What Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan and Eleanor Roosevelt Taught Me About Fear

The people we look up to also had fears, but they learned how to conquer them.

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By Marty Fukuda

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Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan and Eleanor Roosevelt walk into a bar…there's probably a really good joke there. The three admired and celebrated figures from different walks of life and eras do have one thing in common -- their ability to put fear in its proper place and perspective. Each one has been quoted on this omnipresent, but often neglected, subject. Their philosophies provide lessons from which we can all benefit.

Much can be gained and learned from our fears.

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'"

Related: 3 Ways to Overcome Fear Immediately

The Eleanor Roosevelt statement on fear is particularly powerful because of the perspective it puts on a somewhat taboo topic. The classic image of a leader is someone who is fearless, never admitting to being scared -- the person who stoically stares down the scariest of situations without flinching. With ice-water running through their veins, they calmly save the day, leaving the rest of us to wish we were born with the same innate ability. However, the manner in which one responds to fearful situations is likely a combination of one's experiences and environment. In other words, it's something that can be taught, learned and developed. The former first lady put further perspective on the topic by not only acknowledging that fear is real, but that one can actually grow from it.

Think, what's the worst thing that can happen?

In other words, do I really have as much to lose as I'm imagining that I do? In Steve Jobs' famous commencement speech to the 2005 Stanford graduating class, he didn't directly use the word fear, but he mentioned a unique tool against the fear of failure in particular.

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear or embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Related: 10 Fears You Must Overcome When Starting a New Business

The former Apple leader and legend used this rather macabre imagery to remind himself that life is too short to worry. This mental trick helped him hone his focus and attention toward progress versus the state of paralysis that fear so often induces.

Fear is just an illusion.

"One time you might look up and see me playing the game at 50," Michael Jordan said, drawing chuckles. "Oh, don't laugh. Never say never because limits like fears, are often just an illusion."

Think of a small child who is scared to try something new. Mom or Dad encourage the child to jump off the diving board, pedal a bike without someone holding on and running alongside them, or take a bite of a new food for the first time. After the child takes the leap of faith, they often emerge with a smile on their face. This prompts, Mom or Dad to say, "See, it wasn't that bad, was it? Aren't you glad you gave it a try?" As children, we need constant pushing against the mental imagery that somehow gets installed in our minds of failure. Parents realize that getting a child out of their comfort zone is crucial for their development. Left to their own devices, some kids will stay within the confines of what is certain, forsaking all the fun, growth and maturation that facing a fear brings with it.

Related: Train Your Brain to Overcome Fear

As Michael Jordan referenced, many fears, outside of the ones that are critical for survival (the life endangering variety) are merely an illusion. When you stop to put most of your fears into this mindset, just like the child who acknowledges that trying something frightening "wasn't so bad," we can gain the courage to do what's right -- even if it scares us momentarily.

The hero, villain, winner, loser, leader and follower all face identical fears. The difference is how the fear is processed and reacted to that determines the outcome. When facing our own fears, we should remind ourselves that the people we look up to also had fears -- they just learned how to conquer them.

Marty Fukuda

Chief Operating Officer of N2 Publishing

Chicago native Marty Fukuda is the chief operating officer of N2 Publishing, overseeing operations at its corporate headquarters in Wilmington, N.C. He first joined the company as an area director in 2008 after working in the direct sales and print industries. 

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