Fear and Resilience

I talk a lot about design thinking, designing your life, and building resilience in Spring2Innovations training courses. And this weekend I was reminded to take my own advice.

I went on a team-building activity to an outdoor swimming pool where there were two diving boards – a short one and a much taller one. I watched my team members jumping off the short diving board and I have to admit that even the short board brought up butterflies as I started walking closer to the end and saw the water below. After the first plunge I found it fun, returning to do several more.

Once I conquered the smaller board, the team inevitably wanted me to try the taller diving board. I waited a long time before trying it, watching young children flying off it with smiles. I also watched some climb all the way up to the top and, after peering over the edge, climb back down.

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I thought to myself that if I went up, there is no way I would climb back down.  I drummed up the courage to climb the long ladder and walked halfway across the diving board. And then I looked down, thinking to myself, how did these little kids do this over and over again. I walked a little further down the board, continuously rationalizing with myself – all I had to do was jump. But before I knew it I was climbing back down the ladder.  Nothing bad would happen if I walked back down the ladder – I didn’t need to.

I continued to watch others jump off the high diving board. I kept thinking I wanted to do the jump and knew I would feel good after doing it. It was only 10 minutes before I was climbing  up the ladder once again. I was determined to jump. I walked half way across the diving board and once again felt the same fear. I couldn’t let myself climb back down once again. I knew I needed to face my fear.

I turned to face the water and this time heard the lifeguard telling me to look at the building across the street. And to not look down. I walked to the end of the board, and then I looked straight down. As I turned away to walk back down the ladder, I heard the lifeguard once again telling me I needed to focus on the horizon and just walk off the board. I looked at the building,  took a breath in, and before I could talk myself out of it, I walked off.

It was a long time in the air before I hit the water, but once I did, I was proud.  I was proud of myself for jumping and overcoming whatever was holding me back. I also realized how often I had done something like this as a kid. I would have never thought twice about plunging into the water below.  Somehow, I had developed this fear over the years since I last jumped off the tower. Was it scary? Yes. Was it fun? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

Clichés aside, how many times do we prevent ourselves from doing what we want or need to do by talking ourselves out of it? And in this case, the guidance from lifeguard made all the difference in overcoming fears and becoming more resilient. All it took was a little support.

In work environments we often look at all the things that could go wrong rather than looking at the future, which can appear to be daunting. But what about the positive outcomes of moving beyond fears, and taking the metaphorical leap?

Having a plan to focus on, like a building on the horizon, helps, as does the guidance from others. Once you start conquering fears as an organization, you can start developing resilience. Resilience creates room to take the healthy risks required to move forward and develop the future for your organization. Without taking those risks, you may find yourself climbing back down the ladder.