I was riding Theo, a tall 27 year old bay with arthritis and a bad knee. Six months into riding lessons, I felt comfortable that Theo, who wouldn’t trot without a whip for encouragement, was a good bet for a new 62 year old rider. But on a sun-blasted blue sky day in Ojai, California, as my friend gave me some tips, Theo took off. Maybe I gave him the wrong signal, or a bee stung him, or he suddenly felt young and full of beans. Hard to know about a horse’s thoughts. Around the third turn of the ring, I came off the far side, bounced the left side of my lower back off the wooden mounting block, hit the dirt, and rolled to a stop face up

I moved my arms, tried my legs. They moved. That was good. Then I tried to breathe. No luck. None at all. Seconds passed and I remembered being hit in the solar plexus in soccer and losing my breath, but not for so long. I tried harder, making scary choking noises as I watched my friend move Theo out of the ring. Precious seconds passed bringing panic, but no oxygen.

Suddenly the thought came to me that I’d killed myself. I’d started out riding, and in the flash it took to fall I was going to end up dead. Could I really die like this? Yeah, I thought, you could, and you are.

Oddly enough, once I faced what I thought was a fact, I calmed down. At least I was going out doing something I loved, I thought, when in a gasp, I started breathing again.

During my recovery I reflected on fear. Fear is the great barrier to growing, changing, becoming the outstanding leaders we want to be. How do we overcome it? Sometimes we tackle it head on, determined to get past something that’s scared us. Maybe it’s a physical challenge. Maybe it’s fear of abandonment, financial loss, the health of those we love, taking on a new job, or new challenge at work. Sometimes our fear finds us and forces our attention, as it did me in the riding ring.

Whatever we fear, holding onto it, obsessing about it, focusing on our fear instead of where we might be if we could let it go is the first obstacle to living our leadership passion.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We don’t become heroes overnight, just a step at a time, finding strength and courage and confidence every time we look fear in the face.”

Thanks to Theo, I got to look my fear of death in the face, and now other fears are far less powerful in my life. I encourage you to think about what you fear, how it is holding you back from your best leadership…and then let it go. But I don’t recommend falling off a horse to do it!

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