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Fear and Courage

How Can You Fuel your Courage to Contribute?

  • 07 February 2014
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Fear and courage are incredibly important in our lives: Joseph Campbell captured the archetypical “journey of the hero” as the central theme in human storytelling around the world. This tale of personal development and discovering WHO you are, starts with the calling or the challenge (the hero’s purpose) and evolves around fear and courage... passing through all the stages of learning, leading and change - until the hero returns home with renewed wisdom. It fascinates because it resonates with us: to want something - and yet - not to want it, because it might take us out of our comfort zones. Fear and courage are central in leadership, culture and change.

Push or Pull?

Many of our decisions are based on either desire or fear – desire to move toward something or fear of what might be. What is your basic motivation – Fear or Desire? Most of us combine fear and desire. We’d love to reach out to that vision - but we’re afraid that we are inadequate or that we will lose comfort along the way. The question is: how do you respond to this human condition? Do you let desire push you forward, or do you let fear pull you back?

Nelson Mandela said: “I learned that courage is 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.”

But why would you conquer the fear? Why not stay in your comfort zone? It may be not too comfortable, but at least you know what you’ve got. It can be relatively safe to stay in your dark cave - because you don’t know what will be out there. What if you move out (you were bored but safe in the cave) and you get killed by a wild animal? What if you give up the cave - but you find no other shelter? You put your skin in - you’re vulnerable.

Pain or Gain?

The decision to move depends on pain or gain. Either the pain is too bad to bear: even though you’re afraid, you need to change because you can’t stand it any longer. Or the gain is too wonderful to ignore: you feel inspired by your higher purpose, something meaningful, a value so empowering that you are willing to overcome your fears to reach your goal. You respond to the calling and leave the cave.

Just ponder for a moment... What would you be willing to reach out to...? What would be worthwhile to conquer your fears for? What would justify the discomfort of unknown, new, maybe scary circumstances? What purpose is so great that you’re willing to sacrifice some of your comfort to fulfill it?

What Purpose Pulls you out?

Courageous people don’t see the risk in isolation - it’s part of their path to the purpose... Look at Mandela. The risk of jail and even death is perceived differently when you’re on a mission to end apartheid peacefully. So, what’s your goal or purpose that helps you overcome your fears?

I guess in my case it has been my mission to make the workplace a kinder place where people are included, respected and treated as human beings - to help develop the workers, the workplace and the world. I could have taken an easy job where I didn’t encounter my fears. But this passion has pushed me out of the comfortable cave where I was hiding and no-one could criticize me...

Are you a Critic or a Creator?

Which leads me to a different question: do you tend to behave like a critic or a creator? Criticizing other people’s work or creating your own Work, according to your Purpose? Could the difference between the two positions reveal your primary driver: fear or desire? It takes courage to be a creator and put yourself and your work out there. You contribute, you change, you may be criticized and you’re not in total control. Exciting, isn’t it? Creating requires an open mind and seeing positive possibilities - and the courage to go for it. It’s the move toward something, the push of purpose. It’s a Yes, ultimately.

Criticizing seems the opposite: “But what if this fails? What if this is no good either, just like the other stuff I’ve seen? This piece is missing and that could be better...!” Criticizing may have good intentions: to make things better and protect us from harm. If our inner or outer critics bring a healthy skeptical attitude to question assumptions, operations and outcomes - they can help us to improve our work.

But in its core, criticism is a move away from something. It’s a No (not yet), ultimately. It may be the pull of the past, back into the cave, and we stay stuck.

Courage in the Workplace

The courage to lead ourselves and others toward a vision will bring us change. David Dye wrote a book on how to lead your team and he observed: “When people are in a place of fear, their fight, flight or freeze response kicks in and they will do the least possible to avoid the challenge. It’s not just more pleasant but more productive if you don’t have fear at work.”

Author Graham Williams says: “Fears – fear of disapproval, vulnerability, isolation, criticism, career blocks – in workplaces work against the practice of love, sometimes resulting in dysfunction when people put on their protective armor.” He argues for a virtuous organization where the practice of love can fuel the bottom line results.

But most organizations are still far away from this ideal: “Whatever culture you are in, you need a degree of courage to speak truth to power”, observes author Ira Chaleff. We still have a lot of work to do to develop the workplace and the world. But once you know your why - your Work - you can activate your courage to leave your comfy cave and start to create and contribute to the world.

Marcella Bremer
is the co-founder of OCAI online, a change consultant and author on change, culture and leadership. She also is the editor of Leadership & Change Magazine.

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