If you knew when you woke up today that you could choose to do anything in your work, your relationships, your life and you knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you choose to do?
It’s a powerful question we should start to think about. I began thinking about the idea of “fearlessness” about a year and a half ago when two strange events coincided with my thoughts about this:
The first event was reading the book “Relentless” by Tim Grover, which is a book about mental toughness and the mirages we call limits in our lives. In the book, Grover uses his lifetime of experience training world-class athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to illustrate that the differences in those that achieve the extraordinary and those that do not is most typically in the expectations and the willingness to go as far as it takes between the two. The extraordinary expect greatness, expect championships, but also expect pain, adversity, and sacrifice as part of the process, but are unwavering in their willingness to keep moving forward. The average amongst us want greatness and hope for championships, but at the first sign of pain, adversity, and sacrifice often quit due to fear. I was highly intrigued by Grover’s assertions as I’d never had someone speak to me in such clear ways that tapped into my natural competitiveness and encouraged me to embrace that in my adult working life.
The second event happened shortly after starting the book and it involved my son, Rylan. Rylan was only about two and a half years old at this time, but has always been a very physical and naturally athletic kid with a ridiculous motor. One afternoon I was in our backyard swimming with him when he shouted across the pool that he wanted to take his vest off… the very vest that allowed him to be buoyant, and he wanted to swim without it. This had been going on for several weeks and we’d always pretty quickly convinced him to keep it on. This day, however, I decided to tempt what I thought was Rylan’s false bravado. I fully expected him to back down, after all, he’d gone underwater before and knew it to be a rather unpleasant experience. So, I did what any good father would do: I yelled out “Go for it!” Off came the vest as he stood on the rock next to the pool. Deliberately, he raised his right arm straight in the air and made a fist and began belting out the Superman theme song and, in the blink of an eye, dove in headfirst. By now, I was in the water at the edge of the pool and was planning to go retrieve him from the bottom when I noticed something amazing. He still had his arm up, his eyes were wide open, and he was kicking underwater straight toward the steps. At two and a half years old, Rylan swam underwater the length of the pool. I couldn’t even move. Needless to say, we retired the vest that day and he’s not looked back. You see, it never occurred to Rylan that he could fail, so the possibility of not doing the Superman dive never even crossed his mind! He’s now four years old and still exhibits that same fearlessness, but he’s never failed and he’s not been wrong yet when he believed he could do something. Don’t we all wish we had a bit more of that approach in our lives?
As I spend my time and passion helping improve communication and execution with our teams, I continually find myself back at the same place: The processes, products, marketplace conditions, and environments are all very similar for many people. How can two people with all of these commonalities experience such wild variations in their results? My belief is that the answer to this question is rooted in fear or fearlessness. Moreover, those that root their lives (and business) in strong relationships, and thus exhibit fearlessness emotionally and socially, have considerably better experiences inside the same circumstances as those that do not, and thus allow their fear to trap them into isolation and keep them from building strong relationships. In working with our team, I’ve seen true change in people that have this fear, however, and I believe as leaders that we can change hearts and experiences.
Fears are a highly complex topic to tackle, certainly far more complex than this retired jock is qualified to take on. But, many of the fears we carry as adults are rooted from somewhere in our childhood. As we grow, the idea goes, the downside to our fears become more extreme. As a child, failure on the playground could result in embarrassment or name calling. As adults, it could result in the loss of our jobs and our ability to provide. Regardless of how likely, that fear of failure and the extreme downside is such that most people choose to take the road well-worn instead of trying for the extraordinary and doing something significant. One of our company’s great leaders, Mike Oswald, recently told me that he learned that there is a great acronym for F.E.A.R.- False Evidence Appearing Real. What a great statement. We oftentimes mentally argue with ourselves and play out catastrophic events if we were to attempt to do something unique, and we give ourselves negative self-talk and we discourage ourselves from the bravery required to do so. These mental images are making a case against yourself utilizing False Evidence Appearing Real at that moment.
In business, these fears materialize themselves most damagingly when fears cause people to hesitate to create strong relationships with those around them. In our business, and most businesses, our systems and processes are still heavily-reliant on the interpersonal communication between multiple people and departments in order to execute. In that, below are four major elements that I am focused on trying to build as a leader to establish a high-performance culture that embodies fearlessness:
Trust is likely the fundamental critical success factor in all relationships, but is also a critical factor in our ability to develop into fearless adults. As a leader, I believe the primary responsibility I have to our teams is to create environments of safety that encourage the free sharing of ideas and information without fear of repercussion or retribution, either from Management or co-workers. While many people wait for trust, however, I have come to know that the true gift of trust is to the giver of that trust. Making the decision to be a trusting leader has been life changing for me and has given me assurance that my interactions with each team member are fully “in the moment” and there is no wasted energy or passion trying to find someone doing something wrong. As our teams have learned that they are fully trusted, they in turn have given me their trust, which eliminates the fears I have in trying to lead our forward progress.
Trust breeds confidence, so you can’t have this without the first element. Once individuals start to connect to their self-confidence, their self-talk and mental images for what they expect from an outcome dramatically improve. Confidence is not self-combusted, though. Any confidence that I have now has been manifested in me through multiple people in my life working with me to improve, expressing their trust in me, and then assertively making it known that they believed in me. Having others that you care about believe in you gives you an assuredness, an insurance policy, that regardless of the outcome they will still be there. I got this early from my parents and coaches, I got it exponentially from some great teammates like Lori Imhoff, and I got immovable strength from the belief my wife, Corrin, and my children have in me. Combined with my faith, my confidence is usually at fairly high levels. As a leader, I remind myself constantly to give the gift of trust and belief to our teams to allow their confidence to grow.
Human beings are social creatures and have a biological need for tribes and cultures. From the beginning of time, the examples of cohesive teams dominating and changing the landscape are prevalent, be it in military, political movements, sports, or business. When the bonds of strong teams are formed with like-minded people that share goals and purpose, strong relationships are formed inside of them that are defined with strong communication and tenants of empathy toward each other. When we are surrounded by those that have our prosperity in mind and at heart, we are inspired to reciprocally invest ourselves in their prosperity, which allows us to actually share each other’s fearlessness.
In the end, we can have all of these elements in place, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be adversity. While we want to be the most intelligent, innovative, and forward thinking company possible, I would trade all of those qualities in to be the toughest company. True toughness is knowing that adversity and challenge lurk and choosing to still drive forward. Toughness is understanding that pressure can collapse buildings but it can also create diamonds, and choosing to embrace the pressure because not everyone is lucky enough to have their work matter so much that it creates pressure. Toughness means understanding that most of our daily decisions are rooted in either Love or Fear, and choosing to be tough enough to go first and show the love for another in order to create the fearlessness that we all want.
Recently, Jim Carrey gave an incredibly profound commencement address at Maharishi University where he spoke beautifully about fear, saying:
“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.
So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please! And if it doesn’t happen for you right away, it’s only because the universe is so busy fulfilling my order. It’s party size!
My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Watch the full commencement speech:
Finally, as I encourage you to find the fearlessness that exists inside of each of us to allow you to be fulfilled, I leave you with an excerpt of Steve Job’s Commencement Address to Stanford University in 2005. I don’t believe it’s ever been said better.
“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Be fearless, change the world.