Most People Fear the Wrong Thing

In the spring of 1976, I told my mom and dad that I was going to give up Scouting to focus on high school sports. We had moved from Ohio to Virginia and I lost my Scoutmaster. My mom was devastated. She said that this decision would stay with me for the rest of my life. I only lacked four merit badges and a service project to get my Eagle Badge. She knew how close I was and that it was a life-altering decision, but I didn’t believe her at the time.

I had lost my passion, ambition, and drive to get my Eagle Badge. To this day, that decision to give up on that goal is the worst and most devastating decision I have ever made. I vowed that I would never again stop on the five-yard line when I was so close to scoring and achieving my goals.

In 1989, I started a tradition for my mentor, Bill, and me. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I invited him to lunch. It was a way for me to thank him for being there for me, and it provided time to connect and catch up.

I had a pretty good year in 1989. Terri and I were in our first house, both employed, doing pretty well financially, and expecting our first child. As we were having lunch, we talked about the new president, George Bush, and whether would he be able to carry on what President Reagan started.

At lunch, my mentor gave me a history lesson. I knew that President Franklin Roosevelt inspired Bill because of the things he told me about the fireside chats he listened to in the 1930s and 1940s. What I didn’t know was that he met President Roosevelt in person in 1938!

Bill told me that President Roosevelt was just like he was on the radio, approachable and amiable. He was focused and optimistic. He told me that he could feel the passion President Roosevelt had for being president and helping people. Hence his famous quote, ” The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.”

“I was only around him for a couple of minutes, but I left inspired,” Bill said. “Just hearing the passion behind Roosevelt gave me passion for my own business. I felt like if I could keep my love for what I was doing, I would be successful.”

Roosevelt wasn’t the only president Bill met. He got the opportunity to meet President Reagan in 1980.

“Reagan was gracious but serious,” Bill said. “He was focused but adaptable. I also could tell he was amiable and wanted to get to know you as a person. He wanted to understand how he could help people. They were both different in their own ways, but I saw some similarities between the two men.”

“What did you see that made you think that?” I asked. “Both of the men were able to find a way to turn their weaknesses into strengths,” Bill replied.

Bill went on to explain some of the other similarities he saw between the two men. Both presidents valued loyalty and competence; both were able to distinguish between foreign policy, domestic policy, and energy policy; and both could focus and make decisions based on their one-world view, which encompassed all policies from a holistic perspective.

When they made decisions, they leaned into their faith. Because of that, they never wavered. They knew their decisions were based on a higher calling. Bill also said that he learned that both President Roosevelt and President Reagan relied on an inner circle of people who guided them in tough times.

( Hint, have a personal kitchen cabinet you can rely on. Bill modeled that for me with his personal kitchen cabinet)

And he made a critical distinction that ultimately gave me the emotional strength on January 15, 2009.

Bill told me that great leaders, such as Roosevelt and Reagan had one belief that all outstanding leaders have.

They feared people so little and they feared their Creator so much, their faith gave them the strength to make those world-changing decisions in the most stressful times.

The lesson, most people fear the wrong things.

Roosevelt faced Nazi dictatorship versus freedom. Reagan faced communism versus freedom. Both were faced with good versus evil, which is a primary tenet of believing in something bigger than yourself. Both were passionate about their worldviews. Both had a vision for an alternative future, and both will be remembered as great presidents.

We finished up our lunch together, and as always, I felt like I’d learned so much. Then Bill added to it with this last bit of knowledge that he had learned from his own mentor, and he felt was reinforced in his interactions with the presidents: “Always have work worth doing and do it extremely well, with passion.”

That day, I received a first-hand history lesson of two great presidents. That conversation is embedded in my head and heart. I learned a great deal about personal leadership and how passion can not only drive you, but also set you on your pathway to your destiny.

I had a passion for Scouts, and at just 11 years old, I had set a goal for myself, but when I lost my trusted leader, I lost some of that passion. I failed to meet my goal, but I wonder sometimes, what would have happened if I’d had the opportunity to be inspired by a great leader when I was fifteen years old.

Bill found inspiration in Roosevelt and Reagan, as did many other Americans. Those lessons imparted to me by Bill came back to me 20 years later, when I was faced with my own challenge in becoming a leader to others.

On January 15, 2009, I was confronted with that challenge, and somewhere during those fateful minutes as the plane went into the Hudson River and after, those moments at that lunch and the lessons of great leaders were driving me.

  1. turn your weaknesses into strengths
  2. focus and make decisions based on your values and what is the right thing to do
  3. lean into your faith
  4. the work you do, do it extremely well, with passion
  5. don’t fear the wrong things

The same can be done in your life. Your passion will drive you and can also set you on your pathway to your destiny. You may be on a specific path in your life. You may be happy and prosperous, but if you don’t have passion for that path, you will never truly be fulfilled.

If you lean into your faith and don’t fear the wrong things, you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.

And if you do that, you will begin to create opportunity out of uncertainty and your flight plan to a life of happiness and fulfillment.