We Are Born Fearless and Learn to Be Brave

A young family has two small daughters. Mom takes the baby the pediatrician for her one month appointment while Dad stays home with the toddler. As sleep deprived parents with young children know to do Dad decides to catch a few minutes of sleep while the toddler takes her afternoon nap.

An hour later Dad is awakened by the doorbell. Groggy, he finds his front door ajar – a kitchen chair and a stool nearby. A stranger is holding his daughter clad only in a diaper.

“Is this your baby?” he asked the young father. “I found her around the corner wandering around.”

It certainly was and that little girl was me.

As the story goes my parents had just moved into their first home. Soon after, I had learned to unlock the front door. To keep me from letting myself out, my parents had installed a chain lock above my immediate reach. To leave that afternoon, I drag the kitchen chair and stool to the front door and climb up to let myself out for the adventure. About 10 houses away, a man washing his car notices me walking down the street. It is a brand new housing development with new neighbors moving in every week. Because he doesn’t recognize me, he carries me walking door to door until someone claims me.

Obviously, I don’t have recollections of this story but it has been told so many times over the years it is etched indelibly in my mind. To this day, I can see me walking down the street past the pastel colored starter homes until I am around the corner at the blue house where I am found.

Apparently, I had little or no fear. At three years old, I rode my tricycle to the store solo to spend some spare change in the candy machine and then taught myself to ride a bicycle at five. Every time I was able to upgrade my wheels (a new bicycle at seven, a car at 16 and finally a motorcycle at 40) I set off on a new adventure.

I spent much of this past week at a quarterly retreat of a business mastermind group. The goal is to work on forward thinking projects, stretch ourselves and fellowship with other entrepreneurs. Typically, our mentor likes to push us out of our comfort zone and this time was no different. We piled into the van and wove our way through DC rush hour traffic until we arrived at our destination – an indoor skydiving facility.

To be fair, I had always thought that trying outdoor skydiving would be interesting. But since I had never actually done it, we can honestly assume it probably wasn’t going to happen now. We sign the many waivers; we watch the instructional videos and suit up. As we line up to go to our seats in the air tunnel, I realize that I’m actually going to go through with this and am emboldened by the fellow entrepreneurs who are suited up next to me.

Of course, at any point, I know that I can decline. Just as there are many instances when I am successful at trying new things there are a few that don’t work out — my feeble attempts at surfing in high school and college, failing those team building “trust fall” activities , confronting a company leader with questionable accounting practices. I have good reasons to know that sometimes everything doesn’t turn out exactly right.

Towards the end of the line, it is my turn for the first round. Feeling awkward and uncoordinated, the instructor takes me through the first run. As I’m twirling around in the air, I cannot help but smile. 60 seconds goes much too fast. My body feels like a bag of noodles and I’m not sure I want to do the second round. I sit at the end of the line to make my final decision. Finally it is my turn. This time the instructor takes me near the top of the wind tunnel. It does not quite match how I feel in my “flying dream” that repeats every so often, but it is close. The minute comes and goes. Now I really cannot stop smiling. You can see the video here.

Not so strangely enough, I have a second opportunity to test my brave “muscles” again the next day. Our mentor had flown in one of the best corporate trainers in the country to share his insight on presentation skills and storytelling during the afternoon. After dinner we are each given five minutes to share a story that will enhance one of our presentations.

Public speaking, according to one study, is only second to the fear of death for some people. While it has been part of my profession for a long time, it is not something I think I do well without an agenda, script or a Powerpoint presentation. We are allowed nothing but our story and a willingness to share. I feel the fear. I will make a mistake. I will look foolish. I will forget what I am going to say. Again, I am one of the last people to go. It goes well and I am surprised even though I have been brave before.

And then I remember. It is not about me. Tonight it was the audience. Yesterday it was about showing others how to be brave in what scares us. 

It is always about those who we want to help – our family, friends, clients and the strangers who need us. 

Being fearless is not having fear like a child who wanders out of the house. Being brave is feeling that fear and going on ahead.

We are born fearless – we learn to be brave by doing the things we think we cannot do.

We are brave.


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