Category Archives: Fear

The Naked Lobster for Leaders

Naked LobsterEver thought about how a lobster grows?  Because of its rigid shell, the larger it gets, the more uncomfortable the lobster becomes.  Eventually, it has to shed its old shell in order to grow a new, roomier model.  This process is repeated multiple times (as many as 25 times over the first 5-7 years of its life) until it reaches its maximum size.

During the 48 hours or so that the lobster is shell-less, it’s in grave danger.  (You could walk up at any time with a cup of melted butter, and it would be all over!)  For the lobster, there is no growth without risk.

I see two lessons for us in the example of the naked lobster:

  • You won’t grow without taking some risks.
  • You won’t grow without leaving something familiar behind.

God is calling us to walk with Him, but He doesn’t guarantee that the journey will be “safe.”  The Christian walk can be incredibly scary…if you are doing it right.  That is, if you are taking risks that God asks you to take so that you have to put your faith in Him.  These risks will require that you get out of our comfort zone.  That “comfort zone,” that “familiar thing” you are leaving behind is often something related to your old sin nature.  Like the lobster’s old shell, it should be more and more uncomfortable to you as you grow in your relationship with Christ.  When you realize that it’s dead, it’s time to shuck it off.

As a leader, your “comfort zone” or “familiar thing” could be your leadership position.  How long have you been in your current role?  Long enough to grow a shell?  Are you still growing in your role, or has your shell begun to define your limits?  If you are holding onto your position because it’s comfortable and safe, because you’re afraid of challenging yourself and taking some risk, because you are trying to save face or hold on tightly to something you “earned” years ago through your hard work, you are stuck in an old, rigid shell.  It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your organization.

The lobster operates on instinct to shed his shell, but unless someone with authority forces you out of your shell, you have to have courage to get rid of it.  You don’t have to take the risk if you really don’t want to.  If you are too afraid to leave the familiar for something better, you can continue to stay in your cramped, little shell convincing yourself that it isn’t so uncomfortable after all.

But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment….it is starting to pinch, isn’t it?  Do the things that used to motivate you seem boring and burdensome now? Do you find yourself spending more energy holding onto what you have than investing in yourself to grow?  Accept my testimony as someone who has left his shell multiple times (a few times by choice and several times against my will as I tried desperately to hold onto what I had).  God is waiting outside your shell.  He’s calling to you from just outside your comfort zone, and He’ll lead you through the next stage of your growth as you faithfully and courageously walk with Him.


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Filed under Change, comfort zone, Courage, faith, Fear, growth, leadership, trust

Possibility Thinking

During World War I, a Colonel was notified that his troops were surrounded by the enemy, who was demanding that they surrender.  The Colonel took this message to his troops, “Gentlemen, we have a situation that armies dream of.  We are surrounded on all sides, so we can attack in any direction we want.  All we have to do is pick one and go.  Our danger is if we sit here.”

Now, that’s possibility thinking!  Leadership sometimes requires that we reframe an impossible goal so that our team’s can see their potential for success.

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, Challenges, Change, coaching, conflict, Denial, determination, faith, Fear, Goals, Hardship, leadership, learned helplessness, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm, paradigm shift, Persistence, Problem Solving, Scarcity, success, Suffering, Trials


While speaking to students at Washington and Lee University, former Vice President of the United States Alben Barkley suddenly collapsed and died from a massive heart attack on April 30th, 1956.  As far as we know, he’s the only person to ever officially die from public speaking.  But considering the way people worry about and avoid it, you would think death was a much more common side effect.

The Book of Lists shows that the fear of public speaking ranks number one in the list of fears with most people.  Way above the fear of death, disease and showing up in public in your underwear is the fear of falling flat before an audience.  Unfortunately for those who suffer from glossophobia (fear of speaking in public), it’s a crucial skill to master for your career.  According to the Lamalie Report on Top Executives, 71% of top execs rank communication and presentation skills as the #1 ingredient in their effectiveness.

So, how do you feel about it?  Does the thought of standing in front of your peers make your hands sweat and the butterflies take flight?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The following techniques will help you overcome the jitters.

Lower Your Expectations
Who said you have to be perfect?  Even expert presenters were beginners once.  They made mistakes and learned from them in order to get to the level of skill that you witness.  Aim for “adequate” or “average” the first few times, and you will relieve huge amounts of pressure.

Keep It Short and Simple
Audiences will always appreciate short presentations that get to the point.  Keeping your presentation short and simple makes it easier for you to remember and deliver, and it makes it easier for your audience to hear.

Visualize Success
Throw out all the mental images of failure.  Replace them with thoughts of succeeding wildly!  What you rehearse in your mind more often than not plays out in reality.

Change Your Self-Talk
If you hear yourself saying (or thinking), “I’m not good at public speaking,” or “I’m going to really mess this up,” it’s time to change your self-talk.  Give yourself messages about success, about your audience engaging with you, about everything going incredibly well…  Quit trying to be a self-fulfilling prophet just so you can tell us later that you told us so.  Above all, keep these two maxims in mind:

  1. They genuinely want you to succeed. Really!  Audiences would rather see a good presentation than a bad one.
  2. They don’t know what they don’t know. If you forget something, misquote a statistic, blow your closer…they probably have no idea…until, of course, you apologize for doing it – then everyone knows.

Know the Room
Before you speak, get into the room and check everything out.  Test the microphone, stand at the lectern, do a walk through of your presentation and see where you’ll stand…anything to help you get comfortable with your surroundings.

Memorize Your Opener
This will increase your likelihood of success at the beginning.  If you can develop momentum through a solid opening delivery, your fear will typically melt.

Fool Your Physiology
While your brain is telling your body how to act, it is also taking cues from it.  By doing the opposite of what your body expects to do when you’re nervous, you send the message back that you are calm and in control.  Here are a few methods:

  • Breath deeply and slowly – During stress, our bodies switch to rapid chest breathing to increase the supply of oxygen.  Slow, deep breaths are a sign of relaxation.
  • Hold something warm in your hands (like a cup of coffee) – Blood flow is directed away from your hands during stress.  Warming them up helps you feel more confident.
  • Exercise – Muscles tense up when we are nervous.  Exercise relaxes them.
  • Stand up straight – Fear tends to make us draw inward physically.  Holding your head up with your shoulders back counteracts this.
  • Wet your whistle – You produce less saliva when nervous.  Keep water (room temperature, not cold) handy so that you can take care of dry mouth.

Greet Your Audience
Say hello to them individually.  Shake their hands.  Smile at them.  You’ll build rapport with them, and you’ll reinforce your belief that they want you to succeed.

Pick Out Friendly Faces
Scan your audience for someone who is smiling, nodding in agreement or looking attentive.  Block out anyone who is sleeping, frowning or looking skeptical.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

If you didn’t prepare, you have a legitimate reason to be nervous.  Spend the time needed to be familiar with your subject matter, but then back off.  Agonizing over your presentation right before you give it increases nervousness and mistakes.  You’re better off just reviewing a few key points right before you get up to speak.
Don’t let your fear of speaking in public derail your career.  Remember that “FEAR” stands for “False Expectations Appearing Real.”  Most of the tragic outcomes you imagine will never happen, so stop wasting brain cells worrying about them.  Instead, use that energy to make your point in a dynamic and compelling way!

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Filed under comfort zone, communication, Fear, overcoming obstacles, public speaking, speaking, success

Behind the Clouds, the Son!

My family is visiting the U.S. right now.  We have a six-week furlough before returning to Thailand, and we are most of the way through it.

Today, we had to say goodbye to some old friends.  It was painful.  As one of the families packed in their car to go, my youngest called out, “See you again in three years thanks to my dad’s stupid job!”  I was about to scold him but then noticed the tears in his eyes.  No one got his permission before moving everyone to Thailand and changing his entire life.  It seemed very unfair to him.

Hoping to cheer everyone up, we went out to lunch at Red Robin, a family favorite.  But as soon as we got out of the car, my daughter started to cry, and it took almost ten minutes to console her.  When the tears stopped, we made our way into the restaurant and had a seat.

A waitress came by and asked us how we were doing.  Looking around at tear-stained faces, I decided on honesty, “We’re a little sad today.  We live overseas, and we’ve come for a visit but had to say goodbye to some good friends.”

She didn’t seem to know what the appropriate response might be, so she took our orders and tended to us every so often.  During the middle of lunch, my youngest began crying again, and we couldn’t seem to raise his spirits with any talk about his friends in Thailand or the greater purpose that is being served by us being there.  He was low, and there was no picking him up.

But as soon as we finished eating, our waitress appeared again with a giant mountain of an ice-cream and brownie dessert.  She said that she and the wait staff had all chipped in to buy it for us to help us feel better, because she had spent years living in Aruba when she was a kid and knew how tough it could be.  My wife, not normally given to crying, had to fight back tears at the simple gesture.

You wouldn’t believe the change that dessert worked on my youngest son!  Instantly, he was excited and cheerful again.  Food is his love language.  Dessert is probably his most fluent dialect.  He was thrilled!  In fact, we all were.  We finished out lunch with smiles and laughter and left the restaurant in great spirits.

As my oldest son and I talked in the parking lot about what had just happened, he remarked that God sure knew how to cheer up my youngest son.  It was the perfect antidote to his gloomy mood.  While we talked, the two of us were staring at the storm clouds above us.  They were dark and foreboding, but behind them, you could see evidence of the sun.  It was producing a silver lining around some of the darkest ones.  And it got me to thinking…

Sometimes all we see are the dark and gloomy clouds.  We look at our problems and the circumstances of our lives and see only the storms.  But what we often fail to remember is that just behind the clouds of our current situation is the Son of God, who loves us and wants the best for us.  He’s always there; He never moves.  We are the ones who are spinning round and round, so even though we may not be able to see Him, we can trust that He won’t leave us on our own.

The clouds will come and go, but the Son will never change.  And just when we are in our darkest moments, the clouds will part, and the warmth of His light will shine through in the form of a chocolate icecream and brownie mountain.


Filed under agape love, Challenges, emotions, family, Fear, Suffering, Valley

Naked Lobster

Ever thought about how a lobster grows?  Because of its rigid shell, the larger it gets, the more uncomfortable the lobster becomes.  Eventually, it has to shed its old shell in order to grow a new, roomier model.  This process is repeated multiple times (as many as 25 times over the first 5-7 years of its life) until it reaches its maximum size.

During the 48 hours or so that the lobster is shell-less, it’s in grave danger.  One hungry tourist with a cup of melted butter….  Or…the lobster could be eaten by any of its other natural predators.  For the lobster, there is no growth without risk.

I see two lessons for us in the story of the naked lobster:

·        You won’t grow without taking some risks.
·        You won’t grow without leaving something familiar behind.

But where the lobster operates on instinct to shed his shell, we have to operate on courage.  Unfortunately, many of us struggle to face up to hard changes.  It’s difficult to leave our comfort zone for the scary unknown.  Success is not assured.  Failure is likely.  Why would we want to leave what’s been working for us for so long?

And the truth is, we don’t always have to.  Sometimes, business as usual (BAU) will get us by.  But that’s all it usually does.  If we want to grow…  If we want to do great things for God… We are going to have to leave the familiar for something better.  We can’t continue to stay in our cramped, little shell convincing ourselves that it isn’t so uncomfortable after all.  We’ve got to feel the pinch and make the move.

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, determination, Fear, growth, habits, motivation, sacrifice

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

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!

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Filed under Challenges, comfort zone, faith, Fear, trust

Leaving the Cocoon

One day, a small opening appeared in a cocoon.  A man sat and watched as a butterfly struggled for several hours to force its body through the tiny hole.  But then, it seemed to stop making any  progress.

It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could not go any further.  So, in an attempt to help the butterfly, the man took a pair of scissors and opened the cocoon, allowing the butterfly to emerge easily.

Strangely, the butterfly exited the cocoon with a withered body and tiny and shriveled wings.  The man continued to watch, expecting that, at any moment, the wings would open, enlarge and expand.  But nothing happened.

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its short life crawling around with a withered body and shriveled wings. It was never able to fly.

What the man did not understand was that the restriction of the cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were part of God’s incredible and mysterious design.  Through the butterfly’s early efforts, fluid was forced from its body into its wings.  The fluid would have enabled the butterfly to fly once it was free from the cocoon.

It’s hard to appreciate our struggles while we are going through them.  Often, our prayers are for God to release us from them, but we lack His eternal perspective.  When He allows them to continue, we can be sure that the struggles are exactly what we need – that they are the most efficient and effective way of producing in us the strength and character necessary to do His work.  Take them away, and our faith is withered and shriveled.  We might walk, but we’ll never fly.

Think about your personal “cocoon” at this point in time.  It’s whatever it is that has been causing you stress, worry or anxiety.  It’s what you’ve been praying for God to take away.  It’s the prayer that seems to go unanswered.  Now, give God thanks for the struggle.  Acknowledge that He knows all and that His will is best.  Praise Him for allowing this difficulty in your life that is preparing you for something greater.  Because a caterpillar is a neat thing, but it’s nothing compared to a butterfly!


Filed under Challenges, Change, christianity, comfort zone, delayed gratification, Fear, Hardship, helping, Instant Gratification, learning, overcoming obstacles, Serving Others, Suffering