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Overcoming Fear of the Unknown

Take The Plunge

April 16, 2018
Lead Others
Russ Sarratt

Conquering the high dive

It was a large pool with a couple of different sections, including a deep section for diving. In the diving area, there were two diving boards. One was a low, three-meter jump. Once I was comfortable swimming in the deep area, I jumped off the lower board time after time, completely enjoying the thrill.

It wasn’t long before I began to watch the older children climb the long ladder to the higher board. I marveled at how bold and cool they were. I really wanted to try it, but even the climb up that long ladder was too frightening. It took several years for me to muster the courage to climb up to the “high dive.”  I suffered several failed attempts; I would climb the ladder, walk out on the board . . . and freeze.

People waiting behind me would yell for me to hurry up and jump. Eventually, I accomplished the feat. I remember the joy I felt as I swam to the surface following my first successful high dive. The second jump got a little easier; by the fourth jump, I was no longer sacred. My fear was overcome by the confidence that grew with every successful high dive. Soon, I knew I would be okay and simply anticipated the fun the next dive would bring.

As leaders, it can be hard to try something new, to tackle the unknown. Questions loom before us: Is this the right direction? Am I making the right decision? What if this doesn’t go as planned? Facing the new and untried can cause leaders the same type of anxiety I felt as a child facing the high dive—the unknown can cause us to react with fear and trepidation; we may even freeze up when the time comes to forge ahead.

4 tips for overcoming fear of the new and unknown

1. Make sure you are ready to swim in the deep end.

You may be facing a tough decision, hard conversation, or new task to tackle. Maybe you are starting a new business. Maybe you just joined a new team. Make sure that you are fully prepared and committed to seeing the situation through. You don’t jump off a diving board if you can’t swim.

2. Climb the ladder.

Take the first step, then the next, then the next. One step at a time, you will soon outdistance the majority of people. Many leaders avoid tough or scary situations, hoping they will just go away. Difficult circumstances may hide for a moment, but eventually, they will pop back up, usually in a form more dire than before. Inevitably, you will be faced with dealing with the same problem you sought to avoid. Don’t put off dealing with a situation because you are scared. One step at a time, make a start toward the solution.

3. Take a deep breath.

The fear I felt standing on top of the high dive made me examine myself. I asked myself: Am I really ready to go for this? Is it going to hurt? Is it going to be worth it? As you tackle your opportunity to grow, take time to pause and reflect. There was a reason you climbed the ladder; don’t back away now!

4. Take the plunge!

Have you ever balked at a new opportunity? Have you ever walked to the edge of something hard only to begin having second thoughts? I certainly have; I bet you have too. At some point, fear or no fear, you just have to jump. Nelson Mandela famously said, “I learned that courage was 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.”

The best part of being at the pool is swimming in the water; it cools you, refreshes you, and it’s just plain fun. If you never jump off the diving board, you never get to swim. What situations are you facing that seem scary or will cause you to venture into the unknown? Climb the ladder. Take a deep breath. Take the plunge!

Take the plunge!

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