When I was 8, I was a rockstar Little Leaguer. Fastest kid on my team, lead-off hitter, All Star a few years in a row. Baseball was my passion. Until the middle of the season, when this opposing punk pitcher with the most feared fastball in our league decided to drill me. One of those pitches where you see it coming at you and have just enough time to turn and take it right in the middle of your back.
I won’t lie: it hurt like a mother. And I definitely cried.
The rest of the game (and the next few), all I did was strike out. I changed where I stood in the batter’s box, jumped back any time I thought the ball was coming inside and, quite frankly, just didn’t want to be there. At one point, I actually asked my coach, “Can you just let someone else hit and I will run for them once they get on base?”
Fear stole my passion.
That’s when my coach decided to help me take back control of my fear. Just before batting practice the following day, he pulled me aside to talk.
“Matt, you’re one of the best players on the team. We depend on you. Right now, you’re scared. I see it every time you step into the box. Am I right?”
“Okay then, let’s fix it. Pick up your bat and head to the plate.”
As I started walking, he headed out to the pitcher’s mound with a bucket full of balls. I took my stance, determined to cure my mental issues. I took a practice swing or two, then dug my cleats into the dirt and stared right at coach. He stared right back. I kept repeating to myself, “You can do this, you can do this…”
Just before pitching, coach said, “Matt, this is going to hurt, but you’re going to thank me later.”
I had no clue what he meant.
He then proceeded to throw a fastball right at me. A grown man fastball. It was nothing like the one the aforementioned punk hit me with … I didn’t even have time to react to this one. Nailed me right in the left shoulder and I immediately dropped my bat and started crying.
“Matt, pick up your bat and get back in there.”
I did not pick my bat up. Hell, I couldn’t even see it with all the tears in my eyes.
“Matt, pick it up or you’re going to run until you fall.”
I hate running long distances. Always have. So I decided to pick up the bat and get back in there. I wiped my face with my shirt, dug my cleats in and was ready for the next one.
“Matt, I want you to channel that fear you have right now. Channel the anger you’re feeling. Embrace it and use it to crush this next pitch…”
I watched the ball leave his hand and stepped right into it, swinging with everything I had. This time it was his turn to not have a chance to react— line drive right back that hits him square in the chest. Sweet revenge!
[Note: 100% authentic story, I couldn’t make this up if I tried.]
He didn’t cry. Instead, he walked over to me and said, “Do you realize that in this league you will never have someone hit you with a pitch as hard as I just hit you? And not only did you get back up and try again, you tore the cover off the ball!”
He pointed to my head, “Fear is all in there, Matt. If you can accept that fear and use it, there is no stopping you.”
This Little League ball coach cemented in me as an 8-year old boy that I can’t let fear control me. Just like everyone else in this world, I still find myself afraid sometimes. I get anxious. I have self doubt. But I frequently think back to that crazy — borderline abusive? — turn of events and remind myself that I can overcome any situation by accepting fear and turning it into fuel.
In entrepreneurship, doubt, worry and fear abound. Different levels of each of these impact all of us on a regular basis. If you aren’t experiencing these feelings, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.
Rarely do fear or doubt enter when I’m doing something I’ve done a million times before. You fear when you take a leap of faith, like when you launch a new business because you believe in its potential… or the first time you’re meeting with a prospect you know would be your biggest customer… or you find yourself on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers expecting you to enlighten them with fresh perspective.
The moments that make you feel alive are those when you stare fear in the face. And just like my coach painfully taught me, the more accustomed you become to defeating fear, the easier it becomes to step up to the plate.