A swirling mix of nerves and excitement coursed through me as I waved my family goodbye.I was 21 and, armed with little more than a backpack and some travelers’ checks (remember those?), I was embarking on a yearlong around-the-world adventure.
The year that followed held many ‘adventures.’ Some fun. Some not-so-fun. Yet that experience, and many adventures since, have taught me that life’s most worthwhile endeavors – whether it be exploring the world, pursuing a big goal, or sharing your deepest self with another – require breaking ranks with our comfort zone and taking the very actions our brains – exquisitely adapted to alert us to potential dangers – are wired to steer us away from.
Of course, not all fear is bad. Without it, we wouldn’t be here now. It’s just that for most of human history we didn’t live in a digital fear economy engineered to stoke insecurity and heighten our perceptions of vulnerability.
So my reason for writing this now is not to champion carelessness. Courage isn’t about parking your brain or throwing caution to the wind. That’s just stupid. Rather it’s to invite you to be brutally honest about where you’re letting your fear of what you don’t want keep you from taking the very actions that would move you toward more of what you do want.
More connection. More influence. More contentment. More impact. More joy. And never having to look back and wonder ‘What if?’
Let’s face it, if it were easy to resist the gravitational pull of the status quo, more people would. So we must be extra vigilant to discern the fears that are serving our highest good from those which are shrinking our future; keeping us living too safely, settling too fast, and selling out on the person we could be…. if only we had the guts.
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As I shared in my recent TEDx talk (below), when assessing options, our brains are wired to overestimate the risks, to discount inaction, and to rationalize indecision, procrastination, and playing safe. As psychologist Daniel Kanahem found, our brains are twice as sensitive to potential losses as they are to potential gains.
The price we pay for avoiding a potential loss –for not making that ask, not taking that chance, not raising that issue, not risking that rejection – is never immediate and rarely obvious. But never underestimate the hidden tax of timidity – on your relationships, your team/business, your career, your life.
Of course, the brave path offers no guarantees. But as Richard Branson shared with me, he’s learned far more from his failures than his successes. However, it’s not just what you learn that matters, it is the person you become by daring to be more than the person you’ve been up until now.
The highest reward from choosing courage over comfort doesn’t flow from what you achieve, but in who you become in the process: the wisdom you learn, the gifts you grow, the connection you forge and the lives you lift.
The bad news? There’s no shortcut to courage; no magic bullet to bravery.
The good news? Courage isn’t a personality type. It’s a skill. Like playing piano or learning to bake. So like all skills, it can be learned. With practice (often more than we’d like.)
This is why it is always good to ask yourself this question:
Is the short-term pay-off you get from sticking with the status quo worth the long-term price tag?
If you can’t answer with a clear yes, then perhaps it is no.
History has taught us that we fail more from timidity than over daring. Courage is the virtue that makes all others possible.
So don’t wait for certainty. It’s an illusion.
Don’t wait to feel ready. You risk spending your life in a waiting room.
And don’t wait for your doubts to disappear or your fears to raise the white flag. Fear will never surrender.
Rather it will double down, making sure you feel its presence in your body.
Butterflies in your belly. A dry throat. Shaking legs. Racing heart. Sweaty palms.
I’ve felt all those many times. Sometimes my fear has won. Always to my regret. Yet the times it hasn’t have taught me many of life’s most valuable lessons. Like that…
- By naming our fear, we help to tame our fear (research shows the process of labeling emotions helps loosen the grip they can hold over us.)
- Fear often doesn’t show up dressed as outright terror. Indeed it can appear in many guises, from mild-mannered self-doubt or self-pity to imposter syndrome, excuses, procrastination, perfectionism, pride, superiority, and righteous indignation.
- We each have an immense capacity for courage once decide to tap into it
- Our greatest strength flows through embracing our vulnerability (I wrote a whole chapter on just this in You’ve Got This!)
- Being willing to feel our least comfortable emotions is the ticket price for creating a life that lights us up (not an easy one, but a deeply rewarding one)
and most of all…
- Each time we take action in the presence of fear, we dilute its power and reclaim our own
So let me ask you:
What would you do if you were being brave?
Whatever the answer, stand tall in your power then take one step, however small, in whatever direction your true self beckons.
Butterflies or no butterflies.
The future you most want is riding on it.
Dr Margie Warrell is a Senior Partner at Korn Ferry, bestselling author & speaker who is passionate about emboldening people to lead braver lives with greater impact.
Learn about her upcoming Brave Women’s Weekend here.