Reflecting on a summer bookended by a rickety wooden roller coaster ride at an amusement park and a zipline across the docks in Montreal, I was reminded of a college experience that had a long-term effect on me.
As a child I feared heights. Tall buildings made me uncomfortable from the inside and out. And, forget standing near the edge of anything above ten feet. I didn’t take my first flight until age eighteen even though now I’m a million-miler. Somewhere in the airplane graveyard there’s an Airbus A310 with my claw prints embedded into the armrest…
It wasn’t height itself that bothered me so much as the thought of plummeting—rapidly—from it.
One cloudy Liverpool Saturday, my college friends and I decided to take a daytrip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, an hour and a half up England’s North West coast. As soon as we arrived, everyone else beelined for the “Big One” roller coaster, the largest in the world at the time.
“No thanks, lads. Not for me today,” I insisted.
They cajoled. They coerced. They coaxed. I stood firm, feet planted, on terra firma. But after a while, watching my friends scream and laugh at 200 feet up and race past me at seventy miles per hour got old.
“Go ahead. Take the plunge,” a voice inside me said. “Good things will happen.”
And then a line from Aaron Neville’s Hercules began to repeat in my head. “All’s in fear is fear itself.” As the significance of the words sank in, I found myself stepping towards the entrance to the roller coaster feeling a little like the Roman hero. I wasn’t exactly slaying water monsters, but I was about to experience my own colossal adventure.
Minutes later, pushed along by an outside force, I was buckling up on the “Big One” and then before I knew it, we started to climb the tracks. Whether I liked it or not, I was officially taking the plunge into my sea of fears.
Exhilaration and terror, I let it all sink in. By the time I stepped off the roller coaster, still rushing from the amazing feeling of being truly alive, something had shifted. The change in me—not immediate but imperceptible—was both powerful and permanent. Initially, I became aware of just how much our fears can drive our thoughts and actions. What followed was the unlocking of authentic self-confidence.
Go ahead. Take the plunge. Good things will happen.
The same impetus that put me on that roller coaster twenty years ago led me to my first European job running someone else’s business. It led me across the world to Los Angeles, where I would meet and eventually marry my wife. It led me to take the charge in turning around a failing business, which ultimately pushed me to the become a CEO myself. The consequences of that seemingly insignificant decision were still reverberating within me when I launched my leadership consulting business.
On the thrill rides this summer, the memories and feelings came flooding back, as well as a true appreciation for the power of everyday actions. I’ve been keeping those thoughts in my head as I continue to work with transitioning CEOs and leaders from all over the world who are preparing to take the reins. Here’s what I’m asking them—and you—to consider:
Identify: “What are my fears?” & “How do I limit myself?”
Recognize that many fears, albeit real to me, are imagined.
Accept that confronting fear is equally exhilarating and terrifying, which reminds us what it means to be most alive.
Embrace fear in ways that will be meaningful, positive and permanent.
Appreciate that overcoming fear is a part of life that we CAN control. That can be life-changing and liberating.
So, go ahead. Take the plunge. Good things will happen.