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4 Lessons on Staring Down Fear and Taking Risks from Tightrope-Walker Nik Wallenda

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Last week thrill-seeking tightrope walker, Nik Wallenda successfully traversed a tightrope hundreds of feet above the Chicago River, strung between two skyscrapers while blindfolded without a safety net or safety harness.

Jennifer Huber | Wikimedia Commons
Tightrope-Walker Nik Wallenda

He's a seventh generation member of The Flying Wallendas who makes a living by doing death-defying stunts. He holds nine Guinness World Records and was the first person to walk a tightrope directly over the raging waters of Niagara Falls.

Needless to say, the guy knows something about taking risks and facing fears. Every entrepreneur and business leader faces those feelings almost every day.

In media interviews before and after his latest successful stunt, Wallenda shared a variety of insights---four of which apply to leadership.

Related: Climbing a Mountain, Whether Real or Figurative, Requires Calculated Risks

1. Preparation is the foundation of your success

Prior to his most recent event in Chicago, Wallenda said that he had practiced for months at his customized training facility near his home. He replicated the Windy City tightrope walk more than 90 times by simulating the windy conditions using large, gusting wind turbines, duplicating the incline and distance as well as being blindfolded---all before he stepped foot on the actual Chicago skyscraper wire.

When the day of the true skyline walk came, he simply viewed it as another practice session. There were no surprises. Wallenda says that the practice and training he does before every stunt transforms his fear into a conviction that he can accomplish his goal.

The application for the entrepreneur is that beta testing, market research and pre-launch competitive analysis are some of the ways you can practice your concept and transform your fear into conviction.

2. Success requires balance and tension

Beyond rigorous preparation, Wallenda notes that his success each time he steps on the wire depends on both balance and tension. The walker is at extreme risk if the wire or its support cables are loose or have a fraction of slack. Walking with that requisite tension in place demands tremendous balance and situational awareness at all times.

As in business, every new venture or product launch will cause organizational tension to some degree. The key to success is walking that tension with keen focus and balance.

Related: 7 Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Take

3. Prepare for failure

Wallenda says that when he's walking on the wire he doesn't need a safety net because the tightrope itself serves the same purpose. So, if things get dicey---like big gusts of wind---he simply gets low to the wire until the wind stops and then he resumes the crossing.

If things get really bad and he loses his balance completely, he says he'll drop his pole and hang onto the wire until his team arrives with help.

Wallenda says that hanging from the wire for extended periods of time, upwards of 40 minutes, is something that he actually practices before a big walk. He says that if you can't hold your body weight for at least 30 minutes hundreds of feet off the ground you have no business walking the tightrope.

That lesson should resonate with entrepreneurs and organizational leaders.

One of the top reasons businesses fail is that they are undercapitalized. If you don't know for sure that your start-up can "hang" on its own for 18 to 24 months with little or no new revenue streams, you need to consider whether you should be in business at all. The truth is that most people plan for success but few make necessary provisions for failure in business. It's an idea that's worth holding onto.

4. Let inspiration guide your vision

Immediately after he completed his towering Chicago walk, Wallenda was asked the next challenge he wants to face. Without missing a beat he stated that he wants to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the walk across the Tallulah Gorge in northeast Georgia made by his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda back in 1970.

That walk would be on a wire 600 feet up in the air, spanning 1,200 feet from rim-to-rim of the ravine.

The elder Wallenda, who died a short time before Nik's birth, did two head stands during his famed Tallulah walk. The great-grandson said that he's personally never done a single public, headstand on a wire before but wants to do three over the Tallulah---the two to match his great-grandfather and a third to honor his memory.

The key with this lesson is that true vision needs to be driven by more than just making money. A true vision is driven by passion and inspiration. Entrepreneurs understand that, but must never lose sight of it.

The day-to-day challenges for business are not death defying, but they are just as dramatic when an entrepreneur lays it all on the line, or all on the wire.

Related: 3 Ways to Overcome Fear Immediately

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