Jennifer Goodman Linn You Fearless

Jen Skydiving with U.S. Army – 2000

I have been doing a lot of thinking about fear lately. Not necessarily because I have a lot of it but because I am starting to work on my personal "branding" (more of that to come in future blog posts). My core message really focuses on how I believe fear can be much more paralyzing than freeing and that it actually gets in the way of productivity and happiness. I looked up the word fearless in the dictionary and naturally, the definition states that it is living in a state of "no fear". I thought that was odd because it is not possible to live without fear. EVERYONE has fear in their lives and fear, in fact, is quite a healthy thing if you don't let it get the better of you and debilitate the quality of your efforts. I actually think that people who are truly fearless are people who "fear less" because they are willing to confront their fear and embrace it versus deny that it is there. I always think of the great leaders of recent times...Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rudy Giuliani (during and after the World Trade Center attacks)...they are all leaders who admitted that they were vulnerable and had fear but that they wouldn't let fear get the better of them. And once they looked that fear in the face, they realized that they could handle it. I do believe that when we are willing to truly feel what we are feeling, we can move on and thrive. So, I started to look at my own life and think about a time when I looked fear in the eye and said "bring it on!" Of course there are many stories related to my cancer diagnosis and there are just as many stories related to my career but I decided to focus on a fun one for this post to please the crowd. In 2000/2001I was working at McKinsey & Company as a consultant. I had the pleasure of working on a compete marketing revamp for the United States Army. I spent over a year working in the Pentagon. It was a fascinating project. Unfortunately just months after we finished our assignment, 9/11 happened and the section of the Pentagon in which I had worked was destroyed. We lost some of our clients (2 and 3-star Generals) in the attacks and it was very sad indeed. However, for the 16 months I was there, I had an extremely rewarding experience helping the U.S. Army reinvigorate their marketing and sales strategy in an effort to get 210,000 "men in boots" annually. After a particularly well-received presentation one of our key clients thanked us vigorously and asked if there was anything he or the Army could do to show their gratitude for our ideas and our work. Never one to keep my mouth closed, I piped up, "You could let us jump out of a plane!" Mind you that I am terrified of heights and I was about as keen to jump out of a plane as I was to complete a marathon (not keen at all)! However, I learned that the Army doesn't really joked around. They took my request quite seriously. The next morning I received a phone call from a staff sergeant requesting that my entire team report at 0600 to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to jump out of a plane with the famous Golden Knights. OMG! My mind raced back and forth between thrill ("How cool...only VIP's get to jump out of a plane with them!") and terror ("What the f@#% were you thinking opening your big fat mouth?"). I was the only member on my team who wasn't counting the moments until the jump. I guess that's what happens when you work with a lot of competitive men...Anyway, I got on the plane to North Carolina, had a sleepless night and the morning came way too soon. I will admit that the fear enveloped me. I have never been so scared in my entire life. Jumping out of a plane went against everything rational to me but I was scared to say "no." I became a victim of peer pressure and felt helpless. I was assigned to John who had jumped out of a plane the prior week with George Bush Sr. He was a wonderfully charming guy who had logged in over 500 jumps. I decided to trust him although he told me he went to UNC (Note to readers: If you went to Duke as I did, you never trust a Tar Heel!). To make a long story short. We didn't jump out of the plane at 12,000 feet. We somersaulted out of the plane at 15,000 feet...and I loved every minute of it! Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet I embraced me fear and gave in to it. I realized that admitting that I was so scared I was going to throw up was very freeing. I took the fear on and suddenly I knew I was going to conquer. Mark Twain once said "Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear". I couldn't agree more. I am attaching the video here for your enjoyment. Check out my face as I am about to jump...if that expression isn't a textbook "fear face" I don't know what is!