I love this excerpt from a recent New York Times interview with Amy Schumer where she was asked: “What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?” Whether you like her comedy or not, her reference to The Professional pulls out an inherent truth in how she describes her relationship with fear.
“The Professional,” by W. C. Heinz. It profiles a boxer before a match in the 1950s. I reread it before taping a stand-up special. Preparing to perform comedy in front of hundreds (or thousands) of people and telling jokes that may or may not make them laugh is just as terrifying as getting hit in the face while boxing. I boxed for a while a couple years back, and the fear of getting punched was a big hurdle I had to get over. But you know what helped? Getting punched. Just one time was enough to learn that the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself.
Fear is hardwired into our operating system – and it serves an incredibly valuable purpose such as keeping us out of harm’s way. And it can also hamper our performance by getting in our way, stopping us from taking that next step into the unknown, where we don’t know the outcome or are not the expert. While this may keep us “safe” in our mind’s eye, it also prevents us from evolving towards becoming the very best at what we do.
As Amy demonstrates, sometimes the very best way to overcome the fear is to actually lean in and take it on the chin. In my work with business leaders, time and time again, I ask them to step way outside of their comfort zones, often to places that – at first – generate incredible trepidation. And…time and time again, when they come out the “other side” of the experience, they realize that even if they messed up, the reality was far less traumatic than what they had imagined, creating the capacity to step in again with increased confidence and ability.
How about leaning in and taking it on the chin today? Give it a try – I bet it won’t hurt near as much as you think.