6am at the Lost and Found: The Other Side of Fear
“To attain knowledge, add things every day.
To attain wisdom, subtract things every day.”
We dedicate a large part of our lives to adding more, especially in the working environment. Bigger titles and salary—personally. Increased responsibility, credibility, customers and profit—professionally. More. More.
We do this partly because accumulation is one definition of success and because it provides security and comfort. Over the course of a career then, the accrual of objects, awards, accomplishments, totems and achievements should logically embody a fully-developed human being.
So why is it that as an executive leadership coach, I am often faced with the imbalance between my clients' career success and their sense of self that is lost along the way?
My lifelong interest in this dilemma was initiated twenty years ago during a conversation with a CEO of a billion-dollar company in a hotel bar in the French Alps. In his fifties and accompanied by an entourage of work colleagues, he quite clearly appeared to be the most successful person in the room. Mid-way through an outburst about his work and family life, I boldly challenged him on his definition of success.
Instantly, the bar silenced. The entourage menacingly stared me down. But to his credit, the CEO invited me to join him for a drink. “No one has ever talked to me like that before,” he said after everyone left.
During our emotional all-night discussion, he confided through tears that he was “trapped in his job and hated his life.” Despite the appearance of success, he was confined to a cage of accumulation. Instead of awe and respect, I felt sorry for him.
Losing Ourselves Through Subtraction
So, what would happen if we deliberately and intentionally decided to lose ourselves? Not in our work, as we are often encouraged to do, but in the art of subtraction and the process of self-discovery. And without attachment to an outcome, the worry of others’ opinions or a goal in mind; without fearing a loss in status or security; without referencing our titles, education, experience, accomplishments or personal triumphs. Less. Less.
Deliberately deciding to lose ourselves through subtraction might seem terrifying. It certainly was to me the first time that I tried.
After a three-day leadership workshop in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I decided to take a hike to reflect on whether to launch my executive coaching business. With a mortgage and four kids to feed, it felt like another bold move. However, I’d forgotten three important things: 1. the woods are inhabited by black bears, one of which had been spotted the day before; 2. the map; and 3. it is pitch-black at 6am!
“Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear."
Embracing my fears, I stepped out onto the trails and across the bridge that led deeper into the woods, fully submitting to lose myself in the moment. Wandering in that dark and bear-inhabited forest, I lost myself literally and metaphorically. But, I found something else.
With each unseeable step through the darkness, with my heart pounding at every broken twig and leaf rustle, my strength only deepened. I pushed on. My title, salary, responsibility, credibility and customers didn’t matter one iota. Neither did others’ opinions or my own goals. Status and security, education, experience, accomplishments or personal triumphs held zero worth. All I knew was that I had to push through the fear and trust that everything would be okay.
The morning light would bring self-confidence, credibility and a sense of purpose that would ultimately give me enough courage to launch my own business; a sense of power, conviction and purpose that guides me to this day.
As the sun came up I took the above picture to remind myself of the powerful insights, liberation, strength and self-knowledge that we can gain when we deliberately choose to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves; when we have the courage to face fear.
Little did I know back then when I stepped into the void, that on the other side of fear I’d end up with so much more.
What you discover when you intentionally lose yourself is up to you.