Overcoming fear only takes one question

One question. That’s all it takes to overcome fear. So what is it?

They were lost. A squadron of US dive bombers took off in the wrong direction. It was 1942, and the Pacific battle between the US and Japan was underway – the battle of Midway.

The squadron was approaching its maximum range. Any farther, and there wouldn’t be enough fuel to get back to the aircraft carrier. Amidst desperation, Rear Admiral Wade McCluskey, the squadron leader, kept flying.

McCluskey spotted an odd pattern on the horizon. He rolled the bomber and pulled it to the side. The squadron knew what he was asking – to fly ahead, knowing the risk that they wouldn’t have enough fuel to return. 

They followed, possibly to their death. It was an unspoken decision, and now they were in this together.

The odd pattern? It came from one of the Japanese battleships catching the sun on the horizon. The men followed through clenched teeth with their eyes darting between the fuel gauge and that small ship. 

They stopped glancing at the fuel. Something more important than life entered their view. It was Japan’s prized aircraft carriers. The Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and Hiryū gently bobbed on the horizon. McCluskey and his crew found the needle in a haystack and changed the dynamic of the Pacific theatre of war. 

Bombing was different in the 40s; it was operator-dependent. Two things came together, the men were veterans, and the Japanese national symbol on the deck turned the carriers into floating targets. Fifteen minutes later, the jewels of Japan’s imperial fleet lay in waste. Three were sunk, and a fourth was badly damaged. 

This act of courage turned the tides of the pacific war. Should the Japanese carriers have survived, the US would likely have lost their fleet and over 10000 men.

These pilots were afraid. Death scares even the hardest. Despite this, they carried on and altered the course of the Pacific war.

They didn’t know it, but all the men answered our one question…

What would you do if you weren’t afraid

Spencer Johnson
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Midway Bomber Crew

If you took away your fear, what would you want to do? What action would you take? Fear is an emotion, and often it’s strong enough to stop us from doing what we know we should.

When you ask, “If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?” you find a reason to overcome the fear. You find your why – your motivation to endure the fear. Then you take action.

It’s through taking action that we change our habits towards fear. You may never extinguish the fear, but that doesn’t matter. When you find a reason to endure, that is when you can face your fear. When you continue to face your fear, that is when you make it a habit. When you make doing what scares you a habit, that is when you live the life you have always wanted.

Without fear, bravery can’t exist.

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Rear Admiral Wade McCluskey

Further reading: The Miracle Men of Midway

Published in Self Improvement, Philosophy, Psychology, Stoicism
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