I grew up believing in this societal myth that you have to be fearless. That in order to make it in life, you have to develop thick skin. Be afraid of nothing. If anything goes wrong, just throw some dirt on it.
It’s all crap.
This year alone, I’ve interviewed over 50 entrepreneurs who are truly living on their own terms. They are some of the bravest and most prolific people I’ve come to know. In deconstructing their stories to determine what drove them to succeed, we uncovered one underlying theme that finally debunked this myth for me.
They all had fear, and lots of it.
In the words of Mark Twain,
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
If fearlessness is a myth, then why in the world are we still scared to death of failing?
Fear of Being Found Out
We’ve been told all our lives to fake it till we make it. Whatever it takes. Follow the rules. Don’t let them see you sweat. Instead of admitting your fear or coming clean about not knowing what you’re doing, we cover it up. In the process, we end up becoming a 75th rate edition of everyone else.
The more we imitate and emulate, the further we move away from who we are at our best. We end up losing confidence about whether we can truly deliver the goods at all.
Fear itself is not the problem.
In fact, we should worry if we’re not afraid. The bravest people in the world know this to be true. The disparity between who we portray ourselves to be and who we truly are is the real issue.
Keep It Real
So what is this new black we’re talking about here?
The key to reconciling who you are with how you show up in the world is all about keeping it real. Yes, I realize this is an abstract idea, this whole “keeping it real” thing.
To help you wrap your head around what I mean, here are three simple mantras you can incorporate into your life and work every single day to keep it real: doing things from the heart, living your own narrative and telling your unmistakable story.
Whatever you do, do it from the heart.
I interviewed Bryson Andres, a 22-year-0ld electric violinist whose Spokane street performance covering OneRepublic’s Secrets went viral on YouTube and got him picked up by a major brand. I asked him what inspired him to keep performing on the streets especially during the times he had no money, no real support from his estranged parents, and no guarantee he would be ever discovered.
“My grandparents told me I sucked. I was only 12 or 13 at the time but I thought to myself, I don’t care. I’m just going to play the violin and play it from the heart… when I became an adult, something tragic happened in our family. When you lose somebody very important in your life, you want to live the way they’d want you to live. I decided I really needed to live my life to the fullest. I didn’t want to look back 10 or 15 years from that point and find myself sitting in a chair without having gone anywhere.” – Bryson Andres
Live your own narrative.
I also talked to nomadic entrepreneur and humanitarian, AJ Leon, who gave up his six-figure salary and corner office in Manhattan just four days before his wedding to nomad around the world. If you’ve ever felt stranded on your lone island trying to unlearn the things you felt compelled to do while chasing someone else’s dream, it’s refreshing to find others out there like AJ who understand how scary it is to leap out of your perceived security net into a world of the unknown.
“I try to look at fears that in the past would have had their foot on my throat and I just let them stand there; I try to not do that now. That dude was always afraid. I know there are people like that dude out there. That’s who I’m writing to. The 22-year-old version of myself. I’m telling that guy he doesn’t have to listen to everybody else and he has much more choices than he thinks he has… when you recognize this is not your practice life. This is all you have. Everything changes when you really get that because your choices become more urgent and that fear of ‘Am I gonna make it?’ is much less relevant. This is my life. This is my art project.” – AJ Leon
Tell your unmistakable story.
Another interview with Srini Rao, the host and co-founder of BlogcastFM, left many ripples with me. After 10 years of failed jobs and relationships, he felt like a big disappointment to his parents. In recent years, Srini realized that every job he was fired from actually moved him closer to his purpose and the revelation that he was a corporate misfit. A badge he’s proud to wear.
“If you look at people who are successful, it appears that they have these massive platforms. That if you have all the numbers they have, that you’ll have all the success they have. Not quite. You have a unique story. You have a unique angle. That’s what actually matters. That’s the kind of thing that makes you unmistakable. The whole point of the art of being unmistakable is that you tell a story in a way that only you can. What I call the no bullshit version. You start shedding.” – Srini Rao
When you’re doing things from the heart, living your own narrative and telling your unmistakable story, being found out is a very good thing.