Do Things That Scare You: 2 Reasons Why You Should

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Courage Is Calling" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you know the right thing to do? What good can come from fear?

According to Ryan Holiday, you should do things that scare you. If an option puts a bit of panic in you, it’s probably the right thing to do. Also, you’ll grow when you do the right thing in spite of your fear.

Continue reading to learn more about why you should do things that scare you. We also include some guidelines on how to courageously do the right thing at work.

Reason #1: The Right Thing Is the Thing You Fear

According to Holiday, the right thing to do is that which helps good to overcome evil. He also argues that the right thing to do in any situation is almost always the hardest choice or the choice you fear. This is because doing the right thing often requires you to disrupt the status quo, which leads to consequences and pushback. Faced with these consequences, you’ll likely feel some fear and hesitation.

(Shortform note: Holiday states that the choice you fear is almost always the right thing to do, but in some situations, fear exists to guide you away from real danger. Ask yourself: Are you really trying to do something good or overcome evil? If not, don’t put yourself in potentially harmful situations just to prove that you can face your fears. If you’ve faced a fear once, you’ve already shown yourself you can overcome it—anything else could be needless suffering. Additionally, don’t continually do things that make you anxious just to prove you’re a certain type of person. For example, you don’t need to go skydiving when you’re afraid of heights just to prove you’re an adventurous person. You can find other ways to express your identity.)

Reason #2: Fear Leads to Growth

Holiday notes that, just as fear warns you that a situation is dangerous, it also signals a chance for you to be brave and to grow as a person. If you never do things that scare you, you’re probably not giving yourself enough chances to grow. 

For example, say you’re in a meeting at work, and a supervisor makes an inappropriate comment about one of your coworkers behind their back. The easy option would be to stay silent and move on since the situation doesn’t affect you directly. The hard option would be to speak up in defense of your coworker, or maybe even report the supervisor’s actions to human resources. You might be afraid that repercussions from the supervisor will affect your prospects at work, but this shouldn’t stop you from acting.

Rather than letting that fear control you, Holiday argues that you should let it point you toward the path of virtue, which would be protecting your coworker when they can’t do it for themselves. If you don’t speak out, he warns that you’ll lose something far more precious than any material thing—your integrity and self-respect.

(Shortform note: In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone agrees with Holiday’s assertion that fear should be a guide toward action. Cardone states that instead of letting fear dampen your confidence and motivation, you should let it drive you toward your goals. Fear means you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Often, the things we’re afraid will happen when we leave our comfort zone don’t come true, and the actions we fear offer the greatest returns. Additionally, overcoming fear is a cumulative process—the more you do things while afraid, the more confident you’ll feel doing new things in the future.)

Be “Competently Courageous” in the Workplace

Holiday writes a lot about the potential negative consequences of courageous action, but studies show that workplace courage in particular doesn’t always end poorly for those who speak out. Rather, when courageous actions are taken with skill and intention, they can lead to positive change and an increase in status for the courageous person. To improve your chances of creating positive change at work with fewer negative consequences, follow these four principles.

First, lay the groundwork by showing that you’re good at your job and you’re invested in the company. When you develop a reputation as someone trustworthy and helpful, you build up goodwill that you can later use to challenge company norms.

Second, choose your battles wisely. Sometimes, it’s better to wait to speak out until your ideas will be best received. Good timing makes for effective change. However, you shouldn’t wait to take courageous action if it compromises your integrity.

Third, persuade skillfully by framing your argument around your organization’s priorities and values. Make the people in power feel included, not attacked. Make effective use of data to support your actions, stay calm, and approach the people you’re trying to convince with empathy.

Fourth, follow up on the results of your courageous actions. Thank the people who supported you and share credit when it goes well. If it goes poorly, address any remaining conflicts and emotions that resulted from your actions.
Do Things That Scare You: 2 Reasons Why You Should

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  • Ryan Holiday's advice for how to be courageous in any situation
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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