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Being Brave Enough to Show Your Fear

What would you do if you were not afraid?

This question was posed at a workshop that I attended several years ago. For me, it was profound. It is easy for our daily actions to be controlled, or at least informed, by our fears. What would you do if you were not afraid?

By the same token, what would others learn if they knew we were afraid ~ and that we moved forward anyway? I can think of a number of times that I have hidden my fears from others ~ pretending to be brave ~ pretending that I knew what was on the other side.

I learned the importance of showing fear from Madison, a teenager who was the first to take the leap if faith off of a 40-foot platform at a ropes course. I admired her immediately when she volunteered to go first ~ this was after she indicated that her fear level was at a 10 (the highest number we could assign our fear).

We all watched in anticipation as she slowly climbed the ladder, rung by rung. About 20 feet up the ladder (halfway to the top), she stopped. There was quiet all around ~ only the sounds of nature ~ while we wondered what she would do next. Madison was thinking. She was frozen. And then it began: she quietly began to tremble.

Her teammates below began to encourage her: “You can do it.”

Her response: “I need to come down. I can’t do it.”

I watched breathlessly as the dialogue continued, and I wondered what Madison would do next. You see, she was playing out my greatest fear. I knew that I would be taking the same climb in a few minutes and I really didn’t know how it would play out when I was up there. Would I freeze? What was Madison teaching me? What was I learning?

As Madison stayed frozen on the ladder, contemplating her next move, I admired her. She was the bravest person I had ever met. None of us on the ground had ever done a leap of faith before and she was going first. Watching Madison climb allowed me to anticipate my own climb. She was paving the way.

Madison was brave enough to show her fear, and in so doing, she filled me with bravery. You see, at that point, I had a fear of heights and I could imagine being frozen on that ladder. I could imagine needing to come down. And, because of Madison, I could imagine a range of other options, including that I just might effortlessly execute the climb. Without Madison’s leadership lesson, I could not have visualized what a climb might look like.

So how did it end? Did Madison complete the leap of faith or did she come down at the halfway point (which, at 20 feet above the ground, was higher than she or any of the rest of us had ever climbed before)? What would you have done?

I am proud to say that Madison did climb to the top of the 40-foot platform! And she completed her leap of faith and learned about her own bravery.

Thanks to Madison, I also took a leap of faith that day. I learned that it is okay to be afraid and that it is possible to overcome our fears. I also learned the importance of vision and planning. Thanks to Madison’s teaching, I had a plan. I did not look down and I did not stop to think until I was sitting on the platform 40-feet above the ground. And then, safety harnesses attached, I leaped off the platform. (In reality, I shimmied off the edge of the platform, but nevertheless, I am proud of my efforts and, perhaps, showing my fear made someone else feel capable of standing up and LEAPING into the open space with abandon!)

So, what would you do if you were not afraid?

I want you to know that it’s okay to be afraid. You aren’t expected to have all the answers. Recognize the fear. Put it beside you. Put on your helmet with determination. And then climb.

If you are in the midst of a climb right now, congratulate yourself and keep your eye on the prize. Don’t allow too much time for self-doubt.

Take one step at a time ~ one day at a time ~ and just keep climbing. Others are learning from your bravery.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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