Best-selling author John David Mann dishes on fear and success
John David Mann is an award-winning author whose writings have earned the Nautilus Award, the Axiom Business Book Award (Gold Medal), Taiwan’s Golden Book Award for Innovation, and the 2017 Living Now Book Awards “Evergreen Medal” for “contribution to positive global change.” He is co-author of the worldwide classic “The Go-Giver” with Bob Burg (more than 1 million copies sold) and four New York Times bestsellers.
Mann co-authored “Mastering Fear” with Brandon Webb in 2018 and the lessons are more relevant than ever. We sat down to get his take on the current environment and how making fear your ally is key to growth.
With all the books you have written, what success traits stand out the most?
Stephen King had this advice for writers: Write the first draft with the door closed and the second draft with the door open. One of my writing teachers, Hal Croasmun, taught us that there are two pivotal keys to being a successful writer in Hollywood: (1) Be excellent; write every day, scrutinize your writing, and refine its quality as much as you humanly can; and (2) be easy to work with. Don’t be a prima donna.
They’re both saying, in some ways, the same thing.
King: In your first draft, take only your own counsel. Listen exclusively to your inner voice. Don’t let anyone else’s opinions in. Second draft: Now listen to what others have to say.
Croasmun: Focus on your craft. Make your work as excellent as you believe you can, until you can’t see how it could possibly be improved any further. And then be open and listen when others tell you how it can be improved further!
These are the two guiding lights in my work and my life. Believe in yourself; trust yourself. And be open to the critique, advice, and perspective of others who know things you don’t know.
Nobody knows you better than yourself. Except the rest of the universe.
Trust yourself. And stay open.
That applies to entrepreneurship, love and marriage, health, and every other aspect of human life as much as it does to writing.
How do you see fear playing a role in the current business landscape?
It’s a strange thing: The consequences of not mastering your own fears cuts both ways. Unmastered fear makes people afraid to take smart risks—and it also pushes people into taking foolhardy risks. Weird, eh? But it is so. Unmastered fear cuts us off from our own good sense and keeps us from trusting wiser outside sources with good sense. It’s like cutting the cable that connects the steering wheel to the rudder.
Smart fear, informed fear, consulted fear—mastered fear—is one of the best gyroscopes we have for making wise business decisions in a complex and constantly changing world.
What advice do you have for business-people to make fear an ally?
First, get past the way-too-common posturing so many entrepreneurs and business-people are taught, explicitly or by example, of being “fearless.” The advice to “push past your fears” is like the exercise advice to “push past your pain.” Not psychologically or physically sound! Both fear and pain are there for a reason. The wise person listens. Neither fear nor pain are your enemy; they’re your ally. They’re not meant to stop you like a brick wall; they’re meant to give you pause, a nudge toward deeper reflection, and the opportunity for the most effective action.
So, number one, stop thinking that there’s anything noble or powerful about denying your fears. Fearlessness is not a symptom of strength. Wise counsel is.
And number two, acknowledge your fears. Articulate them. Speak them out loud, write them down—not to dwell, but simply to notice.
And number three, flip the script. Adopt the understanding that this fear is an ally; use it to articulate a positive, aspirational, forward-looking self-talk that propels you forward. Your fears are like a stepladder; articulating them (“climbing” them) will help you reach the top of a wall. But once you reach the top of the wall, climb over! Let the ladder go. Expunge fear talk (I can’t, I’ll never, I don’t know how, etc.) from your language, both audible and internal.