I jumped suddenly as my bare feet hit the hot wooden porch, spilling a touch of my coffee. I was lifting my feet up fast, on and off, making my way to the carpet under the couch so my feet could cool down on this hot Sunday morning. The sun is burning hot, the sky is warm, the air is muggy, and I’m ready to find a cooler spot to spend my summer. Though I love Texas, it takes a special breed to live in the about-100-degree temps that will soon make up every summer day. Hopefully, by next week I’ll be sitting on the lakefront screened porch, listening to the loons proclaim their territory.
My Texas friends think I’m a wimp for escaping the intense heat, which they say builds character and strength. But, like most, I’ve spent a lifetime building character.
Beyond Our Control
There is no doubt, though, that adversity, challenge, and difficult times make us all stronger. Nothing good would ever happen to us if every moment were smooth sailing. Many of us would not be where we are without being forced into circumstances beyond our control. And some of us, probably very few, intentionally put ourselves in uncomfortable situations so we can look forward to difficult challenges, knowing growth waits on the other side.
My Biggest Fears
My palms were sweating as I looked around the room in the Denny’s on the corner of Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. I was there because someone had suggested I join Toastmasters because I was so shy and unable to speak in public. This was, in my opinion at the time, putting myself in harm’s way. You know how people fear public speaking more than death? That was me.
At Toastmasters, we were each told to stand up, introduce ourselves, say something about what we did, talk for two minutes, and sit down. Not a hard task, but when I saw a hundred other people there, I froze up. It was, it seemed, the worst day of my life. Why did I put myself in this position? I seriously thought about going home, but I knew if I did not face up to the challenge, I’d never conquer this fear of speaking.
When my turn came, I looked down at the floor, spoke so softly I was asked to speak up, and I was in and out of there in less than a minute. When I sat down, I realized my shirt was wet with sweat.
The next time, a couple of weeks later, required a longer talk, and then longer again the next time. And each time got a little easier, and I was a little less fearful.
How is it that I can speak today in front of audiences of thousands, that I can do crazy things on stage, be silly, have fun, and come across as the most confident person in the room?
Driven by Passion
There was something very satisfying about beating my fears, but the need to beat them came from knowing that if I did not beat them, I’d never play the role I needed to play in my career. I knew speaking was a critical skill I would need, and it was my passion, my desire, and a sense of purpose that drove me to risk looking like a fool in front of others.
What about you? Is there a fear you’ve conquered?
Or is there a fear you feel you need to conquer?
One of the most satisfying parts of my life is watching people overcome great fears because they know their dreams won’t be realized unless they do.
Putting yourself out there is not always about overcoming your fears. It can also mean forcing accountability.
Cortez famously burned his own ships as he invaded an island because he knew that his men might not try as hard if they had the option to retreat.
The way I burn the ships is to announce my intentions in public. The fear of embarrassment or looking bad usually results in my accomplishing my goal. That’s why I always recommend sharing your goals with others. Once you’ve stated them and others know, you’re more obligated.
All of this is rooted in overcoming discomfort. And discomfort is the entryway to massive success. So why do we shun discomfort instead of embracing it?
John F. Kennedy declared he was going to put a man on the moon. Quietly, he told his close confidants that he had no idea how he would get it done — after all, it was impossible. But he stated it into action by making himself accountable to the American people. His bold, audacious claim had to come true, and it empowered people to want to make it come true.
What Leaders Do
According to author Dan Sullivan, “Great leaders take risks with their reputations for the sake of moving ahead with a big, sometimes seemingly impossible, goal. Their vision and innovation spur them forward when they don’t yet have the capability to make these ambitions a reality.
Doing this takes courage. And being willing to go through periods of courage is essential to both entrepreneurship and leadership.”
He goes on to say, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s being afraid, acknowledging your fear, and pushing ahead toward your goal anyway, knowing that along the way, you’ll gain the necessary.”
Of course Roosevelt told us we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Sometimes we “jump in” and make a commitment because we know something needs to be done and there is no one else who will do it. Rising to the occasion is often the gutsy move, facing fear that turns us into leaders or people who accomplish great things.
Where do you need to just jump in?
What ships do you need to burn behind you?
What do you need to declare, exposing yourself to the world, in order to make something happen?
Ordinary men and women become extraordinary by facing their fears and having the courage to step out and declare their big bold move. They may be shaking inside, but it’s their desire, their passion, and their need to accomplish something important that let them overcome the demons of fear.
Sure, there are limitations and roadblocks. So what?
When passion drives your courage and puts you face to face with your biggest fears, you take on a new level of strength and are able to overcome all obstacles.
There is something burning inside you. Something you always wanted to do, but you’ve been telling yourself a story about why it’s not possible. Take a deep breath, muster up your courage, and face your fear. You’ll thank me later.
PS: A little more than a year ago when the COVID lockdowns began, I was very afraid I could no longer feed my family or pay college tuition, and I feared having to ruin the lives of the wonderful people I employ. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position, but I knew that facing my biggest fear yet would help me find the courage to get through all of this.
I watched cancellations for our live events come in at record speed, I watched advertising cancellations unlike any I’d seen before. I was convinced my business was at risk. Thankfully, our pivot to create a global online art conference saved us. Though it did not replace all the lost revenue, it kept us alive.
And it helped us discover a new tool for learning, one that allowed people to attend a conference they could never have attended in person. It changed the art world forever.
Things are not back to normal, and survival is still on our lips. Hopefully, our next virtual online conference, Pastel Live, will excite people about pastel painting, and make everyone better painters (and teach beginners too). It’s going to be a lot of fun, and tomorrow, Monday, is the deadline to get a seat before the big price increase. It’s got a 100% money-back guarantee … if you don’t love it, we refund your money. It’s how we do things.
If one of your fears is painting, face it … join us for Pastel Live.