Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear

I don’t like conflict. In fact, sometimes I think I am conflictaphobic. (I just made that word up.) I will do almost anything to avoid it.

Why Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear

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As a result, especially early in my career, I would keep my real opinions to myself. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I thought that if I just complied with the system and kept my mouth shut, I would get ahead.

This was a pretty good strategy for a while. But it didn’t really work once people were counting on me to lead.

Why didn’t I want to speak up? I could feign altruism by saying, “I didn’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.” But that would be a lie. The truth is that I was afraid. It was all about me.

  • I didn’t want to be embarrassed.
  • I didn’t want to lose face.
  • I didn’t want to be wrong.
  • I didn’t want others to think less of me.

So, I kept quiet. Funny thing is I kept finding myself in situations where I had to speak up. If I didn’t, someone would pay an awful price for my personal comfort.

Years ago, soon after I became head of one of our publishing divisions, I had to confront one of my authors. He was pleasant and cooperative when I spoke with him. But he was demanding, uncooperative, and downright nasty to my staff. Finally, one of them came to me in tears and said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t take it any more.”

I had to make a choice.

I could let it go, hoping he would improve without intervention … or I could speak up. I wrestled with it all night. I tossed and turned. I got sick to my stomach. I played out every scenario.

Finally, things came into focus: I could either be brave and call him on it, or I could be a coward and stop growing as a leader.

Thankfully, I decided to confront him. The next morning I called his cell phone. I was shaking so much, I could barely hold the phone.

I went over the facts. I told him that his behavior was unacceptable. I explained that he would call each of my staff and apologize. He would then send flowers to the person he had offended the most. And if he didn’t? I would stop publication of his book and send him packing.

I was dead serious, and he knew it. To my surprise, he did exactly what I had asked.

I learned an important lesson that day. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.

My people also learned an important lesson. They learned that I was willing to stand up for them, even at the expense of my own comfort. It drew us closer together as a team.

Frankly, I still find it difficult to be brave. I don’t consider myself to be a courageous person. But now having several of these experiences under my belt, it is a little easier. Now I just notice the fear, pull up my big boy pants, and lean into the situation.

If I can do it, you can, too.

Question: Where do you need to find the courage to speak up? What’s holding you back? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Loritaylorarts

    Your humility and honesty are very courageous. I’m inspired and I thank you Michael.

  • Kay Wilson

    I am in Network Marketing and have distributors on my team, I find it difficult to give them direction, follow up by checking to see if they are doing DMO, then when they have not followed through… is a fine line for me to encourage or correct them without hurt feelings.

  • Marilyn Luinstra

    I like the story you told Michael. Thank you for sharing it. I have been listening to Platform and gearing up to launch a blog community for newbies to the anti-slavery cause. I bit scary putting myself out there. Courage. Yes.

  • Callifrey

    It’s a strange thing, but the fear of something is way worse than the actual experience of that thing. Writing, speaking in public, speaking anywhere, following through on an idea, trying something different, admitting you are wrong. How much energy we all face in worrying, and nopt

  • c.flemming : visual

    My whole life when I was younger was dominated by sheer terror. I was, literally, afraid of the dark.A couple years ago, I realized I hadn’t sent fear packing, but only into hiding.Here’s a glimpse into what God has been teaching me through it:

  • Darlene L. Turner

    I think we all struggle with confrontation. It’s tough. Thanks for this post. Love this line (I’m going to remember it when I’m pitching to agents at an upcoming writer’s conference!): “Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.”  

  • jmoney (Jeff Jones)

    This has always been one of the obstacles I had to overcome and it wasn’t always easy and I often failed.  I enrolled in a Masters program in Conflict Resolution after a divorce because I didn’t do conflict well and wanted help for me and the ability to help others.  What a ride it has been.  I’ve learned much, put much into practice, helped others and still have much to learn.  I am a better person for the experience and have learned things I wish I knew better all my life.  Thanks for a post to remind us that we can still act in the face of our fear.

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  • Erik Fisher

    I’ve heard a lot of people talk about eliminating fear, or dealing with fear, or overcoming fear. I’m wondering if fear is ever something that can be truly gotten rid of, or arriving at a point where we don’t ever feel the effects of fear. 

    I don’t know. 

    What I do know from my experience is this: When I focus on mustering up courage, or gaining courage from the true sources it comes from, as well as putting the feelings of fear in the perspective of eternity, it’s easier to act in the face of fear. Perhaps this is the action of “perfect love driving out fear”?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you are right, Erik. I still experience fear, but I go ahead and act any way. I find that taking any step in a positive direction lessens its power in my life. Thanks.

  • Paula

    This is something I have struggled with in every romantic relationship I’ve been in, and ultimately broken off a number of them because the thing that was bothering me became too much.  I am now in a relationship with a man that I admire and value greatly [very different for me!].   We have been together about 6 months, but in the past couple of months he has talked less and less about anything that really matters – now just talking about when I’m meeting him, what’s for dinner, etc.  For a while I told myself that it was just that a lot of things were going on – Thanksgiving, 2 birthdays, Christmas – so he had a lot on his mind, but I’m not sure this is it.  I want to speak up, as I know that doing what I always have will end up in the same results as I’ve always gotten, but I don’t know where to begin or what to say.

  • Matt Law

    Fantastic post… I’m slow to comment, but this is so true I figured I’d add myself to the discussion.  

    When I started in leadership at 23, I was so afraid to confront.  I would let things build up so much so that everyone thought I was a wimpy leader because I’d let things slide.  After reading books on leadership I new I needed to change.  

    in 2005, I had to fire an employee because I didn’t confront and correct the entire time leading up to this.  Her mistake was severe and she deserved to be fired, but I always wonder if she would have done something so wrong if I had loved and confronted her the whole way.

     When you confront early, the damage is less, and it is easier for the one being confronted to take it a little easier as the offense might not be that bad.  

    When you wait and let it build, it ALWAYS turns out bad!  

    2 Cents from Matt Law

  • David A Specht

    Wow, Michael. Are you reading my mail? I, like you, get physically ill when I am forced into a conflict situation. More times than not, however, the scenarios I play out in my head are MUCH WORSE than what usually ends up taking place.  Still hasn’t made it easier though. I guess we just have more resolve over time to just “bite the bullet.”

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  • Erica Melchin

    This is a struggle of mine as well. It came to a head when I had to call out a close family member on very wrong and immoral behavior, and received several nasty personal attacks in return. However, a year later, that family member did mend their behavior, and apologized to me. I decided if I could confront someone I had admired and respected deeply throughout the years, I could confront the smaller problems I face every day. And yes, I still get intensely anxious if I have to do it, but the point is I know I can. Thanks for this post.

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