Once, when General George Patton was praised for his bravery in battle, he said, “Sir, I am not a brave man — the truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands, but I have learned early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.”
Patton didn’t somehow turn off his fear. He stopped listening to it, and he learned to push through it. I’ve found that successful people consistently do this. They feel the fear and do it anyway.
Two years ago, my oldest son and I went to the Royal Gorge with the express purpose of riding the Royal Rush Skycoaster. Named the “scariest skycoaster in the world,” the Royal Rush Skycoaster pulls you up 100 feet in the air by cable and then drops you. You swing out over the Royal Gorge at a speed of 50 mph and hang over the Arkansas River 1,200 feet below.
I was so scared that it made me sick to think about doing it. This wasn’t our first time to the park, you understand. We had been there months before, and the kids wanted to ride “the swing.” Dad chickened out.
This time, however, I was determined. Chandler had just turned thirteen, and this was an important part of an elaborate series of challenges that Dad was calling “Chandler’s induction into manhood.” I could hardly ask him to do it if I wasn’t going to participate. I’m not ready to have him take over the title of “man of the house” just yet.
So I screwed my courage to the sticking point, and I laid my credit card down on the counter. (“What am I doing? I’m going to pay for this?”) A few minutes later, we were strapping into our harnesses. (“Hey! Watch the hands, buddy!”) Then we were watching other victims as we waited in line for our turn. (“She’s screaming. Why’s she screaming?”) Then we were getting clipped to the cable. (“Stop talking to your co-worker, and FOCUS! These are our lives you’re dealing with.”) Then we were being towed into the air. (“I made a mistake! I made a mistake! I want down now…Mommy!”) Then the tiny, tiny, little man on the ground was yelling, “3…2…1…PULL!” and my son was yanking the ripcord. (–Censored–)
But then, an amazing thing happened. All that fear – the stomach-churning, knee-knocking, panic-inducing fear – was gone! Where it had been, there was now exhilaration! I was overwhelmed with feelings of excitement, gratitude (“Thank you, God! Thank you, God!”), awe, peace and freedom. They let us swing out over the gorge six or seven times, and I thoroughly enjoyed staring into 1,200 feet of abyss. Two minutes after we got off the ride, my son looked at me with a spark in his eye and said, “Let’s do it again!” And we did.
I learned some important things about fear that day:
• Fear (spelled F.E.A.R.) is usually based on False Expectations Appearing Real. (It was highly unlikely that we were going to be the first people to be flung into the gorge, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.)
• Taking a realistic look at the worst-case scenario often puts F.E.A.R. in its proper perspective. (Death wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to us. Both of us already have an exit strategy.)
• Having a partner in scary situations gives us courage. (As Chandler and I debriefed the event, we both said that having the other one with us calmed the nerves.)
• Making a first investment in doing something scary makes it harder to back out. (Once I had put $50 into the experience, there was no way I was getting out of line.)
• Humor kills F.E.A.R. (As we stood in line, we made lame jokes and laughed nervously with the people in front of us. As long as we were laughing, we forgot how much we wanted to get away.)
• F.E.A.R. has a thin skin. (It took very little action to push through the membrane of F.E.A.R. The worst part of the ride was my active imagination. Once I did something, the F.E.A.R. was gone.)
• Facing your F.E.A.R.s resets your courage border. (After the ride, some of the F.E.A.R.s I’ve been dealing with lately seemed silly in comparison to what I had just been through. I’mactually excited about applying what I learned about F.E.A.R. in those situations, too. My courage border gained some real estate that day.)
While there are times when fear is an important defense mechanism that keeps us from winning a Darwin Award, most of the time, it interferes with us becoming all we were created to be. Stop taking counsel of your fears. What would you do if you were not afraid?
Then, go and do it! Do it! Do it now! Feel the F.E.A.R. and do it anyway!