Face Your Fears
Don’t let anyone tell you that entrepreneurs are a special breed of human being—that they, unlike normal people, feel no fear. That is not true and it’s not what being undaunted is about.
Quite the opposite. Being undaunted is understanding what your fears are, deciding when it’s important to face up to them, preparing yourself to confront them, and then working through them.
When you do, two things happen.
First, you put that particular fear in its place.
Second, and even more important, you gain confidence to overcome any fear, any obstacle that might stand in your way.
That’s the key: The more success you have at taking on your fears, the more confidence you gain to take on others. It’s a virtuous circle.
Which is why, a few years ago, I decided to hike the Grand Canyon.
I’ve always had a terrible fear of heights. I remember visiting the Canyon as a very young girl and hearing about people hiking it “rim to rim.”
Maybe one day I will have the courage to do it, I thought.
Then one fall a few years ago, My sister, Maureen, told me she was planning to hike the Grand Canyon and asked if I’d go with her. She had booked the cabins. All I had to do was say yes. My first reaction was terror. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, you know what I’m talking about. The cliffs are steep and the canyon floor looks like it’s almost straight down. I can feel the palms of my hands start to sweat just writing about it.
But the timing was right. By then I had faced and overcome so many things in my personal life and in building our company, I thought I could do this. I’d prepare like crazy. And I’d keep telling myself: You can do it. I also figured there was plenty of time to back out.
I said okay.
We worked out the plan in detail. We recruited others to join us. My husband Theo volunteered to drive around to the south side to pick us up at the end of the day.
The big day came. We woke up at a hotel in the park at the North Rim. Theo dropped us off and kissed me goodbye. We were on the trail by 4:00 a.m., our headlamps illuminating the trail a few feet ahead, the Canyon completely in darkness. I felt nothing but exhilaration. No fear.
I’ve got it made!
Well, just like in business, nothing ever goes according to plan. Or as Mike Tyson famously put it, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
I didn’t get punched in the mouth, but I did almost get kicked in the head. After a couple hours of hiking, my sister and I were together, negotiating our way carefully down the trail. Suddenly, a herd of mountain goats came careening down the cliff and leaped over our heads, coming very close to taking us with them down the cliffside.
After the initial shock, Maureen and I started to laugh. It was a shock, an amazing sight, and also kind of a wake-up call. Even with all the training and outfitting we had done, and even with all the care we were taking as we walked, the whole thing came very close to an abrupt conclusion, thanks to a bunch of goats.
Wild animal disruption had certainly not been in the plan.
As the sun rose, we were treated to one of the most spectacular views on earth. We made it to the bottom by about 9:00 a.m. When I gazed back up at the North Rim trail we had just completed, I thought, Well, we’ve done the hard part. How much worse can it get?
After a rest and plenty of Hint, we set off along the Bright Angel Trail. I hadn’t given much thought to this part of the trek, because it was relatively flat and seemed like it would be easier going. The problem was the heat and almost complete lack of shade. I was constantly thirsty, and I started to worry I might not have enough Hint to get me through. That would be ironic. The founder of a water company dies of thirst?
My legs felt like rubber and my brain was foggy. And I was hot. So hot. We were walking along the Colorado River at that point. My fellow hikers took notice, and got me to a calm spot in the river and we all plunged in. It felt fantastic. I started to cool down. My strength came back bit by bit. My mind started to clear.
We made it across the Canyon floor to the base of the South Rim trail, and I slowed down a bit, separating from the group. Just as I was trudging along, eyes focused on the rocky ground at my feet, I looked up and there was a rattlesnake on the trail, just a few feet in front.
Being from Arizona, I have some knowledge of rattlesnakes. I knew they don’t usually make a move toward you unless they think you’re attacking them. But I also knew that you needed to stay far enough away from them, at least twelve feet, as they can move fast, jump at you, and bite.
I considered my options. I could have moved backward, but that might startle him. I could try to maneuver around him, but the cliff going up was much too steep to climb. If I went around the other side, I would have to look down, and fear might kick in. If I lost my balance, I could easily go over the edge.
I decided to wait it out. Do nothing. Just see what happened. Ten minutes went by. Twenty. The snake and I looked at each other.
Finally, the rattlesnake slithered off the trail and disappeared into the rocks. Relieved, and a bit rested, too, I set off again. Thinking: Okay, that’s about as bad as it can get. I’ll be at the top soon.
After another hour or so of steady climbing, I came around the corner of a switchback and there, dead ahead, were two coyotes standing in the trail. They looked like small wolves, and I had no desire to mess with them. Another roadblock. Another situation for which I had no plan. Cliffs on both sides. No way around.
I felt like I was about at the end of my rope. I remember thinking,
So this is how it’s going to end? A coyote is going to finish me off?
Then I felt a surge of energy. No way, I said to myself. I’ve been through too much. I overcame my fear of heights. I avoided heat stroke. I survived a goat attack. I stared down a rattlesnake. I’m not going to let these coyotes get in my way.
Filled with renewed courage and confidence, I laughed out loud. The coyotes turned around and sprinted away.
I kept going, my mind essentially blank. I still had quite a way to go, but at least I could glimpse the top. The sun had set, it was dark and it was hard to see the trail. But I had my headlamp. I lost track of time, but I also knew I wasn’t going to spend the whole night in the canyon. Then I heard someone coming down the trail. I felt an immediate sense of alarm. Who would start the hike at night? I wondered.
“Kara, are you okay?”
It was Theo. Part of our crew had been at the top for almost an hour. Theo had gotten worried and started down the trail to find me. He could tell I was exhausted, but I was smiling and calm. A few minutes later, I was on top. The ordeal was over.
This is an extract from Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters by Kara Goldin, republished with permission from the author and publisher.
This article was featured in the October 18, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.