When Fear Shows Up

I recently was face-to-face with my fears. My wife Karalee and I were in Santa Cruz for a conference with my long-time technology friends where we spent the weekend collaborating and discussing the future of technology and innovation.

The conference ended Sunday afternoon, after which Karalee and I had a nice drive, followed by dinner. We turned in for the night, ready for an early morning start to return to Vancouver.

All seemed copacetic until I was awakened at 4:00 am by the sound of running, shouting, and hitting all right under the window of our ocean facing hotel room. Then there was silence for a few minutes. Then I could hear a voice calling out quietly from the street below “Help me.”

I lay there for quite a while, not wanting to acknowledge or do anything about what had or was happening. Maybe for twenty minutes. During that time, all sorts of stories were going through my head. I didn’t want to get involved. As a Canadian in America, what if I looked through the curtain and the hurt person had a gun? Our flight home was in a few hours, what if the police wanted to question me? How would I protect Karalee?

The truth was that fear was keeping me lying there in bed. I was also pretending to be asleep, not wanting to acknowledge to Karalee that we should do something. About the same time as I started to get out of bed, she asked me if we should do anything about the person who was still calling for help.

I struggled to find my flashlight, peaked through the curtains to see a man laying on the bike path across the street. I tried calling 911 on my cell phone, which didn’t go through, then Karalee suggested that I use the hotel phone. As I lifted the receiver, two police cars showed up outside our hotel window, so I put the phone down.

In looking at this incident and examining my feelings and responses, I am reminded that we all experience fear. The fear we experience is often the biggest thing that holds us back in business and in life. Here is what I learned from this experience:

  • Acknowledge You Are Fearful - It took quite a while in that Santa Cruz hotel room to admit to myself that I was afraid. When I did, I needed to acknowledge to myself how that fear was manifesting itself. Only after that internal processing was I able to move forward.
  • Others Are Fearful - I know that there were people staying in the rooms on either side of us and in the hotel next door. The police showed up just as I was picking up the hotel handset. That meant that whoever called 911 only did so a minute or two before. We were all scared together. We all put off calling the police. When leading people, when making changes in your life, or tackling a difficult challenge know that those around you are likely fearful too. Only by bringing the fear into the open do you have a chance to acknowledge it and do something to overcome the fears, real or imagined. A powerful question you can ask yourself and others is “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
  • Have Compassion - Fear was baked into our DNA a million or more years ago. It’s why we have survived as a species. What moved me to action that morning in the Santa Cruz hotel room? Compassion for the human being I heard calling for help. When I opened my heart to another person’s suffering, I was able to overcome my own fears. Have compassion for yourself and for those you lead when fear shows up.

I hope the injured person we saw in Santa Cruz got the help he needed and is healing from whatever it was that happened to him. There will be another time when I experience fear. When it does, I hope to remember this experience so that I might respond faster. Raise your awareness of when fear is showing up for you or your team mates and have compassion as you overcome those fears to rise to your next challenge.