If you’re about to step out of a moving airplane and fall over 14,000 feet back to earth at speeds of 200 mph, the last thing you’d want to hear is that your instructor — the man strapped to your back, the man in charge of deploying your parachute, the man with your life in his hands — is afraid.
Ward Hessig’s résumé makes him out to be the most fearless man on (or above) planet Earth: After serving in the U.S. Army for five years, he came home and joined a local police force. When he later decided he wanted to back to college — and then continued on to get his postgraduate degree in criminal justice — he paid his tuition by keeping his day job. To reiterate: his time was spent alternating between attending “Civil Procedures” lectures and working police beats out on the street. Both cops and lawyers everywhere would have mad respect for this guy.
So after blazing through tours of duty, police academy training, and the LSATs, it seemed like the last thing left on earth that still possessed the power to scare Hessig was, quite literally, jumping out of a plane…obviously he was itching to give it a go. In 1996, he took his first 14,000-foot leap.
When we sat down with Hessig in 2012, he’d worked his way up from a casual jumping enthusiast to a certified skydiving instructor, completing over 11,000 jumps in the interim. And in a perfect world, we’d all like to imagine that after someone has done something 11,000 times, they’ve become pretty comfortable with their work — or, at the very least, that they’ve moved beyond the realm of fear. But when our team of road-trippers asked, “How did you get over your fears?” he threw them quite the curveball:
“Oh, I’m still afraid.”
(Of note: the road-trippers were going skydiving directly after their interview; Ward would be strapped to one of their backs. Yikes.)
Luckily, Hessig continued, and explained that it’s not so much getting over your fears, but instead realizing that they’re there, and deciding to take action anyways:
“It’s now a manageable fear. After all, courage is not being fearless — it’s acting in the face of fear.”
To a military vet/former cop/skydiving instructor, actor Tony Hale’s profession might seem like child’s play. And honestly? Tony Hale would probably be the first to agree (and to gleefully point out that pun).
“My brother played soccer and I would go to his games, but I was always like, the ‘artist freak.’ I was like, ‘Soccer? Hmm, what do you do with that? Let’s do a monologue to it!’”
Even though he’d always had that theatrical side, it took years of him exploring other options — including forays into both writing and waiting tables — before Hale realized he wanted to make acting into his career.
He told our road-trippers about his a-ha moment:
“I heard a speaker say, ‘If you’re afraid, you do it afraid.’ People think that before you do something, you have to be in a place of complete assurance or peace, but sometimes you really do have to just do it afraid.”
He’d finally learned what every single successful person has to learn at some point or another:
Fear and awkwardness and doubt have been with you your whole life, and they’re not going away — they’ll always be there. And if you decide to wait for the universe to drop the perfect opportunity into your lap, you’ll spend a lifetime waiting.
So Hale took action — he enrolled in acting school, then moved to New York City, where he knew no one. Years later, he has two successful sitcoms and two Emmys under his belt, but he still feels the fear:
“[In acting,] you don’t know when your next gig’s coming along. But you have to make a choice not to live in fear.”
Obviously, not every big decision is as “do or die” as, “Should I open this parachute now, or just continue to plummet and see how it goes?” But it can definitely start to feel that way when you’re choosing a college major, or wrestling with the idea of leaving your terrible job. We can’t even begin to tell you how many times we’ve heard, “I hate my job, but what would I do if I quit?” Or, “I really want to become a _________, but how do I know if I’m good enough? How would I even begin to try to break into that industry?”
When you make those kinds of excuses, you’re letting your fears paralyze you. And when you let your fears paralyze you, you’re no longer actively chasing your goals! What the heck? Go chase them!
We know what you’re thinking: Yo, Roadtrip Nation, that’s much easier said than done. How do you suddenly find the courage to audition for a play with no theater training, or respond to a job posting that insists candidates have five years of relevant experience?
As actor and musician Christopher Jackson (of the Broadway musical, Hamilton) told us,
“The ability to take that step and go is really just the same decision you make every time you open your mouth. The difference between fear and excitement is just a very, very small idea.”
Think of all of the minuscule, everyday tasks that require you to face your fears: Whether it was borne out of a need to meet a participation quota, or just out of brazen courage, you’ve raised your hand in class without feeling completely sure that you had the correct answer. You’ve initiated a conversation with a stranger. You’ve sent an email to your boss. Seriously, you face far more risk on the daily commute to your current miserable job than you do in applying to that new job that you’d love, and the numbers aren’t even close.
The great part is, you’ve figured out how to do these things over and over and over, despite the fact they never actually get any easier — you just get more comfortable with your insecurities.
So next time you feel that “lurching stomach in the middle of the night” kind of fear about a big decision, or a change in your career path, know that all you need to do is push through it until you start to see the flip side of the coin — the excitement for what’s to come.