I always enjoy learning new things. And on the way to acquiring a new skill, one of the most effective techniques is to be able to watch someone else who has already accomplished what I’m attempting to do. On our journey from anxiety to fearlessness it’s both instructive and inspiring to see someone else demonstrate fearlessness for us.
The power of a real, live example is in our ability to point to it, see it in action. We can say, “There! See that?! That’s what living fearlessly looks like! Now I’m going to try it.” In that way we’re able to set a new standard for ourselves. Watching someone else live out the example has a reality about it that is so much more powerful than vague or hypothetical situations.
Let’s look at two examples of fearless living that aren’t the least bit vague or hypothetical. They are both extremely real and very translatable into our own efforts to move from anxiety to fearlessness.
At the recent Democratic National Convention, which was held virtually because of the pandemic, every politician, lobbyist, actor and professional speaker was completely upstaged by a 13-year-old boy from New Hampshire named Brayden Harrington.
Speaking from the safe space of his own bedroom, Brayden told how he and Presidential contender Joe Biden are “members of the same club. We s……. st…… stutt…… stutter.”
As he went to pronounce the word “stutter,” the sound got stuck and just wouldn’t come out. You could see the effort, the determination and the shear fortitude that he summoned to carry on. And in a speech that lasted less than two minutes, this young man demonstrated a courage that left those of us watching in complete awe. Witnessing him struggle with his disfluency, knowing that he was being watched by millions of people, was a masterclass in facing a very real fear and making the decision to not let it hold him back.
As his address went on, Brayden encountered additional words that challenged his uncooperative vocal patterns. But in every case, he carried on. As I put myself in his place I could feel, in the pit of my stomach, the overwhelming temptation to dive for the safety of the covers of his bed that was mere feet away. But again and again, he made the choice to confront any fears, any self-consciousness, and declare that he would not allow them to limit him.
This demonstration of courage had nothing to do with politics. The boy won’t even be able to vote for another five years. The only dog he has in the hunt is his own determination to move beyond the kind of obstacle that so many of the rest of us declare as insurmountable.
I’ve lived five times as long as Brayden so far, but he just schooled me in living fearlessly.
Chelsie Hill was born to dance. In classes at the age of three, she was competing at regional and national events when she was five. As a 17-year-old high school senior she was involved in a drunk driving accident that left her with irreversible spinal cord damage and unable to walk.
During her recovery, Chelsie made the decision that she would not let her injuries and disabilities interrupt her dreams of being a professional dancer. She moved to Los Angeles to study dance and found herself the only wheelchair dancer in the class.
In 2012 she formed the Rollettes, a wheelchair dance team that has appeared on national media including Ellen, the Today Show, the Hallmark Channel and Access Daily as well as others. The group empowers women with disabilities to live boundlessly (and fearlessly) and shifts perspectives on disability through dance.
Nor has Chelsie stopped with wheelchair dancing. She is a speaker and advocate against drunk and distracted driving. She has her own line of jeans designed specifically for women with disabilities and unique body types. And in 2017 she partnered with Tommy Hilfiger and later Amazon for release of their adaptive clothing line.
Two very different people. Two very different challenges.
In both cases it’s easy to feel and empathize with the crushing fear that these two no doubt felt. And yet they made the decision to power through it, knowing that staying on the small side of that fear would result in a life lived from a place of timidity and cowering. But to confront that fear, to understand that it exists only in our minds, and to decide that it will no longer control us, will result in a life without limits.
I like to surround myself with people who inspire and instruct me to raise my own bar. When I watch them in action, see how they respond to challenging situations. I like to have their examples to imitate.
Brayden Harrington and Chelsie Hill are just two of the countless people who can teach the rest of us what it’s like to overcome anxiety, leave apprehension in the dust behind you and live fearlessly. I, for one, want to watch very closely, take careful notes and do my best to follow the examples.
A couple of years ago I enjoyed a fascinating day in Mountain View, California, as my wife Gail and I attended the annual shareholders meeting of Tesla, the electric car company founded by billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk. (Full disclosure: Gail was the smart one investing in Tesla. I was just arm candy.)
The business portion of the meeting lasted no more than five minutes. The interesting part, about four hours as the multi-talented Mr. Musk told stories about the early days of Tesla, the big ideas, the failed experiments, the almost-went-bankrupt nail-biters and the incredibly successful phenomenon that continues to unfold as this still-new company rewrites the rules on personal transportation.
Turns out that Elon is a truly terribly public speaker, a reasonably talented engineer and a stunningly brilliant visionary. And there’s the key. In story after story he told us that he could see the end results in his mind’s eye. He readily admitted that, at many points he didn’t have a clue as to HOW he would actually get to that end result, but he didn’t for a moment doubt that he would.
I love reading about and speaking with successful people. And the one thing they all have in common is the ability to visualize the goal they are heading towards.
For example, I recently read a great book* by Daymond John, the entrepreneur founder of the FUBU clothing line and multimillionaire member of the team of Sharks on the popular TV reality show, Shark Tank. The book highlights both his own experience and that of a number of other successful entrepreneurs as they founded and built their companies. And in every case, the driving force was the clarity of the vision they each had for what they wanted to accomplish.
So, when you look out into your future, what do you see? Can you describe a detailed picture of where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing? What goals will you be working to achieve? Who will you be serving? Can you visualize this day three years from now?
Notice that I’m using words that all talk about vision, pictures and seeing. The reason this is so important is that it forces you to have tremendous clarity about your goals. If they’re the least bit vague or clouded, the likelihood that you’ll achieve them falls off rapidly.
So when you think about your life 36 months, 1,080 days from today, what color will the walls be? What window will you be looking out? Who will you be calling, visiting? Who will you include in your circle of influence? What will your bank statement say? How will this picture be different from the one you see today?
Like Elon Musk, you might not have a clue about how you’re going to get there. But that’s not nearly as important as knowing where you want to get to. You’ll figure it out, bit by bit, along the way.
When you drive at night, the headlights on your car illuminate only the few hundred feet in front of you. But you can drive from Seattle to Miami seeing only that much at a time. You don’t need to see the whole route, but you do need to see Miami in your mind.
Daymond John makes a great comment near the end of his book that is going to stick with me: “You can’t hit a target that you can’t see.”
What does your target look like?
* ‘The Power of Broke: How Empty Pockets, a Tight Budget, and a Hunger for Success Can Become Your Greatest Competitive Advantage
A lotta things have been changing for a lotta folks lately. And dealing with change can be extremely stressful if we don’t understand its purpose and its role in helping us evolve.
Case studies are always helpful for learning, so I’d like to offer a case study in radical change and the lessons to be taken from it. The case subject is me.
Things in my life don’t look the least bit like they did a couple of years ago. About 85% of the changes have been my idea. The other half have either been imposed on me or are unexpected and unintended consequences. All of them are pushing me so far outside my comfort zone that I’m pretty sure I don’t have one anymore. This isn’t a matter of stretching my old zone. It’s a process of smashing it to smithereens and leaving it in a pile of debris that’s disappearing into the horizon behind me.
During the past 18 months I have:
In short, with the exception of my absolutely and always perfect wife, Gail, there’s essentially nothing about my life now that is the same as it was two years ago.
As proof that you both can and should teach an old dog new tricks, here are a few things that I’ve observed as a newly-minted, Medicare-eligible upstart who set out to reinvent himself at the age when they told me I was supposed to retire.
It would be nice if we could have all the right conditions lined up, the guarantees in place, the assurances secured, the permissions granted. But I’ve learned that your parachute can’t open until after you’ve jumped out of the plane.
What about you? COVID-19 has pushed all of us to the edges and beyond of our previous comfort zones. How much of it are you desperately trying to preserve? Why? What might you become if you decided that leaving it behind might not be so scary after all?
Your time and your energy are like strawberry jam – the farther you spread them, the thinner they get. And if you’re anything like me, a thin, barely visible skim of jam on your toast just won’t cut it.
One of the most pervasive challenges I see among so many people who are would like to rid themselves of anxiety is the tendency to spread themselves too thin.
Work begins the second you check your smart phone in the morning and ends… well, it never actually ends. The kids demand your attention, you feel obliged to stay informed with the news, your social media accounts need attention, the grass needs cutting, you wanted to volunteer more this year… Oh, and when are you going to get around to meeting with that financial planner who’s going to solve all your problems with a mutual fund?
Anxiety can creep in when you feel you’ve lost control of your life. So if it seems that you’re only barely managing to stay a step ahead of the freight train that’s bearing down on you, it might be worthwhile to rethink your approach. Operating in reactive mode all the time gives you no opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been or are heading and then to prepare and carry out the plans that will take you there.
Is the solution to have more jam or less toast?
Do you know what you have in common with Oprah, Richard Branson and Elon Musk? You’re all given 24 hours in each day. Not a second more, nor a second less no matter who you are.
As for energy, have you noticed how some people seem to barely drag their butts around through the day while others have so much vitality you want to smack ‘em?
We’re all given a finite supply of time and energy. The difference is how we each make use of them. I like to watch and learn from those who have been more successful (however I choose to define that) than me. When it comes to using time and energy more effectively, I see successful people leveraging and increasing the effectiveness of the supply they’ve got. Here are some strategies I’ve found useful:
Negativity will sap your energy faster than an ironman triathlon. It takes practice to make positivity and optimism your default thoughts, but it pays huge dividends in the amount of energy you have to fuel your days. Focus on the things that are working, the things that are going well, the things you’ve done right. Make a list of all the things that have worked out for you and remind yourself that there’s far more ‘up’ in your life than ‘down.’
Take a look at the list of goals you’ve set for yourself. (You have a goals list, right?) Then ask yourself, “What’s the ONE THING I could be spending my time on that will take me to those objectives the fastest?” When you’ve identified it, set aside at least 50% of your time to devote to this task. Everything else is secondary and can wait. If you don’t have a list of goals, I suggest that preparing one is your ONE THING.
We often spend more time switching between tasks than we do working on the tasks themselves. Instead of losing 20 pounds, earning another degree, coaching little league and starting a Facebook group, pick just one. A really good job done on just one of those efforts will bring you far more benefit than a poor or half-finished job on all four. The other three will wait patiently for when you’re ready. Plus, the success you enjoy in one area will fuel you for the effort in the next.
Ask! Ask! Ask!
Too many of us try to do everything on our own. But there is information, assistance, support, money and time available, if only we would ask. The most successful people are constantly asking others for all of these. The rest of us, though, hold back from asking because we’re afraid to look needy, foolish or stupid. We’ve also convinced ourselves that we’re likely to be rejected, so why bother asking in the first place? We say ‘no’ to ourselves before anyone else has a chance to say ‘yes.’
Surround yourself with successful people
There are people in your life who can simply walk into the room and you’re completely drained of energy. They bring the tension, the stress and the anxiety with them and they love to share it around. But there are others in your life, too. They’re the ones who always leave you feeling better than you did before they came. They bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the optimism and the encouragement. All emotions are contagious. Run from the toxic ones and seek out and breathe deeply from the uplifting ones.
Jim Rohn, one of the original success teachers and Tony Robbins’ mentor, liked to say that “success leaves clues.” In other words, if you hang around and observe successful people you can see what it is they do differently than the rest of us. When it comes to maximizing your finite supply of time and energy, each of these tactics will make your jam go a little farther while still retaining that sweet strawberry taste.