How To Beat Fear

overcoming fearI’m holding a plastic tube that contains an auto-injector of 0.15 mg of epinephrine that I’m about to jab into the leg of my 5 year old.  At the crossroads of action, and letting fear turn into panic, which way will I turn? Which way would you turn?

First, let me say right off, that my daughter is fine.  She has severe food allergies, and always has an EpiPen with her for an adult to use if needed. Soon she will be old enough to have to do it herself. But for now, she relies on other people to not panic, and act in the face of fear when they have to.

We’ve never had to use the EpiPen before. My wife, on the phone with a 911 operator, asks “Do you want me to do it? Do you know what you’re doing?!” I have this.  But do I? It’s pretty amazing how many questions and thoughts the human brain can process in a moment. An instant.

I’ve practiced this moment. We have the practice injector, and I’ve gone through the motions of popping off the cap, and jamming it into my leg. In this moment it occurs to me that I don’t remember practicing on my daughter.  That was a miss. She’s a small kid and I’m a grown man hopped up on adrenaline. I need to jab it hard enough to do it’s thing, but in this moment it feels like I can put it through a concrete wall. I know this is going to hurt her.

Those EpiPens are amazing devices. I jabbed it into her leg, she screamed, and within seconds, she was fine. She was crying, and breathing well, and distraught, and healthy. She was fine.  A few minutes later the Fire Trucks arrived, and minutes after that, the paramedics.  One of the paramedics said something I can’t get out of my head. “You used the EpiPen?  Good for you. You’re the first parent I’ve come across that actually used it.”

What?! She’d been on many calls for allergic reactions, and in all the other cases, she had to administer the EpiPen.  All the other parents waited for help to arrive. I completely understand this. Most people don’t act in the face of fear. They just don’t.  They stand around looking at each other, waiting for the other to act.

Which way will you turn?

You can train yourself to overcome fear. All fear. You can. You have to. I promise you that in this life, you will find yourself at the crossroads of action, and letting fear turn into panic. Which way will you turn?

It doesn’t have to be life or death. Will you confront your co-worker on that thing? Will you take that public speaking opportunity? Will you go on that ride with your excited child? Or will you let fear rob you?

I grew up afraid of my own shadow. I was bullied, had no confidence, the whole thing. There is no single event I can point to where I decided to never again let fear win, but somewhere in my adulthood, I made that conscience decision.

Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act when you’re afraid.

That quote has been said in many ways by a lot of people, but I think Nelson Mandela sums it up nicely-  “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I teach this to my children. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act when you’re afraid.

How To Never Lose To Fear

You don’t just wake up one day with the ability to overcome fear. You do it in steps.  First you have to start to be aware of when you’re feeling fear, and when it’s stopping you from doing something you want to do. I think being afraid is different than being scared, like being hurt is different than being injured. Being scared is a natural biological reaction. Being afraid is a decision that scared is how you will stay.

You wouldn’t want your body to stop being scared when you’re presented with a dangerous situation. It’s good to be be scared at the edge of a cliff. Scared is a warning of danger. That’s a good thing. Overcoming fear starts with doing things when you are scared.

I made a decision to never let fear keep me from doing something I wanted to do. I started by seeking out scary things and doing them. I jumped out of a plane, I bungee jumped, I took public speaking opportunities.  Whenever I was afraid of something I tried to just do that thing.

You have to train yourself to overcome fear. Take baby steps at first. Kill a spider, confront an uncomfortable situation, start a conversation with a stranger.

Some friends of mine have started to talk about fitness and weight struggles in a very public way. Amber even started a blog about it. If you don’t think it’s scary for a woman to talk about being overweight in today’s world, you’re crazy.

You don’t have to be afraid. You can LEARN to face your fear.  Almost every story about someone making a heroic act, starts with , “My training just kicked in.”

My work with The Mikey Network has exposed me to many stories of people overcoming fear and taking action to save a life with a defibrillator. There are lots of these life saving stories including  the dad who saved his 2 year old’s lifethe High School teacher who saved a student’s life, the GO Transit employee who saved a passenger’s life. Heroes.

Julien Smith wrote a great book, The Flinch, about this very thing.  Get it. He actually made it free, so you have no excuses.

Start taking steps to put yourself in scary situations. Learn to overcome your fear. I promise you that in this life, you will find yourself at the crossroads of taking action, and letting fear turn into panic. Which way will you turn? 


Are You The Same, or Are You Different?

Spring has finally sprung into hard launch mode here in Toronto .  No more threats of a late snow (I think), the leaves on the trees are starting to pop out, lawns are green, flowers are blooming, and I finally got to take the snow tires off the car!

Standing outWhile I was giving our lawn it’s first mow of season, I had a thought as I caught myself doing something I often do- doing something differently, just for the sake of being different.  Most people seem to mow their lawn in straight lines. When you do this, it leaves a pattern of those neat, straight rows. Not me. When I realized that when you mow it leaves lines, I started to mow my lawn in a curved pattern.

I don’t do this because I think it looks better, just different.  No other reason. Do you know how much extra work this is? Zero. It does take a little more thought, but it takes no more work than it would to do it like everyone else. It also makes it a little more interesting to me.

Think about this with your business, your personal life, your anything. How many things are you doing just like everyone else? From the way you answer the phone, your email signature, the way you dress, your business cards,  the way you make your offering or your pitch, what are you doing to stand out?

Of course there are times when you should absolutely do things just like everyone else. But how often do you let your personality show through? If you do creative work for clients, like I do, how often do you let their personality show through?  When we see companies let a little personality show, we tend to love it.  Did you see the twitter exchange between AMC theaters and Oreo Cookies?  A win for both companies for sure.

Are you just like everyone else, or are you different? I like different. People remember different. It usually doesn’t take any more work to be different, or any more money. It usually just takes a little thought.  It also takes a little courage. It’s easy to toe the line. We’re taught to conform from an early age.

Standing out means drawing attention. It opens you up to criticism. If you do it a lot, you’re going to miss the mark some too. No one gets a hit every time they bat. No one. I think you have to take that chance though. Wayne Gretzky famously said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.  I love that quote.

We need an interesting world. Be a little different. Please.



Is the Middle of the Pack So Bad?

businessesToday was Masters Sunday if you like golf (or you’re a general sports fan). If not, it was just Sunday. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be about sports. Well not much. Just a quick sports metaphor, and I’m out- OK?  Stay with me. For the non-golfers, the Masters is one of the four biggest golf tournaments every year- called “the majors.”

Professional golfers play 4 day tournaments.  Thursday and Friday the group gets whittled down to the final group that “makes the cut,” and gets to play Saturday and Sunday. Traditionally, Saturday is called “moving day.” This is the day the players get a bit more aggressive as they try to move up the leader board for a win on Sunday. As a result, you’ll see players make huge moves up in the standings. You’ll also see some that initially played very well, seem to whither under the pressure dropping way back to the middle of the pack or worse, knowing that just making the cut assures them a pretty good pay day.

This is the same pattern businesses in every industry follow as competition heats up. Whether it’s new competition or a shrinking market, or a bad economy, some will rise the the occasion, some will drop back to the middle of the pack and make enough money to get by, and others will fail to make the cut.

Is the middle of the pack so bad?

In golf, the top money earners make between $6-10 million.  In 2011, the player right in the middle of the money list – Angel Cabrera, won $628,079. (Incidentally, just now, Angel came in second at the 2013 Masters, earning an estimated $864,000).  So let’s bring this to business because those numbers translate well.

If you’re operating a small business with $628,079 in gross revenue, you’re probably making a decent living. Profit margins vary, but you’re probably not struggling to pay the bills, you don’t sweat payroll, you’re doing pretty well. You may be doing very well. Easy to be content there.

Let’s say the leaders in your industry are earning $6-$8 mill. They’re playing on a much higher level. But they probably have budget meetings, and HR issues, and marketing campaigns, and really have to work at it.  If you’re just starting out, you may not even think you’re capable of playing at that level. And you may not be.

But how do you find out where you belong?

You do the work. You put in your practice time and learn as much as you can. You try as much as you can in as many different ways as you can think of, to gain a competitive advantage.  You constantly ask if your product or service is as good as it can be, and work at making sure it is. You work with people (coaches, partners, mentors) who push you and teach you things you’re smart enough to realize you don’t know. When opportunities come (and they always do if you’re doing the work) you get to find out where you stack up.

You’ll fail. Big time. When you do, will you wither and die, or work hard and triumph next time? Another quick golf story- In April 2011, 21 year old Rory McIlroy had a 4 stroke lead going into the final day of the Masters.  He still had a 1 stroke lead going into the last half of the round, then he fell apart.  He completely imploded, and finished 15th. This 21 year old kid “choked” in front of millions on a worldwide stage with EVERYONE in his industry watching. Can you imagine? So how did this 21 year old handle it? Just 2 months later the then 22 year old won the US Open (another major by the way).  He didn’t  just win, he led from start to finish, and won shattering records. Now that’s a comeback.

So as you build your businesses, give some thought to where you want to be in the pack.  Maybe it’s the middle. Let’s not knock the middle! The middle is usually pretty safe. It’s a great place to get by. Until moving day when the competition gets stiff and your market shrinks, and the economy takes a bad turn.

Moving up the leader board on moving day takes work. I hope you’ll keep training, keep learning, pitch companies you think are just a bit out of your reach, and take on projects that push the limits of what you think you’re good at so you get better. I hope when you fall flat on your face you’ll turn inward to find the confidence to come back hard. I hope you’ll find yourself on the top of the leader board.

Photo by UK in Canada

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