Don't let your fears kill your dream

By Gene Chizik

There is a reason elite companies love to hire former college athletes.

Athletes know how to be good teammates in the workplace. They finish tasks. They manage time well. They have that fire in their belly—they are natural competitors.

But I think most college athletes make great employees for a different reason. They aren’t afraid of failure.

One of the greatest things about being around college athletes is watching young men grow from the failures that inevitably happen in sports. They don’t have time to feel sorry for themselves after throwing an interception, making an error or losing a game.

They get back up and do it again.

It doesn’t mean they are immune to the sting of failure. It means they don’t let fear paralyze them like so many other young people and adults I see.

One of the best cornerbacks I have ever coached told me he wanted to go pro after his junior year. I knew he wasn’t ready.

Part of the job as a leader is to give honest assessments of your players or employees. I told him he could make a great pro one day, but he wasn’t ready yet.

Like all cornerbacks, he feared getting beat deep in front of 85,000 people. On the big stage when the lights came on, he wasn’t challenging receivers enough. I told him he was letting fear cause him to play too tentatively at times. He was afraid of failure.

I told my star corner he had to completely change his mindset if he wanted to be a great player in the NFL. He had to quit being afraid to fail.

One year later, he became a first-round draft pick after a dominant senior season.

Reflecting on his success, it made me think of something I often wonder: how many people are living “less than” lives when they could have been inventors, doctors, business owners or entrepreneurs? How many people walking around are not fulfilled because they were scared to chase their dream?

How many people stay in jobs that make them miserable because they prefer the comfort of misery over the possibility of joy and fulfillment because they are afraid to take a risk?

As I often told my players, if you are afraid to take the risk, you forfeit the miracle.

People know why they aren’t willing to take risks. They know they are afraid.

The biggest question is not why we fear the unknown. The biggest question is this: What exactly are you afraid of?

Until you really answer that question and know what you are afraid of, you can’t really overcome your fears. You have to be honest with yourself. You have to be courageous and explore the source of your fears. More times than not, our fears become a way to rationalize staying in our comfort zones, even if we are miserably comfortable.

There is no doubt some people have trouble letting go of fear because they have suffered real trauma. They need help from a professional in dealing with their fears and the negative self-beliefs they can create.

But most people who live in fear fail to realize overcoming their fears is really all about making a choice. Do you want it bad enough to risk failure in getting there? All great athletes have failed their way to success. The same is true of inventors or entrepreneurs who may have failed hundreds of times before changing the world or becoming notable and accomplished.

I enjoy studying great leaders in history, ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things.

I’ve noticed something interesting about almost all of them. At one point another, they had to make a choice. They had to overcome their fears.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faced things we can’t imagine today: humiliation, intimidation and violence. Dr. King relied on his Christian faith to face his fears. But he also had to make a choice. He believed in civil rights so strongly he was willing to die for the cause. The power of his faith was stronger than his fears.

Think about other leaders you admire. I can guarantee you all of them had to face fears head on.

The great ones don’t flinch in the face of fear. And while few of us will ever lead a movement that changes the world like Dr. King, we can all lead lives of significance and purpose if we identify our fears and refuse to let them take our eyes off the prize.

Being comfortable is enough for some people, but it’s not enough for me. My guess is it’s not enough for you.

So I have some advice for you if you’ve been weighing the risks of chasing your dream.

At some point, you’ve got to drop the anchor, stop the boat and jump overboard.

If it feels like you’re drowning, fear not. Just keep swimming.

Jack SmithComment