During the past few weeks I have been thinking and talking about fear. It’s an uncomfortable topic, as it often means confronting something uncomfortable in ourselves.

Fear is a normal part of the human experience. I’m not talking about being chased by a bear type of fear, rather the everyday fears we all face. When we choose to confront our fears, we can move through them and grow. This is the underlying belief I shared in the first post: The sweet essence of our fears.

I then explored the behaviours used to protect us from our fears. When we can start to recognize behaviours as pointing towards a fear, we can start to address the fear which is holding us back. Check it out in: Wait … what was that?

To wrap up this series I thought I’d interview a leader about their perspective on fear. I know lots of courageous people. They take chances. They seek constant growth and do crazy things I couldn’t imagine doing. They stretch themselves way out of their comfort zone and just go for it.

One of these courageous people is my good friend Dave Dame. 

Dave lives in Toronto with his wife Kelly. Dave commutes to work on the subway, holds a position as Vice-President of Agile Delivery at Scotia Bank. Dave has walked five kilometres in a fund-raising marathon, swam in the ocean, loves cruise vacations in the warm south, has been on a water slide and travels for business. Dave also delivered his first TEDx talk last week.

Walking through his fears

When I asked Dave about his experience with fear he went immediately to one of his most memorable accomplishments. Dave set out to walk 5 km in the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope. While this might seem like an admirable goal, Dave has Cerebral Palsy. This takes the challenge behind the goal to a whole new level.

The idea to take on the walk came to Dave when he was working out with a personal trainer. Dave knew it was not an easy goal to set. When I asked Dave to described the challenge in this goal he told me:

“Well, working out is hard work, and then there’s potato chips.”

This fear in the challenge got real when Dave declared his intentions on Facebook:

“Declaring this goal on Facebook scared the shit out of me. I’ve never walked that far, and the endurance required scared me. However, the fear became my fuel for the endurance needed.”

In my last few posts, I’ve talked about how acknowledging a fear will disempower the story you’re telling yourself. In this case, Dave spent more than a year preparing for his walk. Through time, he continually faced his fears and chose to keep moving towards them. The fears themselves became his fuel, allowing him to rewrite his story.

Dave completed the 5 kms walk in 2014, raising more than $30,000 for Terry Fox’s cause.

Living with fear in Toronto

Dave’s courage extends beyond his physical accomplishments. Dave and his wife Kelly moved to Toronto in 2015. Moving to Toronto meant finding new ways to get around, hiring new support workers, and finding an employer who would provide him with the support he needs.

Even more important than the opportunities are the fears he’s chosen to confront. Commuting to work using the subway by himself. Finding new structures and support workers to be able to do things many of us take for granted.

“It’s a different type of vulnerability when you have to start over like this.” Dave described the decision to move to Toronto as “holy shit scary!” Moving to Toronto meant finding a new personal support worker, who he would be dependent on to help him get ready for work every day.

Inspiring leadership at TEDx

Last week, I had the pleasure to be present when Dave overcame one of his biggest fears. Dave got on stage at TEDx Toronto and inspired leadership through his story. To get on such a big stage and tell his story took a great deal of courage. However, by choosing to do this Dave has inspired leaders to push through adversity.

At the time of this interview, Dave was preparing for the TEDx talk. TEDx is a big stage to find yourself on. There were 1,300 in attendance, and then there’s the video of your talk that will be shared for all to see.

I asked Dave about his experience in preparing as surely it must be pretty daunting to take such a big stage:

“I’d equated preparing for the TEDx talk with preparing for the Terry Fox walk. My fears have become the fuel to keep me moving forward to this goal.”

A relationship with fear

If you know Dave, you know I could go on at length about the stories he told me. However, I wanted to ask Dave about his relationship with fear:

“In the past 40+ years I’ve been able to go into a bigger and bigger worlds and to change it in ways I couldn’t imagine.

I think you have to search for fear. Not the “I’m going to hang upside down from a building”, but the fear of trying something new. What is it I’m going to look for and poke a new hole.

There are plenty of self-improvement books with lots of advice on “how to get better at … , “how to get more …”, “how to have more friends”, and many more. I’d rather read a book which asks you to “find a new weakness”, or “discover something you didn’t know about yourself”

Think of a roller coaster where you get off and go “I didn’t die” because I grew from it and moved through it. Fear isn’t about having less confidence, but in embracing what gives you the opportunity to grow.

I know it’s cliche, but “No one ever laid on their death bed and said I wish I worked harder. But, they do lay on their death bed and say I wish I took more chances. I think it’s that thrill of feeling alive because sadly you can live without feeling alive.”

Thanks Dave!