Fear can often be our friend. It’s what has kept us alive as humans for many millennia. We are wired to be full of fear when we sense a threat in our environment. It’s what makes us think twice about climbing a rock face without a rope or jumping off a bridge just for the fun of it. As a sales person, a little bit of fear can give you an edge and make sure you prepare for your big presentation or pitch. Being afraid is natural part of life. In many cases it’s healthy, but fear can also burn up a lot of energy and stop us from realizing our true potential.
A number of years ago I found myself driving late at night from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein South Africa with my father Bill Gibson and my friend and mentor Jim Janz. It was the late 90’s and at that time violent carjackings were happening multiple times daily in the country. While the new ANC government had ushered in an era of unparalleled freedom and opportunity – crime also filled the vacuum that the previous regime had left.
One particularly heinous approach to carjacking was being employed frequently on the highways. These criminals would drag an old wrecked car onto the road and set it on fire – then they would lie on the road and often hide in the ditch as well. When you stopped on the side of the road to help they would rush out of hiding with assault rifles firing and take the victims vehicle by force. They would often kill the people in the car.
Before leaving Johannesburg that night we discussed this threat but didn’t ever think that it could be us that would be faced with a highway full of fire. We were well into Vrystaat (The Free State). It was around 1:00 am and we hadn’t seen another car, person or sign in quite a while. The Free State in many places quite closely resembles the Canadian Prairies – farm land as far as the eye can see and one very straight road that disappears into the horizon.
We were climbing a slight incline on what was otherwise a flat straight road. As we were climbing this hill I began to see an orange glow in the distance – the orange glow grew brighter and we could smell smoke coming into the vehicle. Cresting the hill we could see down the other side. Directly in our path was a raging fire at the bottom of the hill.
I began to slow down but my father quickly reminded me that often the carjackers would hide where people stopped and attempted to turn around. With only a couple hundred meters before we got to the fire on the road we discussed our options: we could slow down and still do a u-turn, we could stop and just wait, or we could step on the gas and hopefully drive around the blockade by using the gravel shoulder of the highway. We decided on option 3.
I put the pedal to the floor accelerating as we approached the fire. Jim placed his hand on my shoulder from the back seat as we uttered mutual “I love you man”s with our hearts pounding. I prayed that somehow we would make it around or through the fire without getting shot or having to harm another human being. We picked up more speed and Dad and Jim were now bracing themselves for a potential impact.
Suddenly I found myself slamming on the breaks and gearing down as the road turned to the left with no warning. The wheels chirped and hopped a bit but we stayed on the road. There was no burning car or carjackers – just a burning farmer’s field being razed to make room for new crops. The fire wasn’t blocking the road – the road did a quick hairpin turn around the farm and then continued on it’s original route. Our tears of fear quickly turned to tears of laughter as we literally belly-laughed for 10-minutes afterward.
What a neurotic bunch of Canadians! For me this experience is an amazing metaphor around a certain type of fear or F.E.A.R. This stands for:
We can often see evidence of a potentially bad experience, are faced with the unknown or a new business challenge – and begin to start telling ourselves the story of what could happen. We use incomplete or false evidence and work ourselves up to a point to complete anxiety. This type of F.E.A.R. can drain our energy, rob us of opportunity and take us away from our purpose.
We can worry about changes in our business model, our next meeting with a boss or colleague or about our next sales call. This worry rarely solves any problems or contributes to our success in these situations.
As sales leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and community leaders it is vital that we challenge our own F.E.A.R. and help our people to do the same. The key is to start telling stories where we win in the end.
- What F.E.A.R.’s have you recently entertained that turned out not to be real?
- How much time, money, energy and opportunity was wasted as a result of this F.E.A.R.?
- What can you do to break this cycle and make sure you are focused on more empowering outcomes?