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Moving the Fear Line

Imagine being under water, upside down, trapped in your Kayak.

You can feel your lungs burning because you didn’t have time to grab a full breath … though you are surprising yourself how long you are managing to force yourself from gasping down a lung full of water …

All you can hear is your heart pounding.


I don’t need to imagine what that would be like because I can remember in vivid detail. In fact I have had nightmares about it.

My overriding thought was drowning myself was a heck of a way to celebrate my birthday!

Learning from the things that scare us

Don’t worry, I’m not going to dwell too much on what happened in this article, I feel I have been melodramatic enough – but I do want to share more about what I learned from it. If you want more about the story, check out this interview Dries and I did shortly after.

Long story made shorter, I felt I was going to drown, and that scared the heck out of me!

After this traumatic event was over and I dried off, I had to make a choice. Do I get out and never go back in the water, or do I go back the next day?

I chose to go back, but only after a VERY restless night where I analysed every horrific far-fetched scenario you can imagine. If I didn’t go back then I would have gone from having one scary experience to having a brand new phobia. Great birthday present!

Fear versus Rationality

Was I actually going to drown? Probably not.

In fact the fear was making the situation worse!

The fact is, though, with fears it is not all about reality. Perception is actually the controlling factor.

At the time it felt like I was drowning. In those cases perception IS reality. I couldn’t take a step back and objectively work out that in all likelihood my instructor was trained. Yes, he reminded me a little too much of shaggy from Scooby Doo, but I am sure I am not the first to have my equipment malfunction on his watch.

The more scared I got, the more danger I was in.

To begin with I was pretty calm. I tapped the bottom of my little boat three times as instructed. When nobody came over to help I proceeded to tug on the cord which (in theory) would make me pop out of the Kayak and float to the surface.

I started panicking when no amount of tugging on that cord would release me from the boat’s grip. Then I really started panicking when I realised I was going to need to draw a breath real soon.

It’s not too far removed from when a particularly nasty and influential individual nearly caused me to stop building my programming training business. The reality was he was only influential with a specific group of people who were never going to be my customers anyway, but my perception was that if he publicly attacked me then nobody would ever buy my training again.

Feeling out of control of the situation and imagining far-fetched scenarios, giving into the fear and the emotion, nearly pushed me into making the worst possible decision.

What has all this got to do with you?

This scenario is not too different to other scary situations you or I have been in if we look past the potential watery grave. We feel confident right up until the uncertainty and lack of control gets too far out of our comfort zone and experience.

Rather than let fear dictate our actions we should instead seek to grow our comfort zones and experiences so we are better able to handle situations that come up.

I have tagged this as “moving the fear line” as a play on a popular marketing phrase πŸ™‚

Business is often uncertain

In business we are going to be faced with situations over which we have little control and that scare us. A lot of what I work on with coaching clients is about mindset and their fears, and I have had to work on these things myself.

  • Putting ourselves “out there” in public.
  • Selling and self-promotion.
  • Criticism and trolls.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of success.
  • Financial fears.
  • … And more.

What can we do?

We have to take some action if we are not going to give into these fears.

  • We can either let the fear dictate our actions or make a different choice.
  • We can try to be objective and see where the perception ends and where the reality starts.
  • We can aim to understand what the actual worst case and likely scenarios really are.
  • We can face our fears and go ahead and do stuff anyway.

What really might happen?

  • My first job was working for a hospital. I worked with people who literally made life and death situations.
  • From birth my daughter has faced several health issues and has had her life saved several times.
  • My Dad was an officer in the fire service, he had to send people into burning buildings.

What do we risk in business? Some money and reputation?

Not quite the same, is it?

You know what really helps me?

I have always, and continue, to put myself in situations that scare me. Both business situations (such as public speaking which terrifies me) and leisure situations, such as those below!

Why? Because that is how we put things in perspective. It’s how we stretch our comfort zone. That is how we gain experience, and that is how we grow as people, as well as in business.

If I hadn’t been through scary situations and come through the other side, I don’t think we would have had the courage to move country and leave our comfort zone entirely behind.

What we quickly learn is what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger πŸ™‚

I am not talking about taking unnecessary risks or living on adrenalin. But do shake yourself out of any rut you find yourself in, don’t live your life running on rails. Surround yourself with people who challenge you.

After all, if you only do what you have always done, you will only get what you have always got.

What do you think? How do you face your fears and stretch yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments …

Added: Also check out this interview with Alison where I talked more about fears and facing them!

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  1. Hi Chris,

    Love reading about your adventures. I know you find public speaking hard and loved seeing you rock it at the Problogger event. All that practice overcoming fears definitely makes it easier and no one would ever have guessed you were scared at all. You come across as totally relaxed and confident which inspires confidence in your audience.

    I try to do something scary every day. Usually small things like emailing a potential sponsor but often bigger things like public speaking or going surfing:)

    I wish everyone would give fear the finger! The world would be a better place:)

    • It’s sad how much of human behaviour is driven by fear, but it is so much a part of our life and experience that I think we just accept it will always be there?

  2. I think we all have fears but few of mine are business-related fortunately. When I first started blogging it was VERY intimidating to me, but I’ve been doing it long enough now that I’ve overcome that fear for the most part.

    I guess I take a two-fold approach to dealing with fears (in business):

    1) I take them head on. Even though I was scared to death of blogging and “putting myself out there,” doing it on a consistent basis has helped it become less intimidating.

    2) I don’t ignore the haters. I definitely know they’re there, but at the same time I spend a lot more time trying to focus on the positive feedback I get from others. I’m not talking about ignoring negative feedback either, I’m talking specifically about the haters. If I spend too much time trying to soak in what they’re saying, I start focusing way too much on what I should have done differently, etc.

    Sounds like you’ve had quite the ride too Chris! Thanks for putting the fears of business failure into perspective!

    • Focusing on the positive actions and positive results (and people) is definitely a good way of putting things back into perspective. It’s a sad fact that the more visibility and progress you make, the more that is going to rub some people the wrong way. A lot of people feel diminished when they see someone else succeed, so it can be more about them than you. The specific person I mentioned in the post turned out to have a real medical/psychiatric issue that impacted his behaviour, had I known at the time it would have been easier to cope with but the whole experience made my skin that bit thicker πŸ™‚

  3. Lynn Lekander says:

    Chris! You were reading my mind! I”m working on that very thing right now…I’m coming to terms with it. You’re WAY AHEAD, congratulations! Unless we are going to do something very foolish, we KNOW we’re going to be okay, that first step is the most difficult. Thanks for this post.

    • A little bit of fear stops us from taking stupid risks, but we often explode the risk in our minds and find it stops us in our tracks. Taking the leap into the dark a couple of times and finding the net appeared when we needed it to makes the next time that bit easier πŸ™‚

  4. What doesn’t kill you can leave you maimed.

    Fear isn’t bad. But it isn’t good either. It is a warning that there may (or may not) be something dangerous in the situation. I think it is worth stopping and seeing if our fear is a warning.

    And I think we can move to a new place in small and easy steps some times. Not always perhaps. But we won’t know if there is an easy way if we don’t look for it. I advocate ease over difficulty, safety over risk.

    • My point though is that it is not the fear but the actual situation that we ought to focus on.

      When I was upside down “drowning” I focused on the fear and it made me more unsafe than had I focused on what I could actually do about the situation.

      As I say above, a bit of fear helps prevent us taking stupid risks, but giving into the fear means we are less likely to try things and will mean our course is dictated by external events and influences.

      Had I taken ease and safety over difficulty and risk then I would still be working in the public sector, living in the UK, and I would be miserable. Plus, that would not have been the best decision for my daughter either.

  5. Chris!

    Oh my, I can’t even imagine being in that situation. I’m so glad you’re OK. πŸ™‚

    My guess is that after experiences like that, many things seem very doable. From my own experiences I realize that things always seem much more scary than they end up being.

    I try to remind myself of past situations, so I don’t procrastinate so much and “just jump right in”. You actually have helped me with “jumping in” too – from one of the first Challenges in our Authority Blogger class.

    It helps to know that even people as successful as you have been apprehensive at times. We only see the success and not the behind-the-scenes. So when you hear of challenges others have along the way, you learn that you’re not the only one – it helps.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences,
    Theresa πŸ™‚

    • You will find as you dig that most people are not as certain nor as consistently successful as they seem on the surface. I would say success is not about never making mistakes, never being afraid or never falling down, it is what you do after πŸ™‚

      Do you get up and brush yourself, do you learn from the experience, or do you throw your hands up and give in? πŸ™‚

      Courage is not the absence of fear but doing the right thing despite the fear πŸ˜‰

      I like to share these things because we are all only human, and business is all about people

  6. Hi Chris, I think we probably agree that prudence is good. I entirely agree about focusing on the situation (or threat) and not on the fear.

    My dislike is of fear being seen as a threat or enemy – something other than us. A challenge – can you imagine an easy road from where you were to where you are now? Just because you got here one way doesn’t mean it was the only way.

  7. Chris,

    From one introvert to another – you rock!

    I think fear is one of the biggest drawbacks to letting us realize our true potential. Some people figure this out early. Some never do.

    I’m still working on it.

    As Eleanor Roosevelt (and Annabel) advised, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

    And by getting back in that kayak the next day, you did just that.

  8. Hey Chris, great article – I included a link to this in my latest issue of Freelancing Weekly

  9. Eek, I am very glad you are still breathing. I’m sure you are as well. πŸ™‚

  10. Great article – it’s so easy to stay in our comfort zones. But, all of the growth happens when we are stretched beyond that. It’s scary! But worth it πŸ™‚