When I was in seventh grade, I got beat up by a skinny little girl with an umbrella.
To make that picture perfectly clear, I’m saying a girl about three-eighths my size took her umbrella and beat the ever-living crap out of me with it. In front of people. It was a Hello Kitty umbrella, to add insult to minor injuries. It seemed a little immature to bring a Hello Kitty umbrella to school at that age, but I was in no position to judge.
When I was in junior high, I got beat up by a fifth grader. Bad. I got beat up bad by a fifth grader. Like blood-and-black-eyes bad. I wish this was a joke, but it’s not. It’s history—my personal, pathetic history.
I was not courageous and it showed.
All throughout school I did everything I could to avoid fights. I mean, if a skinny little seventh grade girl could do that much damage with a plastic Hello Kitty umbrella, just imagine what a regular boy my own age could do to me with a normal, heavier object! Screw that, I laid low. If someone wanted to fight me, I just gave them money. I’m not kidding. I did that a few times.
Now the question you’re asking yourself, which I’d like to answer as quickly as possible so I can get to the part in the story where I learned mixed martial arts and sparred with professional UFC fighters, is this:
“Why were you such a sissy, Preston? I’ve actually never heard of anyone being as much of a sissy as you’ve just described yourself as being.”
Great question. The answer is that my physical impotence was an outward manifestation of my inward lack of courage, the ability to take risks and act in the face of danger either without or in spite of fear. For whatever reason, I just didn’t have any.
My lack of courage spilled over into my young adult life and resulted in dysfunctional relationships, financial chaos, emotional instability and a bunch of other stuff that sucks. And the reason is because it takes courage to be successful in life. I’m tempted to say it’s the root cause of success, but every time I think I’ve figured out the root of success I find something even rootier. Let’s just say it’s one of the core fundamentals. After all, as Muhammad Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
How to be more courageous
Eventually I started to work hard to develop this missing attribute. Once I got it solidly in place, everything changed. I now walk with my head high, wallet thick and heart happy. Anyone who pulls that umbrella gimmick on me again will have a serious problem.
Here’s how to go from being wussbag to courageous in three easy steps:
1. Figure out what happens when you die.
I was at a doctor’s office the other day, and a young intern was asking me questions. I could tell something was wrong.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied. “Just a little nervous about school.”
“Do you have some fears about something?” I queried.
“Of course. Everyone does. Don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. Let me ask you a question. What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen to you on any given day?”
“I could die,” he responded.
“Right. Well, if you know where you’re going when that occurs, and that place happens to be better than this place… then what is there really to fear?”
“Sir, you just made my day,” he said.
“Well, me making your day just made my day. So it’s a great day. Best of luck to you,” I said as he walked out the door with a new look of courage on his face.
Instead of letting your fear of death control or hinder you, I suggest you get rid of it.
2. Hang out with courageous people.
3. Write a list of every single thing you are afraid of. Do them all.
Scared to ask people out on dates? Go to the mall and ask out every single person you see all day long. They’re just people, not vampires. Usually. You’ll probably be over your fear by the 10th rejection or so. Here’s a good pick up line that I just made up: “Excuse me, do you happen to have directions to Build-A-Bear? My compass is broken. As a matter of fact, I’m building this for a little homeless child that the government is ignoring for some reason. You should definitely help me build it. C’mon.” Then just grab their hand and walk them to the store. Trust me, this will work. I’ve got a good feeling about it.
Scared of heights? Go bungee jumping at the county fair. You have a better chance of getting shot by gang members at that fair than falling victim to a tragic jump.
Scared of reading the very best, most entertaining yet highly educational articles on the internet? You’re facing that fear right this second! Congratulations!
It wasn’t until I was well into my adult years that I realized I was still scared to fight. I was rich, happy and healthy, but I decided I still needed to face my biggest fear.
So I did what any abnormal person would do in that situation. I paid a professional UFC fighter to beat me up on a regular basis—literally. I told him if I wasn’t bleeding or bruised significantly at the end of each session, I would stop paying him.
He did what I asked. I got black eyes at least once a week, a broken nose that leans to the left now and broken ribs. The UFC fighter beat up so bad that I literally cried like a baby one time—in front of people.
But I also became more courageous.
The cool thing about courage is that if you gain it in one area, it trickles over into every other area of your life. Ever since I learned how to pretty much kill a man with my bare hands, things like “speaking in front of people” have gotten a lot easier.
This article was published in July 2014 and has been updated. Photo by insta_photos/Shutterstock
Preston Ely is founder and CEO of RealEstateMogul.com, an Inc. magazine "Fastest Growing Company." He has built and sold multiple businesses and was recently voted one of Fast Company's "Most Influential People On The Internet." He makes $0 a year teaching success principles; he makes millions of dollars a year applying them to his own life and businesses. He writes articles for SUCCESS.com for the fun of it. Follow him at PrestonEly.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.