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Fear Factor: When Fear Makes Us (and others) Better

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on May 18, 2014

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela


We all deal with fear at one point in our lives. Fear isolates us, traps us, and discourages us. It can make us feel helpless, or even ashamed.

Fear makes us small.

But when we face our fears, fear becomes an ally, and gives us strength and courage. And not only do we benefit - others do too.

Megan Lee was a newly transferred 26 year old manager in a plant where I was the HR Manager. She was bright, diligent and caring. Megan was in charge of highly experienced technicians, all men, 10-30 years older than she was. An intimidating position for any inexperienced manager.

One day Megan came to me troubled. She was having a performance problem with a recently transferred mechanic, John. This was his first staff assignment, and he was struggling after only a few months.

John was selected because of his troubleshooting skills, and he was expected to standardize operating procedures and develop lesson plans. To date John had not written a single plan or procedure, and was already significantly off track.

Megan thought she was clear on expectations, but she wanted to calibrate how she was managing him. She seemed to be taking the right steps, so I wasn't sure what she needed. Megan hesitated, then out came her real concern, "I don't think John can read," she confided.

Megan had fears.

John was 20 years her senior. He was highly skilled, and well liked. She had no proof of her concern, and no one else seemed to notice. “What if I’m wrong”? she wondered. “What if he really can read"?

I asked her, “What if you’re right? What if he really can't read"?

What if indeed.

If Megan was wrong she would face ridicule and her credibility would likely be damaged beyond repair. If Megan was right and confronted John, he could turn angry and defensive. Alternatively, Megan could choose to ignore the situation, but eventually she would have to work an obvious gap in performance. There were no easy answers.

No matter what Megan decided, she would have to face her fears.

I didn't need to tell her what to do; Megan cared enough about John to do the right thing. We spent some time discussing how she could broach the topic, and we reviewed the resources we could offer. Then Megan went off to find John.

Nine months later I caught up with Megan and asked how John was doing. She beamed. John had told her that reading had changed his life. He was not just learning to read. Reading transformed his relationship with his daughter, and now they were reading together! John thanked Megan profusely for caring enough to confront him.

By fighting her fears, Megan freed John from his.

Face your fears.

You're not just fighting for yourself. Every fight against fear is a fight for others. When we face our fear, even when we fall short, we free ourselves and many more from fear's grip.

Isn't that worth fighting for?

Inspired to break free of fears? Here's a linke to Finding the Courgage to Pursue Your Dream by popular author, and keynote speaker, Paul Smith.

Here is an practical exercise on how to face fear Facing Fear on Paper

And visit Unlock Your Potential page for other inspiration.

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