“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” – BRENÉ BROWN

I’m reading a book by Brene Brown right now called, “Daring Greatly.” I appreciate the way that she writes. It’s poignant and profound, funny … and somehow freeing.
Leadership is hard enough on its own.  Add fear into the mix, it makes it staggeringly tough. I know a little bit about this. Last year, I went through six rounds of chemotherapy for Stage IV Lymphoma. Some very dark days. Required entering the hospital for five days at a time, tied to a 24 hour chemo drip. Physically, it was taxing. Mentally, it was beyond exhausting.
You see, fear takes over. You try to talk to infuse positive talk. That’s what all the self- help books tell you to do.  But all the talking in the word doesn’t keep it from taking over.
Even after the treatment was finished and it was determined that I was in remission, the fear didn’t go away.  I lead a small business. Our work is about equipping women to lead. One of the demonstrated competencies is courage. In this time, I wasn’t walking my own talk.
The outcome was that I exuded behavior that was hard on everyone around me. Especially those who worked for me. I was afraid of everything. Was I enough? Could we recover from my being out of the business for eight months? Would the business survive? Were we doing work that mattered? Why did it feel so hard?
These questions, and others like them, circulated in my brain from the time I opened my eyes in the morning, through the time that I closed them at night.
So how does a leader deal with personal fears and continue to lead? How does a leader deal with the shifts and challenges of a business and continue lead well? Certainly, I don’t want to minimize the challenges of incredibly difficult personal times. But it boils down to this. How we behave as leaders is a choice.

Perhaps some tangible offerings could help.

1) Breathe. Seriously, this is something that I often forgot to do even in my recovery from cancer. Sometimes even now I have to remind myself. There were days when I found myself holding my breath. That helps nothing. Breathing. Getting quiet. Quieting the mind. These are things that help in the middle of chaos. And it’s hard. 
2) Get Still. In general, few of us devote any amount of time to getting still. Meditation and mindfulness find little space in the busy-ness of our busi-ness. And the truth is, there’s no room for a new birthing of thought unless you give it space and invite it in.
3) Find Safe Space. Find the places/people where you can share what you’re going through. This would not include a “big sharing” of your fear with your employees. Tell them what they need to know. Be honest, but limit the bigness of what you’re feeling.  They have enough on their own plates. I never considered how difficult it must’ve been either during or after my treatment for the folks that worked for me. They had to have been scared too. They had their own lives with their own fears. Now, they were forced to take on mine. I lost an incredible employee because I could not get hold of my fear. And I didn’t even hear it directly from her. It must not have been safe to tell me. I overheard her talking to someone else on the phone.  I wish I had that time back. I would make the choice to do better.
4) Forgive yourself. There is no perfect person or perfect way through this life.  I notice that I’m harder on myself than I am on anyone else. Perhaps those who work for me would not agree, but I believe it’s true. Forgiveness of self and letting go of perfection are key. Practice courage, not perfection.
5) Honestly assess. Be careful about the difference between your perception and reality. Don’t tell yourself a story about how things are. Start with data. In my case, the data was showing that treatment was working, yet I still carried fear. I know from others who have gone through similar experience that this is not unusual.

I agree with Brene Brown. You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both. Choose courage. And when the fear gets bigger than you are… I’d advise going back to Step Number 1… BREATHE.