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Embrace Your Fear Of The Unknown

Taking risks can be the difference between mediocrity and success

Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Embrace Your Fear Of The Unknown

Once upon a time, there was a warrior whose teacher told him he had to battle fear. He didn’t want to because it was scary. But his teacher said he must do it and gave him instructions for the battle.

When the day arrived, the student warrior stood on one side and fear on the other. The warrior felt small, while fear was big and wrathful. They both had their weapons, but suddenly the warrior fell prostrate and asked fear, “How can I defeat you?”

Fear replied: “My weapons are that I talk fast. And I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved and do what I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.”

At that, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

When things fall apart and you start feeling fear, feel lucky instead. Because only when you feel fear will you have the courage to overcome it. Being courageous and having a great life is all about being intimate with fear. Rather than being depressed or scared about fear, lean into it and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

My friend, motivational speaker Les Brown, said, “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

Don’t be afraid to confront your fears. If you are afraid, admit it. We all face fears and anxieties every day, and the only way to overcome them and succeed is to recognize them up front so we can confront them directly.

  • Examine your fears by identifying them. Spend some time each morning asking yourself what might happen during the day that you’re afraid of — failure to reach the people you need to talk to, for example, or getting lost on the way to an appointment.
  • Take preventive steps. Think of what you can do to prevent your fear from coming true. Be on the lookout for behaviors and thoughts that add to your fear, and train yourself to change your patterns of action and thinking.
  • Learn from your fears. You’ll succeed or fail. Either way, use the experience of confronting your fear to overcome new problems.

Fear is the factor that prevents many from taking risks that can mean the difference between mediocrity and success.

Many years ago, I wrote a column about “The Second Ten Commandments.” Commandment two stated: Thou shall not be fearful, for most of the things we fear never come to pass. Every crisis you face is multiplied when you act out of fear. Fear is a self-fulfilling emotion. When you fear something, you empower it. If you refuse to concede to fear, there is nothing to fear.

Companies that make bold moves rarely do so without some element of fear. Leaders worry every day whether they have acted too soon or are missing some unanticipated obstacles when they introduce new products or services. Have they performed their due diligence? Will their decisions pay off?

Those choices are never easy, but then business is never easy. Successful organizations know how to master their fear and put it in the proper perspective. They know their target markets and customers well enough to predict their chances of winning. They understand that if an idea fails, it most likely will not spell imminent doom.

They understand the difference between confidence and arrogance. I’ve seen plenty of businesses succumb to arrogance when a reasonable dose of fear might have prevented their failure. Fear can be useful when it is used to guide practical decision making.

But fear can paralyze you, preventing you from achieving, even from living. Can you actually die from fear? Most likely not. What fear kills is your spirit, your ambition, your confidence.

A commanding general in the Persian army would go through a rather unusual ritual with captured spies: He would give criminals a choice between the firing squad or going through “the big, black door.”

Most spies decided on the firing squad, with the usual results.

Turning to his aide, the general said, “They always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is typical of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, we gave them a choice.”

“What lay behind the big, black door?” asked the aide.

“Freedom,” replied the general, “and I’ve only known a few brave enough to take it.”

Mackay’s Moral: Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine May 2023 issue.
Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Published on
Apr 25, 2023
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