Overcoming fear

“It will be OK. Stop looking down and just focus on where you are going to place your feet. The edge is plenty wide enough, and it has great hand holds.”

After several seconds he slowly resumes his 80-foot traverse, and finally makes it over to me at the anchor. We take a short break for him to compose himself and discuss the emotions he is experiencing. The next section leads up through a tight crack to a medium-sized ledge. There we grab a quick bite and admire the marvelous view. All is well.

I am with one of my customers who, about a year earlier, expressed an interest in rock climbing and inquired if I would take him out sometime. I happily agreed, and over the next several months, each ‘trip to the rock’ increased in height and difficultly. On this morning we are in New Hampshire on a popular 360-foot route called “Thin Air.” This route is similar to those we climbed before, except it’s famous for having a grand vertical presence and an exhilarating exposure. He’s done well.


Roughly four years ago, my two neighbors and I took our boys over to the local skateboard park for some afternoon fun. It didn’t take long before the kid in me wanted to play and thought the “drop 3” would be interesting. I warmed up on a very easy foot-and-half slope; all went well, so now full of confidence, I headed to the top of the “drop 3.”

But once I reached the high peak, the thought of stepping off the edge, mounted atop a plank with wheels, didn’t seem like such a brilliant idea. Several moments passed as I studied every possible move, angle, position and outcome, with kids of all ages around me making it look easy. Finally the decision was made to go, but my body would not allow forward movement. I took a breath and tried to push off again, but with the same result.

A young guy in his early twenties skates up next to me. I nod at him with a smirk and he widely smiles back and says, “You know what your problem is?”

I pull back from the edge as if he has something that will alter my performance and say, “No – what?”

He replies, “You’re not committed - you need to commit.” My hope of enlightenment vanishes as quickly as he drops off the edge, flawlessly, beautifully.


Many folks take small steps, adjust, become comfortable, then seek out the next step. This is a natural progression of personal growth from the time we are kids. Often this happens intuitively because, following this safe path, not much cause for concern ever really arises, leaving the mind at ease and controllable. There are other folks who go further, challenging themselves to take bigger steps with more risk, adding an element of suspense that becomes the very fuel that drives them.

Many folks wouldn’t even make low, easy rock climbs because they’re that uncomfortable with heights. As I found out, the risk does not have to be life-threatening for the same kind of self-doubt to surface and consume your ability to think or act. But depending on your state of mind, a situation of doubt or stress or insecurity can also be a tremendous motivator!

We make decisions about our lives and businesses each day, often without a second thought of ‘what if.’ It is when the mind is released to wade through the ‘what ifs’ that ‘it’ presents itself: “Fear,” a four letter word with amazing control.

Fear lives within each of us and its level of intensity is individually owned. Without fear, the accomplishments may be diluted, hiding any real sense of gain or signifying little or no risk. With too much fear, we may be stifling our fullest potential. If life does not present any fear at all, question if you have stopped the quest for more, either out of anxiety or because the steps have become so easy, so small.

Fear is good, but letting it control your mind is dangerous. Instead, use the mind to manage fear, so that it fuels your growth at the rate you choose.


Joe Poulin is a district manager based in Gray, Maine, for Mac Tools. Send any comments or feedback you have for Joe by e-mail to dpoulin2@maine.rr.com.