Walking the Wire: How An Iconic Daredevil Fights Fear

August 7th, 1974. 7:00AM.

Philippe Petit looked out at the 200ft steel cable spanning the gap between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre. He’d been preparing for this, both mentally and physically, for six years. Now, here he was.

Not everything had gone to plan that morning. The team were behind schedule due to an equipment issue, and the police were closing in with plans to remove Petit from the tower. They would use force without a moment’s consideration if they so chose.

Petit was wracked with doubt. But was he scared?

Not at all.

“I am never afraid on the wire. I am too busy”, Petit wrote in an article entitled In Search of Fear for Lapham’s Quarterly.

It’s a fascinating statement. Most of us think of fear as an overwhelming force, so how does a person who faces terrifying situations on a routine basis get to a point where they don’t even think about it, let alone acknowledge it?

While Petit is exceptional, he’s not an exception. People like him quickly learn how to operate on a level that transcends fear.

I’m not talking about high-wire artists, acrobats, or any other kind of daredevil. I am talking about who rise to the zenith of their pursuits, who pursue their passions to their reasonable end.

It takes strength to face a challenge, but a special kind of courage to see it through.

“After long hours of training for a walk, a moment comes when there are no more difficulties. It is at this moment that many have perished.”

Atychiphobia. The fear of failing. It is the bane of greatness, striking often when a goal is finally in sight.

Like any fear, atychiphobia derives from assumption and expectation, not reality. We fester the belief that failure is shameful, a brand of inability to be avoided. We freeze upon the precipice.

“To fear in life is human. And difficult to avoid. And a rude awakening each time. If it seizes you, be proud of your fifteen minutes of fear. Like when you were about to jump from that ten-meter-tall high-diving platform and, well…had second thoughts. You forced yourself to go anyway—and it felt like suicide. You had the choice: disgrace or suicide. And, bravo, you chose suicide—your victory.”

The Roman poet Ovid once declared that “to know is to love”. So if you find yourself struck by fear, step away from the edge, and work hard to understand why. Let the song of your soul carry you forward, and when you next return to face the wire, step forward with confidence.

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