I am scared of the dark with Mark Caswell
Tiffany: Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. In those moments, fear asks us accusingly, who are you to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, or fabulous? When we should be asking, who am I not to be? I'm your host, Tiffany Sauder. And this is Scared Confident.
In leading people and seeing my own journey, I've noticed a natural wrestling that takes place inside of us. We believe we have talents, but we're dying for the world to confirm them so that we can step fully into who we're supposed to be. The interesting thing is that, like, once we step out of our own fear, it also liberates those around us - those people watching and gives them courage to step out from behind their fear as well.
In this episode, you'll hear a story of some of my earliest fears, as well as those of Mark Caswell, CEO of KSM Consulting. When Mark became CEO about two years ago, fear began to challenge his identity and his ability to do the job. As you listen, keep this question in mind, where is fear causing you to shrink or hold back?
I hope our stories help you feel a sense of liberation to step out...to step out from behind your own fear. So, Mark, I'd love to just start back kind of your first memory of fear showing up in your life.
Mark: Oh boy. My first memory of fear. It's one of my first memories, actually. I don't know what was wrong with me, honestly, today looking back. But I have this thing that would happen to me as a kid where it was almost this out of body experience where I would lay in bed and it would simultaneously feel like the world was closing in and I was floating away.
It was weird. It was really, really strange. Of course it terrified my parents because I would wake up in the middle of the night. And even today in my forties, I can't adequately describe the feeling. So certainly when I was four and five years old, I couldn't. But it would happen and it would pass, it would maybe, 5, 10, 15 minutes it would last. It would be really odd and I wouldn't know what it was, and then I'd go back to sleep, but I would remember it and it was scary. It was really scary. And so this thing was happening to me that I didn't understand, my parents didn't understand.
And what was interesting is over the course of my add, like into my adolescence, it was probably in junior high that it finally became familiar to me. So it was still scary, but it was familiar and I knew that it was... almost like in your first podcast where you could start to identify the fear and you could point at it. And once you're able to point at it, that gets you started to give you a little bit of control.
And then what was funny is as I moved into high school and not only could I point at it, but I could almost enjoy it, is not the right word, but I could look at it from a distance as not something that was threatening me, but it's just a thing that was happening that I could almost just look at and experience. And then it just kind of slowly went away. I think in my twenties that happened maybe twice. Thank goodness, I didn't turn out to have some sort of major mental illness in the long term.
Tiffany: I'm curious to know, is there, as an adult or as a leader, is there something that happens in you today, physiologically? It might not be the sort of out of body experience where you start to realize I'm listening to the fear voice in my head.
I'm not listening to the Mark voice in my head. For me, I experienced this just like weird overconfidence. Like when I know I'm acting like that, I'm like, oh my word, I'm super intimidated and scared, and this is me compensating. Hey, Tiffany, that's not what you want to do or be like. Do you feel vulnerable?. That's actually who you are. So I can coach myself through that now, but my younger self would come in like larger than life. And so I don't know if you have things like that, where your body responds to your fear as an adult in different ways.
Mark: A hundred percent. It shows up as annoyance with other people. I just love people. I love people. I'm a high-trust person. I'm one of those strange introverts that simultaneously loves people even though I tend to get my energy when I'm by myself. And what will happen is I'll find myself being more and more annoyed with people. If I don't identify it early enough, it'll come out of me. And like, I remember I yelled at someone on the phone one time. It was a contractor or something for my house. I just don't, even if I was right, I don't do that. And that sort of thing will kind of start to happen. I actually remember. So our, our business actually, when I became CEO, was when our business was acquired by private equity. And there's a whole story about that.
But on the other side, that is, it is a hard thing. It is hard and it's fun in a lot of ways you learn a ton, but it's hard. And the transaction closed and we achieved what we wanted to achieve, and it was this big celebration, and then we got to the other side and it was probably six weeks later that I remember one of my friends at work looked at me, and they said, Hey, are you okay?
Hilarious, really.. And what was funny is I thought that I had calmed down and was in a good place, but I didn't realize this kind of mix of stress and fear about this new thing I was doing was adding up and I was exhibiting this behavior. I was feeling annoyed with other people and I was behaving like I just normally don't behave. Luckily, in that instance, a friend called me out on it. I
Tiffany: It’s so interesting because one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you about this is that I've known of you from afar for years. I've gotten the opportunity to get to know you more up close in the past year. But you are able to lead very authentically.
And I say that and can identify that. And I've seen only people who can lead authentically. Like they just show up of themselves up as themselves have had to do some work in self-reflection to be like that. That's not the behavior I'm going to choose. That's not what I want to project. That's not what I want to perpetuate.
And so I'm curious to know, as you're now in a place as a CEO, people think actually what you are as in charge, but what you are is just building people around you all the time. And so do you find it's easier for you to coach or identify or see fear behavior in the people around you, or showing up as a lack of authenticity because we're all evolving, but in some ways you've evolved through pieces of that journey for yourself.
Mark: Yeah. It's an interesting place to get to where you understand yourself well enough to know you're not enough. And that in that if you get to that place in the right way, it frees you up to know that you need people around you and that lets you go do the CEO thing or the president thing or the leader thing or the friend thing in a way better way than you could otherwise.
I had this point in my career, so this was before the transaction, I just talked about when I became president of the company. It was never a conscious choice, but when I got the title, I started just acting differently and I remember thinking, Oh, well, I must need to dress differently now. I should dress a little sharper and I should probably speak in a slightly different way, and I should know the answer more and things like that. And of course I was buying into that false narrative that the leader is the person who stands on the Hill and points with confidence of exactly what we should do. But I started acting in these ways and I got, I don't know, two, three months into it and I hated it.
I hated it because it wasn't me. I was pretending to be the leader that I thought that a president should be, instead of just being myself. And I had to, I thought about it and I had to come to this conscious choice that said I'm miserable not being me. So I'm just going to be me and being me will either be good enough or it won't.
And if it's not, that's okay. It's just gotta be okay. And I just had to come to terms with that. And the irony, of course, is once I decided to be me, it actually went better. I was authentic, but I do value that experience because going through it, it just made me realize I'm not meant to be a caricature.
I'm meant to be myself and myself is not everything. And so, of course, I need people around me and that's the only way to be successful.
Tiffany: Yeah. I find that like the quirks are the most interesting things about people, but it also can be the things that we try to dial down in ourselves. I'm curious if there's things like when new people come to work around you and you're like, okay, so this is what you're going to have to learn about me,
or this is what it looks like to come up close to the Caswell sphere of influence. What do people need to know about your own quirks or things that you just own, as it's just who
Mark: I am? Yeah, I am an eternal optimist. I'm a realist in that I understand that optimism isn't always correct, but I don't care.
I want, like, I just want to be an optimist. I like, I choose optimism even in the face of it being the wrong thing and we just have to deal with it. Right. It's going to be happy and think the right thing is going to happen, and sometimes people need to know Caswell's off his rocker a little bit.
Tiffany: So, do people have to maybe have permission even to be extreme, to get your attention? That no, I get that you want this to happen, Mark, but it's not going to. Like, how do they have to work harder to sort of flag down like, nope, caution, caution, caution.
Mark: Actually, that's a really good point. Yes. If I didn't allow for healthy conflict and invite challenge, that optimism that I see as a good character of me and is part of what makes me happy would actually become very detrimental and probably ruin a lot of things. Those two have to go hand in hand, right? People have to be able to challenge the things about me that are quirky, like you said.
Tiffany: I think there's something super, also transferable that you said earlier about I just have to know that who I am authentically is enough, and if it's not, there is so much power in releasing the outcome of something. You weren't forcing success.
Cause the truth, you were exposing truth, right? You were either actually qualified and you were going to be successful or you actually weren't, and if so, then that was also going to be discovered over time. So releasing the outcome of it, I find that such a powerful piece in so much of self-acceptance and like really watching the journey of, like, where does life take your talents. If we can't force outcomes over an extended period of time in our lives or situations,
and so resting, in sort of the confidence and completeness of what you are today, understanding we're all, I know, sort of a perpetual work in process. I think there's a lot of wisdom and how you said that and where you got to, and then what look what happened, right? The right thing happened, you were qualified.
It is successful, like so much good is coming from you getting an opportunity to step fully into your talents.
Mark: Another thing happens when you make that step, that you know that this cliché, "Enjoy the journey. It's not the destination. It's the journey." When you tie your self-worth to the outcome, especially in business, you're never there ever,
because if you get to the mountaintop, you just go look for the next mountain top, you celebrate it for about 30 seconds and then you move onto the next one. When you disconnect your own personal self-worth from that final finish line, it allows you to actually find joy and fulfillment in all the spaces in between to get there.
Well, that's nice. That's a lot better way to live your life than running towards some finish line that you know, you're never going to get to, even if you're successful.
Tiffany: So, fear, in my life has a tendency to move once a conquer, a piece of it. It has a creative way of showing up in a new way for me. So I'd be curious to know what does fear say to you today, as your more self-actualized 40-year-old CEO self?
What does fear say to you?
Mark: Yeah, that's a good question. I think what fear says to me most often is, yeah, you did a good job getting here, but I don't know about the next step. You know, in a company that's growing as fast and that I love, you did a great job getting here, but I don't know about the next step. And, every time the business changes or you're asked to move to a new level or do a new thing that all that previous success and all those lessons, maybe those don't matter
and they can kind of reset that, that fear thing. And honestly, you have to go through the same exercise again, right? I'm either good enough or I'm not, let's go see.
Tiffany: One of my earliest memories of fear is my dad pushing me through going outside to run in the dark. So, growing up, I joke often that I'm an active person, but I am not an athletic one. Those are different things. So as a result to keep myself like, you know, kind of fit-ish as a kid, I, you would run on our country road and we lived in the middle of nowhere.
So, I could go on a four-mile square and like pass maybe two other homes and probably no cars and maybe like somebody mowing a ditch. In the fall and things like that, the winter, it would get dark super early, so sometimes after school I'd get my homework done, I'd do my thing, and I would have on my list, like go out on a run.
And I remember one time in particular, I was like, I don't know, getting ready to sort of wrap up my dad's like, "I thought you were going to go on a run." And I was like, yeah, I, I, I was like, it was a plan, but it's dark out. And he's like, "Well, go run." I was like, yeah, but that's like, scary, dad. I'm not going to run.
And he's like, "What's scary.?" It was like, it's dark out. And he's like, "You've never walked in the dark before." I'm like, well, I'm going to have, but like, he's like, "What's going to happen?" I was like, I don't, I don't know, like somebody is going to jump out and get me. He's like, "Has that happened before?" Well, no, but like, it's definitely going to happen if I go out and do that right now.
And I realized, in that moment, that my fears were entirely my imagination. There was nothing founded in reality that would make it such that I should believe or be controlled by this imaginary fear. It was in my head. And instead of going off of like the basis of my experience, which is nothing bad has ever happened in the dark to me, and going out and going on a run, sort of in confidence,
I conjured up this great big mountain, like this wall that I had to climb over to go and do something that I wanted to do, which was going to run. It's good for my body. It's like, sort of all those things. So I remember on that day, I went on a run, and I came back and I remember the exhilaration of being so proud of myself.
So specifically I remember that. I also remember how peaceful it was. And I remember thinking I would have missed this whole experience, the satisfaction of doing something that I wanted and needed to do for myself. The added pleasure of just the peacefulness if I had let this imaginary fear continue to take hold of my decision-making.
I think that this idea of an imaginary fear being something that we chase down plays out massively, certainly as a leader in a company and coming through what we just did, um, as a society. I think just the call to leadership that it required is that we have to manage the facts, especially when you're in leadership, because every, we have to understand, like we all are creating our own little fear monsters in our head that are based on what we're afraid might happen, and not necessarily where the facts are pointing us.
And if we're going to lead well, and with clarity, we have to sort that well, between what is fact and what is my mind trying to get myself to believe as fact. I think on the personal side, it probably shows up most in my parenting. I had a really interesting conversation, even with my hairdresser on this. She's pregnant and there's some like mild complications with her pregnancy and she's like, I'm just afraid.
I was like, you know, I I've gotten to the place where I am really clear that, for some reason, I have been specifically chosen to be the parent of these four girls. So, I have to trust that I am going to have what it takes to be present for them. And I think that again, this imagined fear of, you know, whether they're going to turn out okay, like what's going to happen? Well, have I been around enough? Like all of this stuff can make me feel really disconnected when I'm not disconnected from my kids. And I can create this imaginary environment in my head that is filled with guilt and shame and fear, guilt, and what I am, or am I not doing? Shame and that, you know, I'm not showing up, but I am. And the way that I want to for them and the fear that maybe I'm not doing enough. Or, we can own the effort that we're giving them and say, no, the facts are, my kids are excelling socially and academically, spiritually, and with their friends. So, let's look at the facts and that might not always be the fact that maybe I need to adjust if that's the case,
but I don't have to deal with that until I get there. I think that making sure that we're sorting through fact and fiction and not allowing our minds to create facts that distract us from the real things that we're supposed to be doing is such a critical part of, I think, continuing to master fear so that it doesn't take control of the narrative in our minds, and ultimately the actions and outcomes that happen to us.
We all have to remember that our minds and bodies have memories of things that happened in our past. And I'd love for you to think through and reflect, what's your earliest memory of fear? How do you feel like that's impacting the adult version of you that's showing up in your life today? As always, I love it when you share it with me. Text me at 317-350-8921. Follow along with us wherever you get your audio.