Fear is a powerful thing. And if you’re not careful, it can become debilitating. It can also become a benchmark for opportunities you never knew existed. I found this out when I stepped foot onto the stage for my very first dance recital when I was a little girl. I was terrified of the enormity of the audience (which was probably about 10 people), of messing up, and of freezing on stage. But none of those things happened. The recital went as smoothly as any toddler recital could go, and I would go on to repeat the harrowing act countless times as I danced my way through young adulthood. What I came to learn in dance is that no matter what happens on stage, you just keep going.
Acknowledging fear reveals strength
This past March I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker and YouTube influencer Michelle Poler speak at the Miami University Women’s Leadership Symposium. Michelle grew up a very fearful person, but after moving to New York to attend NYU as a young adult, she decided to do something about it. In an effort to be more brave, she took on a project for professor Debbie Millman, where she challenged herself to face 100 fears in 100 days. The design school assignment ended up changing her life.
Michelle’s project tapped into some very personal anxieties, but she shared her story anyway. Her 100 fears journey eventually reached a massive audience on social media, gaining media attention and leading her to a crossroads in her life, forcing her to decide if she was going to step forward into possibility or step back into safety. After all, safety is stable and possibility is not a promise. But, Michelle had learned that with growth and possibility comes purpose. She (fearfully) quit her job, became a motivational speaker, and started hellofears.com as a platform for others to share their stories of overcoming fear. As stated by her professor Debbie Millman: “What I really believe Michelle was experiencing was tapping into her inner strength that was there all along.”
Being an admittedly fearful person, Michelle’s story affected me personally. It made me recall the lesson in perseverance that I’d learned through dance, and it also reminded me that tapping into an inner strength is what I try to do for every brand I work with—helping them have the courage to look within themselves, discover the deeper meaning behind what they do, and move forward on their vision.
Fear gets us to the heart of the matter
One of my favorite projects I’ve worked on at Intrinzic is the brand culture development work we did for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Bee has been a part of Americana almost from the beginning. It connects to many key elements of the American culture: education, competition and national pride. It is a national institution that that has been thoroughly embraced by our culture, and broadly shaped by it, so evolving the Bee’s brand was met with some trepidation. But, we worked with them and discovered a deeper ambition of the Spelling Bee. Beyond believing in education and the power of language, the spirit of the Bee is making learning and language fun, entertaining and accessible to all, and the highly emotive language and visual strategies we created for the brand focus on the spellers as the heart of the bee.
Fear helps navigate risk
I also find it inspiring when big, iconic brands make courageous decisions and evolve their purpose in new ways. For example, we all know that Toms founder Blake Mycoskie pioneered the risky one-for-one business model back in 2006. But, what he’s done in the last couple of years could be considered even riskier than that original venture. Mycoskie sold half of his company to Bain Capital for $200 million and then used $100 million of that money to start an investment fund that will back companies that are striving to be social entrepreneurs like Tom’s. Mycoskie trusted that Bain was committed to his social mission and he needed their backing to keep his company moving forward with its mission. That trust helped him reconsider what Tom’s mission was.
“We thought that ‘One for One’ was why we do what we do, but we realized that it is just what we do,” Mycoskie told Fast Company last year. “The ‘why’ of our mission is that we care for one another.”
With this, Toms launched ads that complement the “One for One” logo with a new one, “For One, Another.” It’s a broader slogan, one that matches Mycoskie’s ambition: to make social entrepreneurship the future of business.
Fear fuels stronger strategy
These stories are all great reminders of how people and brands can benefit from pushing past their comfort zones. When we see a fear for what it really is – an emotion that helps us cope with a threat – we can deal with it strategically to create something new and more compelling. Facing our fears moves us and everyone around us into the future with the strength and smarts that can only come after we’ve tried and tested something we weren’t 100% positive we could do.
Michelle Poler’s 100 Days Without Fear
Debbie Millman’s Design Matters Podcast