool. At first the water may feel cold and uncomfortable, but after a few minutes it’s quite refreshing. You’re now happy you were brave enough to jump in. Similarly, when you decide to do what you’re afraid to do, it will be uncomfortable at first. The fear may fade quicker than you expect, though. You will then be left reaping the fruits of your labour. You’ll be happy you were brave enough to take the plunge.
- Be humble. Everyone needs a helping hand at times. Sometimes you just need a push in the right direction. Is there anyone in your life that has always supported you? Confide in that person. Speak openly about what fear is preventing your progress. Networking with like-minded people is also always a good idea. You may be surprised by what you can learn from listening to and observing others.
- You are not alone. Remember that no one is immune to fear. A degree doesn’t make someone fearless. The Harvard grad waiting to be interviewed is afraid too. But don’t focus on him. Focus on what you know you bring to the table. You can be successful too. Did you know that Larry Ellison (Oracle), Daniel Ek (Spotify) Jack Dorsey (Twitter), and Steve Jobs(Apple) are just a few of the many successful people without a degree? Your true merit lies in the work you put in.
- Is the glass half full or is it half empty? Be positive. The glass is both half full and half empty. But there’s no use focusing on the empty half. That is life. Nothing is perfect. Focus on what you can do with what you have.
Some people are naturally more courageous than others. Being courageous is a choice, though. If you are not one of those people, you don’t have to resign to being a coward. The ball is in your court. Take a shot at what you want. In the midst of fear, you can still choose to be courageous. Like all of us, you too deserve everything that is wonderful and exciting in life.
You may not be able to fulfill your wildest dreams today. But, you can start heading in the right direction today. Little things like cleaning your room, improving your diet, having a better sleep routine and exercising will help you to do so. Think about something small you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t done. What’s stopping you from doing it now? Fear? Fighting fear is indeed a lifelong battle, but it’s a battle you can win.
The moment you decide that you will not have fear rule your life, you too can be courageous!
Photo by kevron2001 via Canva
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