Even the Most Fearsome are Fearful

Ever wonder what drives people to be mean, vicious, violent and cruel? Is it a lack of humanity, “bad genes” or the “the devil” at work?

There is a simpler answer: FEAR.

I saw the documentary Tyson this weekend. Mike Tyson was once the most feared human being on the planet. What was behind his ferociousness? His own inexorable fear.

Tyson grew up on the meanest streets of Brooklyn, where he was robbed, bullied and humiliated by older boys. At the time, he was too scared to fight back, and as he later candidly admitted, “I’m afraid of being that way again.”

When a thug gratuitously killed one of his pet pigeons, Tyson went wild and beat the kid up. Once he learned to fight, he was never going to let himself be “bullied” again, “because if anyone tried to humiliate me again, I would kill them.”

The director of the film explained in an interview, “Fear was behind everything. His entire life was a response to his ongoing, pervasive, deep-rooted fear in and out of the ring.”

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid,” he said at one point in the film, voicing his state of mind just moments before a professional fight.

I find it fascinating how ironic life and people can be. (This relates to a prior post about the pendulum effect with most people’s personalities and behaviors.) The more one tries to use fear to make others afraid, the more afraid they become. The more one tries to exert their confidence and superiority over others, the more insecure and inferior they are revealed to be. The more people distrust others, the less trustworthy they are themselves, and so on.

The takeaway lesson:
When people try to use fear and intimidation, realize that they are motivated by their own fear. Likewise, people who try to exert their superiority are doing it because of their own insecurity. With this awareness, you’ll understand it’s about them and not about you or the circumstances. You can now respond in empathy rather than retribution. And, ultimately, this will be the response that disarms, rather than exasperates, them and keeps the situation from escalating.

Other interesting lessons observed in Tyson’s life and profile:

Power of a Mentor: A juvenile delinquent at age 12, Tyson was taken under the wing of legendary fight trainer Cus D’Amato. He became the father Tyson never had. Cus infused his beliefs in Tyson when Tyson had none for himself. “He’d tell me, ‘You have a chance to change your life; you could devastate the world.’ I started believing in this old man,” Tyson said. Without a mentor, Tyson would have only continued to be a common gangbanger.

Power of Training and Discipline: Cus taught Tyson discipline, hard work, and the mental preparedness of competition and winning. The results were astounding: Tyson defeated every opponent he met and became the youngest heavy-weight champion of the world at only age 20.

Nothing Fails like Success: Without the guidance of his mentor (Cus died just before Tyson’s world champion title was won), and without the continuance of his discipline, hard work and training, Tyson became lazy and fell into the “trappings of success.” Talent and ability were not enough. Tyson lost his title fight to Buster Douglas in 1990.

Your Wealth Will Always Match Your Self: Throughout his career, Tyson was paid more than $370 million. Each time he received large sums of money, he found ways to quickly squander it. He even filed for bankruptcy as recently as 2003.

“I either have a ton of money or no money,” Tyson said as he winced at the camera with painful eyes.
Why? Because his external wealth didn’t match his assessment of his internal wealth (self-identity, self-worth). He consciously (or unconsciously) depleted his resources to match his own perception of his self-worth. We see this syndrome continually played out with lottery winners, professional athletes, Hollywood actors and others who are the recipients of sudden wealth.

As Jim Rohn says, “If you win a million dollars, the first thing you need to do is to become a millionaire—develop the mindset, habits and character of a millionaire.”

There is a great lesson here: It’s not about the money. It’s about your personal development. Money will always meet you where you are. Like water, it seeks its own level of equilibrium. Only when you grow (through personal development, self-esteem and character) will your money (income and wealth) grow. The key to creating wealth is to focus on you, not it.

Even if you’re like me and aren’t a Tyson or a boxing fan, I’d recommend this film. It’s an interesting documentary filled with valuable lessons that serve as both an example of how to achieve champion-level success and a warning against succumbing to our own worst fears.


Darren Hardy is the former publisher of SUCCESS magazine, an entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author of The Compound Effect and Living Your Best Year Ever: A Proven Formula for Achieving Big Goals.

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