Way, Way Better Than a Sweater

I’ve found that some of the most powerful lessons come when you figure out that something you used to believe with absolute certainty…is dead wrong. It’s happened to me plenty of times.

I offer you now one of the most powerful examples. I think it’s the best thing I can give this holiday season.

It led to one of the most important lessons of my career. It changed my thinking about everything.  

If you accept it and embrace it, it could do the same for you.

I begin with a brief tale.

Mom arrived for a visit last week, and we spent a good amount of time during her stay walking around town. During one of these walks we ran into a local icon.

Many of you know this person. He is a leader in our community. He’s confident. He’s successful.  He’s respected.  

After our introductions he spent all kinds of time talking about all the things he’s accomplished, telling stories about all the people he knows. Mom was understandably impressed.

As we walked away I told her that I happen to know this person’s circle of friends, and that they have shared with me the reality.

The truth is, while he is indeed very accomplished, very respected and even somewhat beloved, he’s also very insecure.

And one of the reasons he spends so much time talking about all he has done is because he’s afraid people will think he hasn’t done anything. And then where would he be?

He is not alone. In fact, he is just one example of what I have come to realize is true.

Every single person, no matter who they are, no matter what they say to you, no matter what you believe about them…is afraid.

We all are.

We are afraid of failing.

We are afraid of making a mistake.

We are afraid of looking silly.

We are afraid of not being liked.

We are afraid of being bad parents.

We are afraid of losing our jobs.

We are each afraid of some of these things…perhaps all of them…and plenty of other things, too.

We don’t often admit it to others. And some of us don’t admit it to ourselves.

But I can tell you that it is true. I’ve been surrounded by the most successful, professional, self-assured people. And when I’ve truly gotten to know them, truly understood them, I learned that they are just as afraid as the rest of us.

Everyone is afraid. Your boss, your staff, your colleagues, your friends.

Our leaders, our mentors, our favorite actors.

The guy next to you at the gym, the woman next to you at the spa.

I tell you this not to bring everybody down.

I tell you this because the misconception that others are not afraid can really mess us up.

We allow ourselves to believe that those we run into, those we have lunch with, those we work with are so together, so confident. We allow ourselves to believe they are so strong because they aren’t afraid of anything.

We then compare ourselves to them and come up with the only conclusion – that we are the only ones who have self-doubt. That we are the only ones who are afraid.

That we are weak as a result. That we must shake this fear thing as quickly as possible.


Being afraid is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. It drives us to do things better.

It makes us think through our work more strategically, our words more carefully, our actions more meaningfully.

And the truth is, despite our best efforts, sometimes we do make mistakes. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we look silly. Sometimes we do make a bad parenting decision. Sometimes people like us less.

And these things are important. How else would we learn? How else would we grow?

You know many of the organizational leaders, philanthropists, government officials and politicians who taught me this lesson.

The most confident ones are the ones who know they are afraid, who know they will make mistakes and who do their thing anyway, everyday, as best as they possibly can.

The less confident ones, ironically, are the ones who spend their time trying to convince you that they are not afraid of anything. It’s not real.

You may be doubting me on this. You may be thinking through the people you know who couldn’t possibly be afraid of anything. Who are too together. Who are too polished. Who are too confident.

Of course you are. My Mom was convinced, too, when she met our local icon on the street.

The greatest leaders are just as afraid as everybody else. And they know it. And they act anyway.

It’s those who don’t acknowledge their fears…or those who fail to act because of them…that truly suffer.

I encourage you to spend 10 seconds each day knowing your fears and acting anyway.

And then think of the people you will run across that day, those you used to believe are not afraid of anything, and know that they are afraid, too.

They just have a funny way of showing it.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

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