There’s an anecdote that Adam Grant tells in his book Originals: How nonconformists move the world that I really enjoyed.
He recounted the story of Lewis Pugh, a long-distance and cold-water swimmer who swims to bring attention to the plight of vulnerable oceanic ecosystems.
In 2007, Pugh decided to do something that had never been done before – swim nearly a mile across the North Pole, in 29º F water. Most people go into hypothermic shock after only 2 or 3 minutes in water this cold. Pugh’s swim would take over 18 minutes.
Leading up to the swim, Pugh found himself overcome by doubts and insecurities.
He could have let that fear cripple him. Instead, he decided to use it to his advantage. His mind was working overtime, reminding him of every possible scenario where things could go wrong. Instead of allowing himself to become overwhelmed, Pugh used these scenarios to help him better prepare for any contingency that might come up. They forced him to eliminate complacency.
“The trick,” says Pugh, “is to make fear your friend. Fear forces you to prepare more rigorously and see potential problems more quickly.”
It’s easy to assume that the giants of history and role models of today don’t have to battle with fear like the rest of us. That they’re somehow above such petty insecurities, and that is why they’ve been able to achieve such extraordinary results.
In reality, though, nothing could be further from the truth.
They are no different from any of us in the fears that they face. They are only unique in how they choose to deal with those fears. Sometimes they channel that nervous energy into excitement. Sometimes they embrace their emotions and try to learn from them, as Lewis Pugh did.
What they DON’T do is use fear as an excuse to not do something. They are experts at pursuing fear and embracing failure.
If you’re struggling with something that’s overwhelming you with fear, don’t despair. That’s normal. Just remember that the key to being exceptional is to push through and do it anyway!