When I was six years old, my Grandfather bought my brother and me a black and white Shetland pony that we named Socks. I was thrilled because I now had a horse of my very own and one small enough I could reach the stirrups to get on without having to find a big rock to use as a stepladder.
I quickly learned that Shetland ponies in general, and Socks in particular, are strong-willed creatures who are not above using their superior strength to make life miserable for their six-year-old riders. Unfortunately for me at this time in my young life, Dad was an excellent horseman and I wanted to be just like him. He would say, “If you can’t learn to ride that pony, you’ll never get a bigger horse.”
A love/hate relationship grew between Socks and me. I’d saddle him up and get on but when I tried to ride him around the yard, he’d stubbornly refuse to move beyond the barn. My humiliation was complete because Dad saw that I couldn’t control the pony. Worse yet, I was scared of Socks because I was afraid he’d buck me off if I became more aggressive.
This must have been about the time I came to idolize John Wayne—not just because of his Western movies but because he was quoted as saying, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” I knew just what he meant because it took all the courage I had to face fear and saddle Socks and wait to be humiliated—yet again.
I’ve always liked John Wayne’s definition of courage because it implies that courage is the ability to pick yourself up and move into action in spite of fear.
Courageous people are still afraid, but they face fear and don’t let it paralyze them.
Once you give in to fear, a pattern begins to develop. Each time you avoid a fear and feel relieved that you have, you reinforce the behavior so that in the future you continue to avoid the fear by giving in to it. It becomes a vicious cycle.
If you listen carefully, however, there is a tiny voice inside that is saying: you will die full of regrets for a life that might have been if you do not face fear and move beyond it.
At our deepest level, we were created to move forward with our hearts. The word courage is derived from the Latin word cor, which means heart. At the core of courage is our heart. And our heart expresses the person we are truly meant to be. Only through courage can we be empowered to move into the unknown without fear.
A strong mind is an attribute of the heart. The opposite is fear that produces confusion and lack of clarity. If your path has a heart, you know deep down that it is the right one for you. If you have taken a path without a heart and one that does not have a deep connection to your heart, it is prepared to destroy you.
I’ve seen this happen with people who pursue a career that will lead to money, fame, or power, assuming these things will bring them happiness. It doesn’t. Others settle for unfulfilling careers and relationships thinking that their life is good enough. It isn’t. Still others chase life hoping they can catch passion. They can’t.
“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.” Steve Jobs
If your path has no heart, you are on the wrong path. It takes a strong mind to connect your inside heart with your outside circumstances.
Courageous leaders face fear by admitting that they are on the wrong path and that changes need to be made.
Here are 5 easy steps to build up courage to face fear and follow your heart:
- Take out a piece of paper and write down 5 of your biggest fears.
- Listen to what your inner voice is telling you about how each one of these fears is affecting different areas of your life.
- Get in touch with your gut—what is your first reaction when you think of how your fear is impacting: career, relationships, spiritual growth, travel, family, finances, health, and education.
- Write down 5 activities that would help you overcome each fear.
- Rank the activities from high to low in terms of producing anxiety.
- Start with the activity that produces the lowest anxiety and work your way down the list.
If you ever feel that the next step is too big, then break it down into two smaller steps.
I did face fear, and little by little I learned how to ride Socks. My Grandfather rewarded me a few years later with a quarter horse big enough that I had to find rocks to use as a stepladder for several years to come.
How do you face your fears? How do you know when you’re following your heart?