How I Turned Fear into Courage
I first published this story on Oct 1st 2016 in Linkedin.
I slightly edited it, and included few additional thoughts.
As men, why don’t we discuss our emotions? When I tried, some of my friends started quietly distancing themselves from me. One of the hardest challenges I’ve had to overcome is not allowing fear to take over but instead being courageous in the face of fear. Learning how to develop my emotional intelligence is the key. I am making progress. And you can too. Here is one of my story.
About three months ago (it was early July) I went through a short emotional roller coaster. It lasted about 30 hours, the shortest ever of its kind. I want to share what I did to pull myself quickly out of an emotional “bad place”, where fear started draining my energy and my behavior was less-than-optimal, and reach a different emotional “good place”, where I was able to leverage that emotion in a more productive way.
Let’s just say that, sometimes, things do not go the way you want. It does not matter how hard you work.
Sometimes things don’t go your way because you made a mistake. This is true especially if you have the fantastic (and too often) rare opportunity to experiment with new things. For instance, a new marketing or sales campaign is not working (your initial customer sample, or assumptions, were not comprehensive enough), or a new product feature is not well received (you did not have the time to test it with real users).
Sometimes things don’t go your way simply because… you don’t have control over them! (And this offers an idea for a future post about Expectations! Stay tuned…).
Now, if things don’t go your way, and you happen to be a driven individual, you may start being hard on yourself. You become very sensitive about what your boss or your colleagues are sharing with you about that project. And you start telling yourself some interesting stories…
If you have yet to initiate the process of mastering your Emotional Intelligence, by this time your amygdala has already taken control over your brain. If you don’t recognize what’s going on, your stories are just going to get worse. You are not in control anymore, and you don’t even know about it!
And, as the stories in your head get worse, so does your behavior. The following applies to both your personal and professional sphere:
- Your desire to control any outcome may increase.
- You may become irritable.
- You may say things that you will later regret.
… and Good News!!!
The good news is that this time, I caught myself at the beginning of my narratives. I became aware. Once you become aware, you have choices. At this point, it’s that simple!
Most of us did not grow up with the tools that allow us to understand and handle our emotions. If you don’t recognize your feelings, if you do not name them, if you do not mindfully process them, they may turn into fear. The good news is that recognizing your emotions is something that everybody can learn, but it takes some conscious effort and practice.
My Coach Phil Johnson calls this work “Emotional Labor.” Once I became aware, I started using some of the tools that Phil taught me. One of them I call “The Vision Check”. The concept is simple: if you have an objective, a goal, something you truly believe in, that is your Vision. When the Vision is strong, the obstacles to reach that vision appear smaller. It works. And a lot of people around us use this tool all the time. More on this later.
Once I began to become aware of what was going on, I started focusing on my Vision. And once I started doing that, I realized that what happened was just one of the landmarks of the fantastic journey that is taking me toward my Vision!
Yes, I made a mistake, but what a lesson!!!
When was the last time that I allowed myself to fail? I don’t remember. As my Vision started to sharpen and to become brighter again, I realized that I wanted to get back up on my feet as quickly as possible.
I talked to Phil.
I talked to a CEO friend of mine.
Then I talked to my CEO.
I hugged my kids.
It was also time to let go of my tarnished self-image… Now I could clearly see how to double my Company’s Bookings next Quarter.
I was ready to roll!!!
Fear of Failure, and the Entrepreneur
A friend of mine once wrote: “The journey to success and better results is anything but glamorous. It is filled with struggle and fear. Our courage is tested daily, as is our commitment.”
When I first read this, I knew that there was at least one category of people who are extremely gifted in the art of managing the fear of failure: Entrepreneurs. I am a learner, I am curious. I needed to study at least a few of them and figure out what they were doing about fear.
The Entrepreneur is fascinating. Her Vision is so strong; she does not care about the possibility of failing.
The Entrepreneur knows that he can fail, he is not a super-human. Not only he does not blame others for his failures, he is the one who embraces failure (with the fear that comes with it, before and after) because failure provides the opportunity to grow.
However, I also learned that ego gets in the way. The Entrepreneur may find himself or herself under incredible pressure to perform. This is particularly true if the Entrepreneur does not hold all the “power”.
That’s when I realized that I raised the bar.
I was not interested in looking at a traditional Entrepreneur anymore.
The “augmented” Entrepreneur that I wanted to learn from, and become, was an Emotional Intelligent Leader.
Wanted! Emotional Intelligent Leaders
Three years ago I made the conscious decision to find Emotional Intelligent Leaders and to follow them.
I am lucky I met a few. They embraced me.
They are still rare, but their tribe is growing in numbers.
We are naturally attracted to them. Their presence inspires us to live our lives on purpose and to keep moving relentlessly towards our Vision.
If you know what to look for, you will be able to find them.
And they will embrace you, too.
Since I wrote this article, life gave me the opportunity to practice what I wrote here a few more times. As a result, I gained a deeper understanding on how to channel my energies a little more effectively.
Early last year dear friend pointed out that I was identifying myself with my job too much.
I was lucky I was open to listen to that feedback!
That friend showed me the link between identification with the ego, and the desire to control outcome (or others, you choose).
What I (re)learned during that conversation is that much of my fears originated from the identification with the self.
This time the connection was not purely intellectual, it was also emotional: the learning was here to stay, and would change my “automatic” response.
In the workplace I became more effective to connect with - and be of service to - my Customers.
With no pipeline, in 9 months, I grew by 2x a 4-year old account.
And I won a new account after learning how to service a newly acquired business unit.
The skill of letting go of our fears (or trying to keep them in check) is transferable to our relationships, also.
We do not have control over anybody.
If we think we do, we are fooling ourselves.
How many times, for instance, we worry about our children?
This is especially true if they are teenagers, or in College, when we (our egos) figure out that we are about to lose control of them!
It became very clear how to separate my duty as an educator from the desire to control my children’s choices, or behavior.
I am not saying that I just let them do whatever they wanted. I was still determined to be a presence in their lives (and made a conscious effort to focus on authentic communication) but I refrained from treating them like an extension of my ego.
The fear of not being a good parent, the fear of seeing them failing, left place to the courage of “let go, and let God”.
They keep blossoming.
And so are our relationships.