How Does a Man Face Fear?

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From across the field, Teddy Roosevelt calls out, “Come on in, boys. We’ve been expecting you.”

You stand on a grassy plain under a brilliant blue sky. In the distance a pair of golden gates glitter in the bright morning light. You’ve heard the tales, but nothing could prepare you for seeing the gates in person. You take a deep breath and step forward. After all, you did not come here to gawk. You seek what is on the other side of those golden gates: the Hall of Champions.

You look around you. Men of all walks of life move in formation across the field. Many are towering, muscular behemoths. Others carry swords and shields forged of the finest steel. You feel a twinge of shame at your unremarkable body and secondhand equipment, yet you press on.

As you move closer, you glimpse the splendor of the Hall beyond the gates. Teddy Roosevelt smiles and waves, a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder. You can see Leonardo da Vinci and Abraham Lincoln sitting in rapt attention as Homer delivers a stirring oration. Scipio and General Patton play a game of chess, while Alexander the Great regales the men with his tales of conquest. King Leonidas fights Audie Murphy in a boxing match, and Mark Twain stands in the middle of it all telling bawdy jokes.

Your heroes, all of them, sit assembled in the Hall, and your heart could burst with excitement. Yet, a low rumble in the earth cuts short your joyful thoughts.

The men around you cease their advance. The bright sky darkens, the ground splits and cracks, and, with a terrible roar, a massive beast erupts from the ground in front of you.

The men around you back away. “What is it?” one yells.

The creature’s voice is like thunder. “I am Fear,” it growls, claws digging at the earth. “Turn back now, or I will consume you.”

The hulking musclemen, the well-equipped elites, all turn to run away. You hear their shouts:

“The risk is too great. I have to turn back.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow, when I’m better prepared.”

“No one could face that. It’s impossible.”

The men retreat, leaving you alone on the plain. You want to run, but a voice deep inside you says, “No. I have come too far. Whether I head to victory or defeat, I will not let Fear rule this day. My will is stronger than my fear.”

With a shaky hand you unsheathe your sword and step toward the monster.

Fear snarls and roars, “Turn back, boy. Turn back, or you will see my true form.”

You walk forward. With every step you want to turn back and give up. But you press on. Your muscles tense. Your heart pounds. Sweat collects in the small of your back. But still you press on. You pick up speed until you are running at the beast.

The creature unleashes an ear-splitting roar, but you break into a full sprint. With a fierce battle cry, you raise your sword above your head, and you strike–

*   *   *

Fear. That icy feeling that so often blocks us from moving toward our goals. All men face it, especially men of inspiration who have a greater vision for their lives. The fear of risk, the fear of consequences, the fear of defeat, humiliation, or rejection. Whatever form fear takes, it usually stands between us and the thing we want most in life.

Most will run from it, giving up a piece of their dreams in the process. They will rationalize their behavior. They will tell themselves that this isn’t the right time, or they don’t want to be reckless, or they’re not sure they have the capability. They will secretly hate themselves and wish that they could be like the fearless champions of history.

Yet, no man is born a champion. On the contrary, even the greatest of leaders face fears and insecurities. “Every man is scared in his first action,” Patton said in his famous address to the Third Army. “If he says he’s not, he’s a goddamn liar.”

The thing that separates a champion from the rest is this: when a champion is faced with his greatest fear, he does not run. Though his blood may run cold, he stands his ground. Though everyone else retreats, he advances forward. A champion isn’t someone without fear. He is someone who doesn’t let fear push him around.

You can (and should) plan your actions, calculate your risk, pick the best course of action available. But sooner or later you’ll come to a moment where the only thing holding you back is your own raw, primal fear. And you must not succumb to it.

So go ahead. Start that business you’ve been dreaming about. Ask out the person you have a crush on. Take the leadership position you worry you’re not ready for. Take the risk. Your fear may seem overwhelming, but you have the strength and the willpower to move beyond your fear. And when you do, you touch greatness.

*   *   *

Your sword sinks into the ground. You look around, confused. The monster is gone, only faint wisps of smoke indicating where it had been. Fear, it turns out, was merely a phantom.

You hear cheers and applause. You look up to see the men of the Hall opening the gates and welcoming you in. “Good show, boy!” Teddy Roosevelt calls out. “Now get in here before we change our minds.”

You sheathe your sword and walk toward the splendor of the Hall of Champions, where men of action through the ages drink, and dine, and sing the songs of old, and share grand stories of their triumphs and laugh about their defeats.

Your rightful place is among them. Take it.

“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.”
Nelson Mandela