In junior high gym class we played a game called, appropriately, War Ball.
War Ball was a brutal version of dodge ball. Picture two teams of 50 boys each facing each other across the half court line in a small gymnasium. Then toss 15 rubber kickballs into the mix and tell them to have at it.
The gym teachers loved it, even awarding prizes for head shots. (I’m convinced the phys ed teachers at my school could have been outstanding Hitler Youth leaders.)
Kids often left the court with huge whelps, sometimes bloody noses. Occasionally balls would ricochet off the back wall and hit a kid in the back of the head and knock him off his feet, sending the gym teachers into a frenzy of high-fives.
War Ball was like a bully’s fondest dream realized.
Since I didn’t reach puberty until oh, it seems like tenth grade, I hated War Ball. I stood at the back hoping not to get hit. That usually meant I got hammered when someone else ducked.
Cowering in the back as far away as possible from the people throwing certainly felt safer, but it wasn’t.
One day I decided to stand in the front. I’d like to say I did because I found a little courage, but honestly I just got sick of waiting to be hit by a ball I never saw coming. Standing up front was my version of jumping into cold water instead of easing slowly in: I figured I’d take my pain all at once and get it over with as soon as possible.
At first the front was terrifying. Balls flew everywhere, whizzing past my head from every direction. I could see the murderous gleam in a boy's eyes as he tried to hit me. My eyes swiveled in every direction as I spun and twisted and jumped.
Then I slowly realized it wasn’t so bad.
Even though I was standing only a few feet away from people throwing at me, I actually had more time to react, not less. And I was now up front with the better players, players who actually looked out for each other and tried to work together. Somehow I didn’t feel nearly as alone.
Nothing about me had changed. I was no quicker, no smarter, no stronger… yet simply by moving up front, everything had changed. I felt more confident. I felt in control.
I felt a lot less scared.
Insecurity is a terrible thing, because insecurity breeds insecurity. When we act out of insecurity, our actions increase our fears.
I was afraid of getting hit so I stood in the back. That made it worse because getting hit felt like a random occurrence: I knew I would get hit, but I didn’t know when, I didn’t know where, and I didn’t know how hard.
Out of insecurity I gave up all control, and when I did my insecurities multiplied.
The next time you feel insecure—about making a call, giving a presentation, confronting an employee, or dealing with an irate customer—don’t stand in the back. Don’t give up control.
You’re going to get “hit” anyway. Get hit on your terms.
It hurts a lot less.
And sometimes, by standing at the front, you even win.