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Sanity Notes #017: Accepting the fear

Most of our suffering is a result of fear of what could happen. Much of that suffering you can opt out of.

Matt Munson
Matt Munson
3 min read
Sanity Notes #017: Accepting the fear
Accepting the fear
Looking for some support? If now is the time to consider coaching (or a CEO peer circle) reach out here.

This morning, I felt my body fill with fear. One moment, I was standing on a mountaintop overlooking the Columbian city of Medellin. The next, I was two thousand feet in the air, traveling at 40 miles per hour, wondering how secure the harness was that held me to my instructor and us to the parachute above us.

I was paragliding for the first time. And a huge part of me was regretting the decision.

It was the most visceral experience of fear I can remember in years.

My body was tight, I was in full fight-or-flight, and the voice in my head was screaming: "Get back on the ground!"

I turned my attention to my breath. Doing my best to take conscious, deep breaths and trying to cover each breath with my full attention.

I invited myself to feel the fear in my body, to welcome it, and then to relax in the harness physically. I told myself there was no sense in spending the entire flight in a fear state.

If I was going to crash or plummet to my death, I would crash. If these were my last few moments, I may as well fully experience them!

And, in all likelihood, these would not be my last moments alive, in which case it really best relax and enjoy this incredible flight.

As I relaxed, a smile came over my face. I found myself awed by the landscape below me, the wind in my face, and the acceleration as we made wide, sweeping turns.

I had always wanted to fly like a bird, and now I was!

By accepting the fear, noting it, welcoming it, and leveraging some simple breath work, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride.

The transition was not binary. I was not afraid at one moment and then at ease the next. As we flew higher or made an unexpected rapid turn, I found the fear growing again. And I went back to my breath, back to accepting, back to my intention to be present and experience the flight.

I found myself thinking as we were flying that life presents us with the same opportunity. Moreover, startups, leadership, and other high-performance endeavors are particularly rich practice grounds for the opportunity.

The opportunity is to practice freeing ourselves from our natural fear state so that we might show up more effectively and have more fun on the ride.

During my years of running companies, I found myself frequently living in the presence of fear.

The fear could be unrelenting. I would wake up at 3 AM with my brain racing:

  • What if we run out of money?
  • What if we don't find a way to keep revenue growing?
  • Did I make a mistake in that update to the financial model?
  • What if our new VP of Product doesn't sign her offer letter?

Looking back, when I let fear rule the day, I was unable to show up fully effective in my work. I was also unable to be fully present in the experience, which prevented me from:

  • Being with my team in a connected way
  • Enjoying the fun parts of the ride
  • Leveraging my own creativity (it is impossible to be creative in fight or flight!)
  • Caring for my own health (I have never been sick more often than I was in the early years of building a startup)

If you find yourself in a fear state more often than you would like, or if you find fear to be an unruly part of your own journey, exploring some simple practices, including those mentioned above, may be helpful.

I have also written more about the morning practices that helped me navigate some of the most challenging years of my own founder journey here.

Fear is a natural part of doing new and challenging things, but it does not need to rule the day.

We can practice welcoming fear and moving ourselves through the fear to conscious presence. And this is a practice! There is no 'getting it right' nor is there a permanent arrival.

I appreciate that you are here. If you were forwarded this email and it resonates, you can subscribe here.

Please feel free to reach out to me if I can be helpful to you in any way. Simply reply to this email.

With love from LA,


Looking for some support? If now is the time to consider coaching (or a CEO peer circle) reach out here.
ceo psychologyemotionsfearfounder burnout

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