Russian playwright Mikhail Bolkakov once said “Cowardice is the most terrible of vices.”
I’m a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. (That’s only one of my eccentric personal hobbies.) I’ve been a huge fan of the Oz books since my mother read many of them to me when I was a boy. (Most people know only L. Frank Baum’s first book, “The Wizard of Oz”, but there are actually 40 marvelous, magical, beautiful books in this series.)
I love the Cowardly Lion. He reminds me so much of me. In the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy confronts the Cowardly Lion and tells him he is nothing but a great big coward. The Lion’s reply is:
“You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all! I even scare myself. Look at the circles under my eyes! I haven’t slept in weeks!”
Me too. To be an effective executive for my company Corporate Rain International I have needed to slay this “fear” dragon each day for many years. One of the things I do to cope with this fear I learned many years ago from a fantastic acting teacher I had in New York named Michael Howard.
Michael Howard spoke to my acting class one day about how to begin rehearsing a new scene. What he said was to go immediately to the most risky, scary, personal place in the scene: that place that made us feel most fearful and exposed. This might be a spot that involved physical intimacy, like kissing, violence, or nudity. Or jealousy, rage, or cowardice. By facing the most dangerous part of the scene immediately, the rest of the scene became more accessible, less fraught. As Joseph Campbell puts it in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
How do I apply this lesson to entrepreneurship? By each day immediately doing that thing I most want not to do–by immediately making that call where I have the greatest fear of rejection, where my own feelings of cosmic inadequacy might be most called out and exposed–and taking this sweaty-palmed action the first thing in the day. I act as if I had courage and confidence and thereby have it in reality. I guess it’s kind of a business version of your inner mother telling you to eat your vegetables first. For me, it works to go daily and immediately toward my most fearful task.
So go to the danger first. As the Cowardly Lion so insightfully sings: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” A sage observation indeed. As science-fiction novelist Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Thanks Kurt.