“I love pushing myself past things I don’t enjoy doing, or things that scare me,” said David Mast, a man who is learning to face his fears and helping others do the same. He was a boy working on the family farm, when he had to climb the ladder to the top of the silo to get the unloader in the right position to store silage for the cows. It was a long way up, and while the view from there was amazing, all he could see was fear. “That’s when I realized I was afraid of heights, but I still realized there was a job to be done. I worked to overcome my fear by climbing to the top of the silo literally every single night, just to prove to myself I could do it,” he recalled. “Fears can keep you safe, or they can get in the way of accomplishing something important,” David said.
“I’ve found that fear is like an opponent. It’s something I can go up against. I’m a super competitive dude,” he said. “I compete in everything I do. My brothers and I were always competing. Everything we did, we were trying to outdo each other. Fear can be a rival that forces you to get better because it challenges you.” David would not be beaten by a fear of heights, and become a pilot and a skydiver. He is also a scuba diver. To overcome his fears of public speaking, he enrolled in seminars that required him to stand before a classroom to teach and to lead group discussions. He is training to be an EMT, and also leads young men through a rigorous 16-week bootcamp training with ALERT, a Christian-based Air/Land Emergency Resource Team.
“There are three phases to training. The first phase is nine weeks of basic training, a gut-check to figure out what you’re made of and what makes you tick. In the second phase, you start to build in base-level skills for technical rescue like scuba, or search and recovery. The third phase is specialized rescue, like aviation,” he said. “The thing that helps me the most is a leader who I realize is ready to get down and dirty and do whatever needs to be done, and that they’re not going to let fear conquer them. It gives me courage. I try to do that as a leader too, being the example, and helping [the guys on my team] feel that what we’re up against is something that can be conquered. Fear might still be in the back of your head, but it doesn’t have to cripple you. It’s OK if you make mistakes. I want you to make mistakes because that’s the way you learn. When you understand yourself and why you’re scared of something, it can really help you think through things so that they don’t hold you back.”
To help others overcome fear, David says, “Start by validating their fears. ‘You’re scared. That’s OK. Your fear has value. There’s a reason you’re scared of this. It’s a natural response. It’s a good thing. And there are ways to conquer this.’” He observed that being present and willing to walk through challenges with others by sharing your own experiences, fears and pain, is a way to build strong and meaningful connections. “The way you walk with them through that–it’s a really powerful thing.”
“Growing up I was a fairly driven person. I would ask myself why I got out of bed in the morning. In my football years, I was going to be the best; I was going to be the guy everybody feared on the other teams. I was little, but I could hit pretty hard. I liked being the guy people depend on. It became the reason I got out of bed and worked out, because I was scared of failing, and not being that guy.” Then he went through a growth spurt. “I could hardly run; it was all knees and elbows,” he said. “It was horrible. It was really bad.” Late one night, he was lifting weights, wondering why it wasn’t enjoyable any more, why he was working so hard, and if it was even worthwhile. He was afraid of letting his team down. He thought about quitting football altogether. “I remember sitting there on the bench talking to God and it was like I heard Him say, ‘Hey! The reason you’re not having fun, and the reason you feel like you’re failing is because you’re doing it for the wrong reason. You’re doing it for yourself. Just change the reason you’re doing it.’ I went back to spring training. I changed the way I saw people. The reason I was doing it wasn’t for myself anymore, but for something a lot bigger. Within the next three months, I gained 20 pounds of muscle, I rushed for 1000+ yards, and scored 15-16 touchdowns. I made it a point to mentally humble myself, to the point where whenever the other team scored a touchdown, I’d be the first to run over and give a high-five. God really blessed that. It was amazing! I made a lot of good friends on the other teams, and other parents asked me how I played like that. To this day I’m a trainer for the same team I played for. Parents and players still come up to me and still remember me and the way I played, not because I scored, but because of the way I interacted with other people. When I was able to forget myself in that process and forget about the fear of failure, of making mistakes, and trust that God ‘had my 6’, it really helped me conquer myself and my fears.”
“A big thing that’s helped me was knowing that it’s 100% OK to be afraid. Fear is not going to go away, and that’s OK. When I say I’m conquering fears, it’s not that I’ve actually conquered them (as in ‘they’re not my fears anymore and I made them go away’); I’ve just learned to not allow them to cripple me. I’ve been able to conquer them to the effect that they’re not the thing that runs my life,” David said. “Fear is something that keeps you safe. That’s a good thing. I’m not saying you should take unnecessary risks. I’m saying we can’t allow fear to keep us from getting out of bed in the morning. My ultimate reason now is loving God and loving people. Hopefully I am doing that and am building toward that.”
“The biggest thing I would encourage people to do is, first off, figure out what the reason is to get out of the bed in the morning,” David said. “When I first started asking myself that question, I didn’t like the answer. Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the answer, begin to shift focus. Figure it out. Own up to it. Refocus on why you’re on this planet. We’re here for such a short time already, it seems a shame to waste the time you’ve been given. Wrestle with that. It’s not going to do much good to face a fear until you know why you’re facing the fear. This purpose is more important than the fears you have. Once you have a sense of purpose, it helps so much in being able to conquer your fears. Then just go at it! Go ham!”
“Know that God’s ‘got your 6’. Realize that God has a plan and His plan is ultimately going to succeed no matter what,” David said. “Everything is so fragile in this world already. All these things we thought we had in the pandemic can so quickly be taken away. There are so many things out of our control. You’re going to have to go through it, whether you like it or not. It’s going to be scary, and not fun a lot of times. It’s going to be lonely at times too. Identify your fear and begin chipping away at it. It doesn’t have to be in dramatic ways. Take small steps and build on that, and focus on your end goal.”