The Fear You Name

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Flying to San Antonio for a conference recently, I had an unlikely conversation that got me thinking about personal change, a subject I love to talk about. Settled in my seat on row 31, a guy heading down the aisle caught my attention. Sporting a weeks worth of stubble and greased back hair, he was a shoe in for Mickey Rourke (a younger Barfly Mickey that is…). The smell of alcohol enveloped me as he stumbled into the middle seat. The euphemism rode hard; put away wet immediately came to mind. “There’s something you should know about me,” he rasped in a Pall Mall voice. “I’m bleeping scared of flying.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine,” I reassured. He didn’t look convinced. He grunted and quickly went to sleep, snoring for a couple of hours until we hit some turbulence. Jostled awake, he turned to me with wide eyes as he death gripped my forearm.

“What are you afraid of?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he slurred. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“The fear you name is the fear you conquer,” I heard myself quip before I’d hardly thought it.

Staring nonplussed for a long moment, he released my arm and punched the attendant call button. “Coupla’ beers for me and the Doc,” he shouted at the flight attendant, gesturing to me with his thumb.

“I’m no doctor,” I said laughing. The beers came and we filled our cups. He drained his in one gulp, finishing with a belch.

“Ok Doc,” he said smacking his lips, “Explain, ‘cause I’m not gettin’ it!”

Having resigned not getting anymore work done, I launched into the story. It was the winter of 2008. My partnership with another consultant had just bit the dust and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Business being slow to begin with, my ex-partner had just left with my most of the business. I was burning through cash reserves fast and contemplating pulling the plug on this rodeo when I got some advice from the most unlikely of sources – my tax accountant. Who knew?

“Predict the date of your demise,” he explained, responding to my bout of self pity.

“What?” I asked, not sure if I’d heard him correctly.

“Write it down. The date you expect to go out of business.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “How the heck is that supposed to help?”

“Trust me on this Rick,” he said. “By writing it down it forces you to name your fear and it becomes less scary than it feels right now. You’ll also start solving the problem rather than avoiding it. But you have to write it down!”

Though I promised I’d do as he said, I did nothing for a month. By March however, my situation was much worse, being one month closer to bankruptcy. In a fit of desperation, I did what he said. I drew a line in the calendar – June 24, 2008. That was my D-Day. My day of demise. While nothing happened at first, I soon noticed that the stress I’d been carrying was gone. I couldn’t believe it was that easy! Sure enough though, it was real. I wasn’t obsessing about the lack of business anymore. Just the opposite, I began to focus on the possibilities. Sure, I thought about the coming date and would ponder it endlessly at times, but I didn’t fear it anymore. And then amazing things began to happen – good things like referrals and unsolicited phone calls from prospects…and business!

“Not only did we make it past that date, but in every year since then our business has grown.” Mickey stared at me with bloodshot eyes.

“That’s-a-nice-story,” he patronized slowly, “But what the heck has that got to do with my fear of flying?”

Realizing it was pointless to explain further, I laughed it off and ordered another round. It may have not meant anything to Mickey, but it meant everything to me, and I’m certain it can mean something to you as well. I challenge you to write down your biggest fear going into 2013, and then see the fear for what it is – misplaced energy. And prepare yourself to be surprised by the outcome.