Our country is in the midst of a behavioral plague. It is rooted in our growing persistence of seeking comfort rather than taking action. If there is any doubt here are just a few pre-virtual reality statistics: America consumes over 80% of the world’s legal and illegal drugs. We consume 46 pounds or corn syrup per person, watch over five hours of Television, ingest 150-170 pounds of sugar, and we average over 5 hours of cell-phone-use per day.

In a culture that has become this “checked-out,” is it any small wonder that many of us are having trouble with change? While many are putting down technology as taking away our livelihoods, we are forgetting that technology offers all of us greater abundance and freedom. How we are impacted is dependent on whether or not we use technology to check-out or leverage greater success and awareness throughout our lives.

The biological purpose of fear is to take action. But, many of us have demonized fear to the point that we will set aside the very actions that could give us the lives that we want to have in return for a bit of comfort.

Years ago, the behavioral scientist Bob Maurer asked me, “What is the single most important you need to know about someone before you marry them?” I shrugged my shoulders and laughed, “What is it, great Swami?” He said, “The single most important thing to know is how they respond to fear.” The biological purpose of fear is to take action. But, many of us have demonized fear to the point that we will set aside the very actions that could give us the lives that we want to have in return for a bit of comfort. This behavioral choice shows up in workers that hold onto unfulfilling jobs in shrinking industries rather than taking the very action that leads to reinvention and better lives. It shows up in middle-class parents who’ve embraced the role models provided by European royalty where discussions about work and responsibility are put off for so long that adolescence is delayed until middle age.

Seeking comfort over action has led to a culture where leaders patronize us with promises of a return to the past rather than having the cojones to tell us to stand-up, embrace courage, reinvent ourselves, and find new roles in the future of work. While we might find a bit of momentary comfort from the study of dysfunction, the pursuit teaches nothing of value. This is why I don’t go to my single friends for advice about my love life. I go to friends with long-term and successful marriages. Invariably they advise me to do something that requires some type of uncomfortable behavioral change. When we study the most successful people in our culture, let us notice they never talk about their quest for comfort during their breakthroughs. If all of this sounds new, start paying attention to the highest performers in the world.

Recently, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes interviewed Christopher Wheeldon, the world’s most sought-after ballet director. He told her of the moment where his groundbreaking innovations were performed for the first time; “They probably couldn’t see the sweat trickling down the back of my neck.”

When Ellen DeGeneres got her first Television show, a journalist asked what it was like to grow from being a standup at comedy clubs to a national figure. She responded; “This elevates my terror to a whole new level.”

From my point-of-view, the world’s most successful people have more than money. They also have great relationships, family members that love each other, and they develop strong romantic lives. They express enthusiasm about their physical and emotional health. All of them routinely experience fear but they don’t condemn themselves for it. This is because they haven’t bought into all of the strange myths about fear. They are at one with the biological purpose of fear: Take action. Note that I didn’t say, “Fight or flight.” Michael Phelps doesn’t debate whether to jump in the water or run! He flies with far greater fear of losing rather than winning.

In our country, underemployment has become the greatest scourge within our culture and a detour from seeing the economic opportunities in front of us right now.

Various surveys indicate that 22-48% of Americans characterize themselves as “underemployed.” From my perspective this the real reason we are in so much turmoil. The underemployed have been kicked to the curb by change. Seeking comfort isn’t changing anything in their lives. In fact, if anything, lack of action only grows the perceived need to check-out.

I am always in the midst of helping clients define what it is they most want and orchestrating their success. One told me she wanted to work for one of Europe’s most powerful CEOs. I got her the appointment and called, “You’re flying across the pond dear heart.” At the beginning of the prep session, she admitted she was petrified. I laughed, “You’re supposed to be frightened! People don’t get frightened of getting things they don’t care about! Give them what they most want and their fear only grows.” We prepared until she was ready and she works with that icon as we speak.

There is another extraordinary client who is a genius in his field. He outgrew jobs long ago. We are about to launch his business. I didn’t see him break a sweat until he disclosed what he is going to do with potential clients. All of them expressed immediate desires to work with him. Now, he is frightened.

Getting the lives that give us the greatest satisfaction of all requires rigorous self-examination. As we craft meaningful vision, it is time to sell it and to ask others to help us bring it to life.

I don’t hire or partner with people who describe themselves as “fearless.” There was a time when I didn’t quite trust myself on this matter so I would compromise and entertain the notion that somehow those of who allow ourselves to be human and still succeed were missing something. Instead, I discovered either someone who was emotionally obtuse or in greater fear than the rest of us.

The smothering of fear has gone on for centuries accomplishing nothing more than smothering our potential. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” No Franklin, The only thing we have to fear is not having the courage to take action. I have read thousands of stories of World War II Veterans telling of surviving the worst fights, of their ships blasted out from under them and treading water for hours, of having their best friend mowed down in front of their eyes. Not one of them repeated Roosevelt’s missive. They told the truth.

Why do we make up these unhealthy stories? The human brain has one differentiator from other primates. We have a highly developed cerebral cortex. That sheet surrounding our brain gives us creativity, imagination, and it gives us the power to make anything up, whether it is the truth or not the truth. So, when the need to take action comes up, we can make up stories that it is better to hide than take on the world. We can tell ourselves that people will hurt us if we become visible forgetting that if we hide too long, we will starve. In the end, success or failure is a momentary choice in how we respond to fear. Add up enough of them and we watch life from the sidelines.

Our ability to destroy change becomes especially powerful when we use five filters that have been passed down to all of us. Cynicism, contempt, aimlessness, resignation, and frenzy are proven weapons against action and progress.

What is the one key moment that determines whether or not we will succeed? It is determined by how we respond to the moment we get frightened. Do we take action or run? Deliver the report or lie? Stand up or hide? Get help or act impervious? Have the willingness to change or hang on to dwindling value? Let our fear of the future stop us or go to people who can actually lead us to our best options? Are we willing to rise with the sweat trickling down our backs?

Do we take action and get help? We have a plethora of alternatives. When some get frightened, they eat a layer-cake, lie, become mean-spirited, move, stop what they’re doing, drink alcohol, spend hours at the gym, throw-up, watch hours of Television, leave town, become overly optimistic, overpowering, sexually harass a subordinate; it is a long long list. The life that you are meant to have is based on what you do with each moment that gives you the choice: action or comfort?

A new world of work is emerging and it offers all of us new forms of freedom. The day of repetitive and meaningless tasks ought to be cast aside – right now. Instead of holding on, now is the time to let go of the leaky boat.

I founded Inspired Work 28 years ago. We are about to launch a new company that will change every single way that we communicate and deliver our work. I spent much of this past week calling major strategic partners, clients, and leaders on what we are about to do. I cannot recall being more frightened. Friday night, I could not sleep. Everyone almost instantly “got” what I described and responded with such enthusiasm that I simply could not drift away.

There’s nothing wrong with comfort! But, I’m holding off on that vacation to Lake Como until after we launch the new business. This isn’t the time for comfort. It is about reaching out and engaging the world around us with a big fat change.

Guarantees? There are no guarantees!

But, life is far more fulfilling when we spend it pursuing what we most want and doing whatever we can to increase the probability of our success!

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David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.
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