What’s the Best That Could Happen? Michelle Poler on How to Live Life Without Fear

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With hands shaking and nerves racing, a PSA employee afraid of public speaking stood in front of a packed room to introduce our Partnership event speaker, Michelle Poler. Founder of the brand Hello Fears, Poler conquered a fear every day for 100 days in a movement to develop bravery in her life. So what better way to kick off our recent Partnership seminar than with someone conquering their own fear?

Poler took the stage and immediately started dancing to upbeat music without saying a word. Though she encouraged audience members to join her, only a few brave souls rose reluctantly from their seats to dance. A feeling of discomfort settled over the audience as she broke the silence to exclaim “how many of you thought that was awkward?” A wave of relief washed over the room with the realization that it was her plan to test our comfort zones and break the ice.

Poler was not always bold enough to dance or even speak in front of a crowd of business professionals. In fact, she used to be afraid of just about everything. As a child raised by parents and grandparents scarred by their losses during the WWII Holocaust, worry was ingrained in her early on. Every choice she made growing up was based on fear, and she was careful never to overstep the walls of her comfort zone.

It wasn’t until Poler moved to New York City to earn a master’s degree in branding that things started to change. On the first day of class, her professor asked the students where they’d like to be in ten years and what major obstacle was in their way—Poler realized that fear was the only thing that could keep her from achieving her dreams.

As a project for her class, she embarked on a 100-day journey to conquer, (and document on YouTube) a fear every day, which taught her a number of life-changing lessons that can be applied to our personal and professional lives to break down the walls of our comfort zone and allow us to grow.

Focus on positive feedback

Midway through her 100-day challenge, the media caught wind of her videos, and Poler started receiving feedback from the public. While she received many positive messages, she also received some negative comments from people making fun of her or criticizing the level of her challenges. While she was initially discouraged, Poler resolved she would only respond to those who were also putting themselves out there in an effort to make a positive impact on the world. “I went from feeling judged to feeling empowered,” she stated.

With this example, she encouraged the PSA Partnership audience to follow suit—not to let fear or naysayers hold them back. We should always focus on the positive feedback to our ideas and actions, which is key to spark a culture that fosters personal and professional progress.

Be courageous to take actions

Is there something you’ve been wanting to try at your company that you think could affect positive change? Maybe suggesting a new strategy, leading a project, changing a policy, or implementing a different leadership style? What’s holding you back?

At fear #95 (jumping off a cliff into water), Poler froze at the edge of the cliff, holding up a very long line and enduring the comments of an exasperated life guard. A nervous little girl crept up to the edge with her, took a deep breath…and jumped. In that moment, Poler understood: “we’re not supposed to be fearless—just brave. Courage is contagious.

A child taught her what other leaders in her life had failed to show her. Some people are fearless, which translates to recklessness, and others are fearful, too afraid to take any risks at all. Somewhere in the middle, where we embrace the possibility of failure, we find courage and progress, and we inspire others to grow as well.

Create a culture of positive risk-taking and reward

When Poler was anxiously facing her 100th fear of public speaking at TedEx, someone backstage asked her “what’s the worst that could happen?” This, of course, just stressed her out even more as a myriad of thoughts of failure rushed through her mind.

This is exactly the thinking that hinders us all. Poler explains that we can’t muster the courage we need when we’re focusing on worst-case scenarios—we have to flip the question and ask ourselves—what’s the BEST that could happen? We have to focus on the rewards—the best-case scenarios—which will empower us and carry us through business challenges and projects.

But focusing on the reward is not enough. In order for employees to be willing to occasionally fail for the ultimate reward of succeeding, there needs to be support from leadership—employees need to be encouraged to take calculated risks instead of fearing consequences.

‘The enemy of success is comfort—not failure,’ said Poler.

Maybe if we stepped out of our comfort zones we could spearhead an impactful initiative, cultivate a culture of risk-taking employees, achieve success and fulfillment in our careers, be proud of ourselves, and inspire others.

Since facing her fears head-on, Poler has expanded her comfort zone and steps beyond it daily. She has developed her own brand and movement. In the process, she has inspired working women to finish their college degrees, sparked hope in students struggling with depression, prompted the PSA marketing team to overcome our various challenges, and even inspired several PSA Partnership event attendees to conquer their fears in the name of progress.

“I conquered a fear after the PSA Partnership event. The night after the workshop, I started writing a book.”

“Your PSA Marketing team conquering their fears inspired me. I have a huge fear of escalators stemming from a fall 15 years ago. Because of them, I rode 8 different escalators on Friday while in D.C. Their courage gave me courage!”

“Your Partnership event was so inspiring, I found myself facing a goal/fear a few minutes later. Posting a LinkedIn video can be intimidating, but I was able to take the leap! I mean, what’s the BEST that could happen? It’s imperative to continue pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, allowing continual growth.”

Courage is contagious. Where do you want to be as an organizational leader in ten years? In the words of Michelle Poler, “what would you get uncomfortable for?”

Interested in learning more? Be sure to check our website soon for our next Partnership event and register.