• Adam Tarnow

Chicago After Dark

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

I, like many people, struggle with fear. This was true before 2020. This year has given me hundreds of opportunities to work on this area of my life and leadership.

Every day, I seem to be able to find something new to fear. My creativity is astounding. Let me give you an example.

I recently had a family member pass away after a long battle with cancer. The funeral was in Indiana. The cheapest flight available landed in Chicago just after dark.

This was the flight we needed to take. But there was a problem, and the problem was "Chicago after dark."

"Chicago after dark." To some, that sounds like the cover band who played at your favorite college bar. To me, it brought up dozens of headlines I'd read over the years talking about how violent Chicago had become. Especially "after dark."

When I first read these headlines, Chicago felt far away. Now, it all felt very close. I believed all of these headlines were going to happen to my family and me.

As soon as I realized we'd have to land in "Chicago after dark," my old friend fear showed up. Now, my body wasn't just dealing with sorrow; it was also dealing with fear.

So, what did we do? We got on the airplane. When we landed in Chicago, we rented the car and drove through "Chicago after dark.”

What happened? Nothing.

Funny enough, the worst part of the drive happened in sleepy western Indiana. It rained. Hard. Driving at night in the rain ended up being way more difficult than driving through "Chicago after dark."

Now I fear the torrential rains of Western Indiana. Just kidding…kind of.

I'm learning again that the antidote to fear is courage. When I say courage, I mean "moving forward, despite fear."

Courage is easy to say in a blog post. It's exhausting to live out.

However, just because it's exhausting doesn't mean it's negative. It's exhausting, like going to the gym. Exercising courage is like adding weight to the barbell. It's not easy, but it makes you stronger.

It's easier to be afraid and do nothing than it is to be afraid and move forward. One requires a glass of bourbon and YouTube TV. The other requires grit, faith, and fortitude.

Here are three thoughts on fear and courage. These have been helpful to me lately:

One, when I'm feeling fear, I have to label it. I can't ignore it. I have to call it what it is. Once I label it, I know how to deal with it.

Two, I always feel better after exercising courage. It's like a runner's high. It seems like there is a similar endorphin release in the brain.

Three, rationalizing fearful behavior is more exhausting than acting courageously. This is a little more nuanced, but let's go back to the example of driving through "Chicago after dark.” It was faster and cheaper to book the flight to Chicago. It would have taken much more time, effort, and money to find another way to get to Indiana.

For many of us, 2020 will go down as the year of courage. My friend, John McGee, has a great summary of 2020, "this is the best leadership training ever." He's right.

Courage is a necessary part of leadership. There is no podcast, blog, book, or TED Talk that could adequately train leaders to be courageous like this year.

History tells us this season we're in will pass. When it's over, the leadership IQ in this country will be at an all-time high. It encourages me to think about this.

For now, I'm going to keep trying to exercise courage. I'm not at my best when fear is controlling me. I need to keep doing this exhausting work.

Keep moving forward despite fear, leader. In the end, you and the ones you lead will be better for it.

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