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Twenty years ago, I was at a conference in Switzerland when I decided to parasail off one of the highest alps in the country. I like being on top of mountains and seeing the beautiful world below. I had no idea what I had agreed to do.
Once we got to the top, my task was to run and jump over the cliff. I had a parachute, and someone attached behind me, but I had to run as fast as I could so when we reached the edge, we would take off. Sound crazy? My brain thought so. It screamed at me to stop as I ran at full speed. My nerves exploded as I didn’t hesitate when the ground disappeared. My bones learned what it feels like to be courageous when you are terrified. I also knew I was going to experience something awesome as I saw my beautiful world in a new way.
Fear is a message warning us life could change. We often interpret (make up) the sensation to mean the change will be physically or psychologically harmful.
The parachute held us safely in the air, but my heart was still thumping as we floated past shiny ice ledges, glistening waterfalls, and green patches with white flowers. Within minutes, the town below came into view.
But the run to the cliff was the experience carved into my brain. The run into the unknown with my brain and body screaming at me was overwhelming and magnificent.
When my feet touched the ground and I had a chance to process the experience, I realized I had the power to override my brain when my analytical mind concluded the present situation was dangerous. As stupid as running to jump off a cliff seemed to be, I had both a sense of purpose and a deep desire to discover something new and beautiful. While running, I was flooded with fear, but I also sensed the magic in my courage. I felt gratitude for the fear.
I now teach coaches and leaders worldwide how to sense and embrace their fear in their difficult conversations. We want our clients and colleagues to boldly step into the unknown. We want them to find clarity and possibilities when exploring their fears.
They may be emotional, hesitant, and even resistant. Instead of easing their fears, we need to call forth our courageous presence, so they feel we are running toward the cliff by their side.
Courage isn’t self-talk. It’s self-awareness. To have a courageous presence, you need to acknowledge your fear so you can choose what to do with it.
When you fear your client or colleague is judging you, or they won’t find value in your conversation, or you’re going to say something stupid, you can also remember to be grateful, to care, and to exhale deeply to counterbalance your fear. Then use your compassionate curiosity to courageously coach even when you feel fear.
Let your courage and care soften your fear or impatience so they might embrace or at least taste the future they are about to create.
You can also use memories to overpower your fear. When I feel my fear rise up, I recall a Halloween party where sister and her college professor husband came dressed as clowns. She mustered the courage to do a silly dance under a strobe light. As her fear faded and her silliness ramped up, her husband inched toward her, cautiously, step by step, until he was in her light. He then broke into a crazy dance, too.
Fear indicates something could change and you can’t predict what will now happen. If you stay calm, caring, and add some lightness to the interaction when they start to move forward, your courage can activate their willingness to leap.
The novelist Pico Iyer, having traveled with the Dalai Lama, said the one thing that seemed to give people reassurance and confidence was when the Dali Lama would answer their questions with, “I don’t know.” He made it okay to not know.
Iyer also says, “The opposite of knowledge isn’t always ignorance. It can be wonder.”
Can you use a sense of wonder to activate your courage? Can you shift from fear to being curious about how the interesting person you are with sees their future and possible new experiences?
The pandemic taught us that nothing is certain. Life, and people, can surprise us every day. When you think confidence is being proficient and having all the answers, you limit your conversations. You need to break the habit of having to know the answers if you’re going to discover what is new and amazing.
Try these four steps:
To be a good coach, leader, or friend embrace ambiguity with courage. Give up being the one who knows and must do things correctly so you can be the one who engages people in creative dialogue. Be curious about knowing what you don’t know so you can discover together what is on the other side of the mountain.
Let’s let go of the past and jump off the cliff together to get a new view of this beautiful world we live in. This is the power of coaching. Call forth your courage so you can ignite courage in others.