When I was a senior in high school applying to colleges, there was only one university in our entire state (the thought of going out of state didn’t even cross my mind) that had a law program: West Virginia University. And, not knowing much about how these things worked at the time, I assumed that if you wanted to get into a school’s law program then you would have to do your entire undergrad studies there as well. That it was all just one big 7-year track and if you didn’t start there right from the beginning with year one, then basically you weren’t going.
But here was the thing: at the time that I was applying, WVU had something like 22,000 (I’m sorry, make that twenty-two THOUSAND) students. And I was from the top of a mountain outside of a town of about 2,000 people. Total.
And because of that I was absolutely and 100%, genuinely convinced that if I enrolled at WVU that fall, that I would flunk out by the spring semester. It was just way too big. There were way too many students who would be so much smarter than me. And I just wouldn’t be able to keep up. So convinced was I of my imminent demise, that up until a month before we had to declare our attendance I was seriously and wholeheartedly considering just taking a spot at our local area college. Population 3,000.
Bear in mind a decision, that in my head at least and the way I understood it, was basically the equivalent of saying “so… I’ll just never go to law school.”
But, my family launched a strong campaign for WVU and at the last minute I decided to go. Still fully petrified that I would fail, flunk out. And disappoint everyone. I was so afraid, in fact, that I spent the whole first semester in my first year of college cooped up in my dorm room studying like a mad woman. I went to class and I studied. And that was about it. And with every exam that I was absolutely certain I was going to fail, much to my continued surprise they kept coming back with good grades. Which I of course continued to just dismiss as a fluke. And on and on this went to my continued shock & awe, so that by the time I was headed home for the Christmas break I was taking with me a transcript full of straight A’s. (For those of you who are not “grades” people and this story is making you roll your eyes right now, just stay with me. I’m getting to a point I swear.)
So, my first point is this. What I’ve come to realize over the last few years that I did not realize at the time is this: in every instance, fear gives you a choice. See, in and of itself, fear is not a bad thing. It’s just how we think about it and what we do with it, that makes it so. When I went to college certain that I would flunk out, Fear gave me a choice. It said, “Listen, you can pack me up, take me with you and spend so much of your time with me that you never get anything else done. That’ll be fine. And together we can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. OR…you can use me. Let me motivate you. To run so hard in the opposite direction of me that I never have a chance to come true.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but fear gave me a choice. And I chose the latter. And that has made all the difference.
But the lesson does not stop there.
After I came back from Christmas break to start the new semester, I had a pretty good understanding of the system. And, I had figured out how to work it. How to do the bare minimum I needed to do to still get the grades I wanted. But also to go out and have a little fun. I had also figured that since I was already off to such a good start, I should just go ahead and see if I could keep the streak alive. And so, I made it my goal to see if I could get only A’s the for the rest of my time at WVU. Seven more semesters. 50 or so more classes. (yea, yea I know. blah blah blah grades. But stay with me here. The grades are not the point. We’re getting to the point) Because the very next semester, when the grades came down I had one big, black eye staring me in the face. A lone B+ in my World & Politics class. And just like that, the streak was over before I’d even really gotten started. Game over. Thanks for playing. Here’s your consolation prize….a big, fat B+.
But as it turns out, it wasn’t over. Because something happened in me with that B+. In short, it got me really ticked off. At myself. Because it was my barely get by mentality that had allowed it to happen. And I took that feeling, that pit in my stomach, that taste of defeat… and I let it get me fired up. Because I was determined to never, ever feel that way again about something that was in my control. So I went back to work. Like Rocky. With Eye of the Tiger blaring in the background… and I hit the books. And for the next six semesters and 42 classes, I brought home only A’s. At the end of four years I would be leaving college, the same college that I originally thought I would flunk out of, with a 3.97 GPA. But you better believe, that .03 still haunted me.
Until graduation day, when my dad said something to me that brings me to my second point. He said, “Y’know, I’m prouder of you for that B+ than I am for all the other grades put together.” I looked at him, disdain and despair in my eyes. Are you kidding me with this? He said, “Well, you could’ve given up after that B+. That would’ve been the easy thing to do. And if you’d only ever gotten A’s, then you wouldn’t have known what it really is to work for it. Only ever having success is boring. Falling down and knowing that you’ll still get back up….that’s something to be proud of.”
So, my second point is this. Setbacks are life’s way of teaching you how strong you really are. And just like fear, they also give you a choice. If you get knocked down….are you going to stay down? If the streak is broken and you’ve known what it is to fail at something you set out to do, is that going to keep you from going after it anyway? Are you going to give up before you’ve even gotten started. Only ever having success is boring. It’s what you do when things don’t go your way that you can really be proud of.
Step 4: Let Your Fears & Setbacks Move You
The action plan for this step is really simple. Write out every thing that you are afraid of right now and every setback you are experiencing. Now recognize that you have a choice. And I have a choice. We can fall down and stay down, or maybe even never try at all. Or we can choose to let those very things that seem to be holding us back right now move us to where we want to be. Let’s make that choice. And beside every fear & setback on the list, write out one positive way you can use that fear or that setback to set yourself on fire. To run so hard & so fast in the opposite direction, that they don’t ever have a chance of coming true again.
Now go put on a little Eye of the Tiger…and let’s get to work.
**This is a picture of me & my BFF Joey at our graduation from WVU. And I’m pretty sure there’s some Cooper fur in there too.
So, tell me…what is one fear you are going to kick to the curb and put in its place this month? How are you getting fired up? Go!