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.