What me and you have in common with Usain Bolt!

Who else was captivated by the recent, revealing documentary ‘I am Bolt’?

Broadcast on the BBC ahead of the London 2017 World Athletic Championships, it was compelling viewing for me, on so many levels.

What fascinated me most is that even Bolt, the charismatic, charming, champion of athletics has fear.

As a coach, helping people handle fear is a big subject.

Our fear instinct is designed to keep us safe. It keeps us ‘in our cave’ out of harms way – great if there’s a saber tooth tiger outside – not so great if it’s a job opportunity or an exciting experience.

Fear often shows up as an inner critic, an internal voice, some call it the saboteur, or gremlin. Whatever you call it, it shows up when we face a challenge and if we pay too much attention to it, it can hold us back and keep us small.

So back to Bolt – it seems that not even the fastest man in the world can out run fear.

The documentary revealed that at the start of every season fear calls on Bolt. He’s wracked by worry that he’s lost his ability to be the fastest sprinter and maybe this time he won’t be the best.

Fear tells him that despite all the effort of training, practice, physiotherapy, healthy eating and sleeping it won’t be enough. And despite the wise words of focus and encouragement from (the other star of the documentary) coach Mills he won’t be good enough.

And yet every season he shows up, literally puts himself on the line and runs anyway.

The antidote to fear, as Bolt finds out each season, is action.

From somewhere he finds the courage to risk looking foolish and failing, taking action despite the presence of fear.

Just like Bolt I feel fear – especially when I’m challenging myself to show up in front of people. And the voice in my head says versions of…

  • ‘You’ll mess up’
  • ‘No one will read that’
  • ‘Who cares what you’ve got to say’
  • ‘They’ll never pick you’

Now let’s be honest unlike Bolt I’m usually only risking not being good enough in front of myself and a small number of people. But still it feels daunting.

What I’ve learnt is that just like Bolt I can’t outrun fear. That fear is part of the experience. In fact, when fear shows up I know I’m on to something. This challenge matters and I can use this to spur me on – by reminding myself why it matters – and make that more important than the risk of not being good enough.

And it works – every time!

I’ve discovered – like Bolt – that my fearful thoughts are not true. When I show up and put myself on the line the experience gives me new information, I learn something, I connect with others, I receive support and whatever the result I build respect for myself.

The documentary ‘I am Bolt’ finished on a high with him conquering injury, a lack of motivation and showing up at the Rio Olympics to win three gold medals and the applause and adulation of his fans.

What makes his story even more fascinating however is the last chapter of his sprinting career, which played out last week in London at the World Athletics Championships. This time Bolt arrived as the underdog – not in tip top form.

He said he was looking forward to it, I guess he was hoping, as were his fans that he’d pull something out of the bag and he’d go out on a high. I also imagine that there was some of that ‘what if…’ fear lurking in his mind.

He competed anyway.

He was third in the 100 meters and he got cramp in his leg on the anchor leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay final and collapsed hurt on the track in front of the stadium of fans.

I imagine that Bolt showed up because he loves to race, he loves the crowd in London and he committed he’d be there and he didn’t want to let his fans down.

I imagine that he made all of that more important than his fear and worry.

And in the end, even though he collapsed, Bolt won huge respect from everyone present, for showing up, taking part – captivating us with his personality and passion.

If, like me you recognise fear showing up in your moments of challenge – know that you are in good company.

Bolt’s story inspires me to show up to my challenges, despite my fear, maybe even because of it – knowing that on the other side – win or lose I’ll gain experience and most importantly self respect and that’s good enough for me.

My most recent example is writing this blog – it seemed like a great idea last week and then as I started writing – bingo fear arrived. Not the earth shattering scary monster kind of fear, it was disguised as a sensible voice that said…’what are you doing? You know nothing about running; no one is interested in your view on this – what a stupid idea!’

…And yet I couldn’t drop it – I had committed that I’d write a blog this week. So in the end I chose to make my commitment more important than my fear of writing a rubbish blog and if it inspires just one person to show up for themselves despite their fear, it will be worth it.

Over to you…

What will you make more important than your fear?

Carol Conway CPCC
Coach, eight circles