The following is adapted from InnerWill.
When I was five, our house burned down in a matter of minutes. I can still remember being carried over my dad’s shoulder, out of our kitchen and past our sandbox, watching the house get consumed by a hungry and angry fire.
My dad’s response to this tragedy was to become a volunteer firefighter. My brothers and I went with him on a few of these calls when we were young. Probably not the best idea to take a handful of high-energy, low-compliance kids to burning buildings, but we loved it. I was always struck that rather than retreating, firefighters run toward danger, not away from it.
Facing challenges requires us to do something similar. Each of our fires may look different: some of our fires are the conflicts we are hoping to avoid. Some of our fires are facing our bosses or our coworkers or our customers.
We all have people and events in our lives we’d rather not face. Facing challenges means we face those events because the fear of them is holding us back, not the person or the event. It’s the voice in our head that is our enemy, not the people in our lives. And the only cure for fears like these is action.
Recognize the Challenges
So, how do we run towards our fires? How do we face the leadership challenges in our lives? The first step is recognizing those challenges.
Our brains want to make sure we are okay. For example, how many times have you said, “I can’t give my boss that feedback; it’s not the right time”? Or, “It’s just not worth it.” Secretly, we knew there was no right time.
We are exceptional at rationalizing our actions to ignore our fears. Sometimes running from the fire is the right thing. But often, it’s just us playing it safe and settling for less than ideal outcomes.
Leadership is a choice, and in those moments, we are choosing not to lead. It’s okay; we all do it.
However, what if in those moments we took a risk and we ran toward the fire? Could we save a few more people and keep the house from burning down in the first place?
Hit the Pause Button
Once we recognize the challenge facing us, the next step is to hit our pause button and ask, “What’s the most effective thing I can do at this moment?” or “What choice aligns with my values?” Then choose. Consciously. That choice leads to an action, which hopefully leads us to the results we want both in the moment and over time.
Facing challenges mostly means facing our own fears, making a choice in spite of them, and accepting the consequences. There is no silver bullet, no way to become stronger or more powerful.
But here’s the funny thing: by acting with courage and facing challenges, we strengthen our ability to face future challenges. We build confidence and muscle memory every time we do so. Want to build confidence? Act as if you are already confident.
Taking action is still the best cure for anxiety. Procrastination and rationalization are the cues to tell you when it’s time to act. Putting off something you need to do because suddenly cleaning your kitchen is a pressing issue? Chances are, that’s your brain avoiding feeling bad.
When You Fail, Get Back Up
Part of facing challenges is dealing with failure. We make mistakes, we accidentally hurt the people we care most about, we make dumb decisions.
Everyone fails from time to time. Sometimes life knocks us down. Sometimes through no fault of our own other than circumstance or bad luck or someone else’s choices, we lose, and sometimes we lose hard.
When we get knocked down and are lying on our backs, wondering what hit us, it’s easy to blame others.
It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, to throw ourselves a giant pity party or even to be a victim. It’s easy to make someone else the villain. However, when we get knocked down, the only solution is to get back up.
If you want to overcome the challenges facing you, you must develop resiliency. People who are resilient believe that failure is not permanent. They don’t believe they are bad for getting knocked down; they think they are good and worthy and have hope that the future will be better than the past.
You Can Overcome the Challenges Facing You
Ultimately, by remembering that most of the time, your fear is worse than the reality of whatever challenge you’re facing, you can overcome your fear. The key is to break it down into manageable steps.
So, identify the challenge you’re facing. Pause and reflect on the best action to take. And, if you fail, get back up. Remember, resilient people don’t internalize catastrophes or see themselves as a failure at life. The more resilient you are, the more successful you are. Resilient people get back up.
Facing challenges successfully means developing the ability to see failure as a learning opportunity or a chance for growth. We have the opportunity to conquer that little voice in our heads that says, “You’re not good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough.” Because you are, and you can overcome the obstacles in your path. You just forget that fact from time to time.
For more advice on how to overcome leadership challenges, you can find InnerWill on Amazon.
Dr. Thomas Epperson is the President of InnerWill Leadership Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has helped hundreds of organizations and the thousands of people who work there, actualize potential, maximize performance and elevate impact. With a doctorate in leadership from The George Washington University and over 20 years of experience as a leadership coach, facilitator, and speaker, he has helped more than 300 organizations transform their leadership—and their results. Now, InnerWill breaks down this complex process into actionable practices and real-world examples—with a healthy dose of humor—giving you the practical skills you need to lead more effectively at work, at home, and in your community.