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Fear can be your friend or your enemy, you choose

It was not an easy process for Grace to overcome her fear of going through this tunnel with a 10′ tarp attached. With each step, happening week after week, month after month, she gained confidence, which allowed her to achieve the prize — running through this fabric shaft with ease. Tackling your fear in small bites will allow you to accomplish the things you dream of.

We all experience moments of fear. Fear can help fuel us to success, but far too often, we let it stop us from doing things we are capable of. It becomes our enemy instead of our friend.

My timid dog, Grace, fears children, loud noises, and a long list of other things. She can be paralyzed with new experiences, visibly trembling as if she might jump out of her own skin to flee from the trauma. Over the years, she has become courageous in some situations and in those moments, she is such a shining example of what can be accomplished.

I fear snakes– among many other silly things, like falling short of someone else’s expectations or being judged unfavorably by someone else. Like Grace, I face some kind of fear every day. Fear can be beneficial, such as providing a warning to be careful in places where I know snakes might likely be sunning themselves in our lawn. But sometimes, fear can hold me back because it’s easier to stay within my comfort zone rather than pushing through it.

Fear has benefits

I was reminded of the benefits of managing fear this week, as I listened to an inspirational speaker that transported me through his adventures.

I had the good fortune to hear Jamie Clarke present at a business meeting on Tuesday. Jamie was the keynote presenter and by some good luck, I sat at his luncheon table. He was quiet and unassuming, joining in the conversation only a few times. That was not an accurate indicator for how powerful his presence on stage would become. I knew from his bio that he was a mountain climber and adventurer and he would be sharing lessons learned from his Mt. Everest experiences. Since I live in southern New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock, I hear and think about mountain metaphors a lot. Climbing to new heights absolutely provides a new and a different perspective than being at sea level. But I wasn’t expecting the extent to which his stories would lift me.

Jamie talked much more about life than he did of mountains (though the part about the mountains was absolutely spell-binding). I hung on every word for more than an hour while he spoke. A gifted story teller, Jamie had me near tears a few times but mostly laughing out loud, as he recounted times growing up in rural Canada with a supportive but stern mom and a grandfather who put him in his place more than once.

“On the other side of fear is freedom”

What was my biggest take-away from Jamie’s talk? One of the many lines that resonated with me was when he said this: “On the other side of fear is freedom.” Ahhh, I thought to myself, how true that is! In Jamie’s situation, achieving the ultimate challenge of climbing Mt Everest allows you to physically and mentally feel the freedom of standing atop that summit. The views, the air, the enormity of the world beaming at your footsteps. But any of us can feel our own freedom when we tackle our fears. Jamie got me thinking that you don’t have to climb Mt Everest to experience that sensation. Freedom can be felt anywhere and by everyone. It’s within all of us and I appreciate Jamie allowing me to see that.

In my conversations with business people, I am constantly aware of situations where fear is holding a person back from doing something they want to do. Here are a few examples: 

  • Being honest with a co-worker about something that is negatively impacting the relationship because they don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings
  • Wanting more time with family but feeling stuck by heavy work demands
  • Ability to have a team that is focused on the same goals and objectives but settling for what is in front of them
  • Wanting to start a new career that better matches their skills and interests, but fearful of leaving a stable income
  • Desire to voice concerns to a manager about a toxic work environment, but stopping for fear of retribution
  • Not making a call to someone for help for fear of rejection or judgment
  • Avoiding an assignment for fear of failure or looking stupid because of the learning curve

These are real situations that do not have easy answers. But when we resolve to stay in these situations, fear is our enemy. When we take on fear as a friend, only then can we feel the freedom that is ours to have.

Everyone suffers when we limit our own potential

Our work and our workplaces suffer when each of us limits our own potential. Managers need to help create cultures where risk-taking is appreciated and valued. But it is also the responsibility of each person to recognize and own your fear, and find ways to manage it rather than letting it manage you.

I hope that Jamie’s message inspires you, as it did me, to climb your own metaphorical mountain. Let fear become your friend and not your enemy.

Are you going above and beyond in your work?

A surprise portrait of our cat, Oliver, sent by Chewy was a lesson of how going above and beyond expectations is a very effective way to build a distinguished reputation.

With crazy workloads and busy schedules, it’s probably hard to imagine going above and beyond your own job responsibilities. Finding time for all the things on your own ‘to-do’ list is hard enough. But if you want to leave a memorable impression, that’s precisely what you need to do. And it doesn’t always have to take a lot of time, but it will require some effort.

The other day a package arrived on the doorstep. I wasn’t expecting anything so this already had a level of suspense and excitement as I tried to think about what might be inside.

The sender was a company where I get our cat food, called Chewy. But this wasn’t the heavy, large box that carries canned cat food. It was a small, lightweight, envelope with a colorful, fun sticker on the back that read “Oh boy! Dinner!” Hmmm, I thought to myself, what could this be? I know those crazy cats of ours didn’t order food without me knowing it!!”

As it turns out, Chewy had done something completely unexpected, something very generous, and without any provocation. They weren’t apologizing for an error they made or sending out a rewards treat for being a good customer (because in truth, I don’t spend that much with them).

This is the picture I posted on Facebook; Oliver is the cat inside the left box.

In this package was a beautiful hand-painted portrait of Oliver, one of our cats. A few months ago, I had posted a picture on Facebook of our cats playing around in the Chewy packing boxes, which got their attention. They could have commented and shared it and left it at that. But they went above and beyond what any vendor would do for a casual customer. When I opened this delightful surprise and beautiful painting, it left a lasting impression. It spoke volumes to their commitment and creativity to produce an exceptional customer experience because they had gone above and beyond anything I would anticipated from them.

Why it matters

This effort was so meaningful to me for the following reasons:

  • It went above and beyond any expectations
  • Clear indication that they cared about me
  • The action was done without any invitation or request
  • The ‘product’ was focused on the end-user
  • There was no requirement for further action
  • It made me feel happy and good about the company I’m doing business with

Managers and employees can take a lesson from this cat portrait. When I think of buying cat food—or now any other animal product for that matter—who do you think comes to mind? Chewy, of course. They have cemented their reputation as one I admire and trust.

Oliver approves of his portrait!

The same concepts holds true for individuals, it’s not just businesses who have this advantage of being remembered for outstanding effort. Employees at all levels who go above and beyond are the ones remembered. That helps at performance review and salary negotiations, but I think it’s even more important than that. It’s your reputation. 

Do you want your co-workers to think of you as the team member who only does the minimal work that is required? Or do you want them to say that you give more than 100%? An important distinction is that going above and beyond doesn’t (necessarily) mean doing more. It really means doing better. Higher quality work sometimes equates to additional steps or action, but it always means doing something exceptionally well.

‘Going above and beyond’ examples

Here are a few examples of activities that illustrate going above and beyond. I’d be interested to hear of other ideas, perhaps ones you have done yourself or those when you’ve been on the receiving end from someone else.

  • Research something about your position (without being asked) that will make you more informed
  • Volunteer for an extra assignment, especially one you know another person doesn’t especially care for!
  • Taking time to explain something thoroughly, completely, and without being patronizing when you’re not expected to do so
  • Offer to fill in for someone when they are on vacation without them asking; this can be for a isolated, specific task but will still be very valuable
  • Step in when someone is struggling with a technical or mechanical issue that you can fix
  • Clean up your messy desk if it is bothering others who work near you

Going above and beyond doesn’t always require a lot of cost or time. But it does require your thoughtfulness and effort. Don’t do this expecting anything in return, but you will be rewarded with something priceless: a favorable and lasting impression that shines on your reputation. 



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