Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously

One day, you’ll need to make a choice. Should you do the safe thing, which probably won’t work—but you won’t be criticized for doing? Or, should you risk trying the unknown thing, where you might succeed spectacularly or fall flat on your face? How do you know what choice to make?

Many of my best accomplishments have come when I first felt afraid but kept going anyway.

Feeling scared, nervous, and uncomfortable is normal when you’re changing your life, starting a business, or reaching for a new goal. Discomfort is the price of admission for an extraordinary, resilient life. Right now, the only difference between you and any person living their dream is how you handle fear.

Get on the Mat

I learned this one day when I was competing in judo, a sport I took up at 32. Back then, I was a first-year brown belt—not a black belt, but I was lucky enough to be chosen to represent the U.S. National Team for a couple of meets in Europe.

That day, we were at the Hungarian National Championships. I was overwhelmed and scared because it was my first big international meet. Then I saw the brackets for the competition. I had to sit down on the floor because I felt so nauseous. My first match was with the current Hungarian National Champion. Given the single-elimination feature of the competition, it would probably be my last.

When I told my coach about my fear, about how I had never been so afraid of competing in my entire life, he knew just what to say. He turned to me and drawled, “Yeah, and, so what? If they gave a gold medal for being afraid, Benincasa, everyone would have one. You can only win a gold medal if you get on the mat and fight.”

I wasn’t comforted by his words. When my turn came to fight, I had no other thought than “I want to disappear right now.” As I bowed onto the mat, I hoped it would be over quickly. And it was.

Take Action 

At that moment, I could have let fear overwhelm me. I could have frozen, fumbled, or failed.

Instead, I took action. I walked straight toward my opponent and without hesitation went for the only throw she probably hadn’t seen at the international level—the Benincasa Pile Driver.

The match was over in 10 seconds. I reached high for her collar to distract her then immediately ducked and grabbed both of her legs, driving my shoulder into her stomach, pushing her body onto the mat. The referee immediately raised one arm straight over his head, indicating a full point—and the win. I had beaten the Hungarian National Champion.

Embrace Fear

I didn’t get any further in the competition, but I learned a valuable lesson. Embrace fear. Fear is an ever-present factor in our lives when we face challenges, adversity, and risks. In fact, fear is such a big part of life that I’ve learned to welcome it like a vigilant guardian and trusted friend who gives me the  ”heads up” to be my best.

In other words, resilient living isn’t about NOT having fear. Success is about being afraid

and taking action anyway. So, when you’re faced with a major setback or that next big leap in life, it’s okay to let fear whisper in your ear, but let courage rule your actions.

Step Into Character 

Here’s a very important thing to remind yourself…Nobody knows all of the insecurities and worries that are going on inside of your head but you. Remember that to the outside world, you appear 100% to be the successful businesswoman, world class triathlete, dad of the year, superstar litigator, (enter your dream here). 

When you have those moments of self-doubt, here’s something fun to do: Try to see yourself the way your colleagues and closest friends see you – confident, smart, talented – and BE that person. Step into character. It doesn’t even matter if you’re faking it, because you become what you believe. 

For example, I’m the biggest introvert on earth, and one of my other full-time/part-time jobs in addition to being a firefighter is being a speaker. Ninety times a year I’m on a stage inspiring and entertaining (hopefully!) wonderful leaders from major corporations on the subjects of how to Build World Class Teams and Adapt, Overcome, and Win as One. And every single time while I’m pacing behind the scenes, with my heart beating out of my chest, I wonder if I’m going to have the courage to walk out onto that stage. But then I tap into something that my friend and team manager told me at one of my first presentations…

I was speaking at a conference called Real Time, organized by Fast Company Magazine because my adventure racing team had been the focus of a feature story in their magazine entitled Extreme Teamwork. One of the images they used for the article was a sweaty, sandy shot of my teammate and me looking rather heroic and happy after an intense beach bootcamp class. 

Right before I went on stage in front of a room full of 200 business leaders, I was so nervous that I thought I was going to pass out. The room was spinning, I had forgotten everything I was going to say, and I feared that everyone in the room was going to be able to see what an amateur I was. And then my friend, sensing my stress and panic, came over to me, put her hand on my shoulder, and said “Everyone out there came to see the beautiful, badass woman in that article who is going to make them even better leaders. You don’t have to feel like her – you just have to BE her when you walk out there. Give them the Superhero they came to see.”

And then it clicked. I WANTED more than anything to be the Supergirl that they were counting on to entertain and enlighten them that morning. I envisioned the smart, strong, fun world class adventure athlete whose unique leadership wisdom would be more than worth the hour of the time these important business leaders willingly gave to me. And the moment I walked on stage, I magically became her. I stepped into character. And that marked the real beginning of my life as a speaker. 

Twenty years and thousands of keynotes later, I still get nervous, I still have doubts, I still fear that I’m going to forget my most salient and important points, and my heart rate is still 120 just standing in the wings before I go on. That’s par for the course when one seeks a moment of peak performance.

So, whenever fear or anxiety starts to kick in and you start doubting yourself, envision the smart, strong, resilient person that everyone is expecting you to be (vs the little, scared version of yourself that tries to run the show), and become that person. Step into character and you’ll inspire others to see their inner Superhero too!