I’m going to tell you a story of two men: Jared and Sam. These stories are true, although the names of the men, and certain identifying details, have been changed.
Jared constantly worried that he’d fail. He never saw any characteristic within himself that pointed toward success. He was always an average student, never the brightest. He was an average athlete, never the strongest or fastest. He was mediocre at music and art. He had decent interpersonal skills, but no compelling charisma.
Jared’s life seemed to be one setback after another. He was rejected from his top-choice university, and had to settle for second best. He got decent grades, and shortly after he graduated, he met and married a nice brunette woman. Life seemed to be looking up.
He found a job at a home-repair company, and over time, he got promoted. He had one child, then another, then a third. His fear of failure lay dormant. That fear stayed deep within him, but life’s pleasant circumstances lulled the fear into taking a nap.
One day Jared got laid off from that home-repair company. He felt crushed. He had a tough time looking his three children in the eyes. Had he failed them?
He tried to find another job, but was constantly plagued by the fear of failure. He stammered during interviews. His face looked haggard from poor sleep. No one wanted to hire him.
He returned to graduate school, but felt embarrassed by his position as an older student. He felt intimidated by classmates who were younger and smarter. He turned assignments in late. His essays were sloppy. His professors rewarded him with C’s, which only further discouraged him. Eventually, he dropped out.
Now he had student loans from a degree he never finished, in addition to no job. His marriage was falling apart. His spirit was crushed. His fear of failure had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of Jared’s sons, Sam, watched his father’s example and vowed to persist in the face of fear.
As Sam aged, he faced the same self-doubts that his dad did. He feared failure. He doubted his skill and adequacy. But he persisted in spite of his fears.
Sam was an average student in college, just like his dad. But Sam believed he was bound for greatness, no matter what his report card said.
When he was laid off from his first job, he decided that was a sign from the universe that he was bound for something even greater. Sam found a better job, and quickly rose the ranks. By age 25, he was earning more than his father ever had.
Sam eventually decided to enroll in graduate school, but he didn’t notice that he was an “older” student. It never crossed his mind that he was in the company of people who were younger and sharper. He saw himself among intellectual peers.
Sam dropped out of graduate school, just like his dad did, but he did it for a very different reason. Sam dropped out because he spotted an opportunity to launch his own company. A new market had just opened up, and his idea couldn’t wait.
Sam was afraid, of course. He knew he was taking a big risk. He knew he’d wind up with student loans and no degree to show for it, just like his dad did. He was afraid that his company would flop.
But Sam didn’t let himself focus on those fears. While his dad fretted about failure, Sam trained himself to focus on opportunities to succeed. Sam persisted not in the absence of fear, but in spite of his fear.
Sam’s new company had ups and downs, just as all new companies do. The highs felt nice, but the lows were very, very low. In those darkest days, Sam ignored the little voice whispering in his ear about failure. He kept his eye trained on the prize.
In short: Sam had courage. He felt afraid, just as his dad did, but he trained his mind to search for antidotes. Courage is not the absence of fear, Sam realized. Courage is persistence in spite of fear.
by Paula Pant