Seeing the bus plunge into the water, he immediately ran to the scene, dived in, and saved 20 lives. Would you have been that courageous?
In this post, we discuss the required steps to become audaciously courageous. What does it take to overcome debilitating fear? What is required to go beyond our routine comfort, risk our success, and do the impossible? This is part of a series on audacious success.
Those that follow me have seen my resent pivot from Murfield International, Inc. to my collaboration with real estate broker Patrick Lynch. Together we work to help leaders in business, real estate, and sales achieve their TOTAL Career Growth. TOTAL stands for Taking Others To Audacious Levels. To reach astounding levels we help them to think bigger, reach higher, and be willing to do what others think is impossible. We utilize online and in-person coaching, training, and speaking, and podcasts to help our clients.
Shavarsh Vladimiri (Vladimirovich) Karapetyan
At 23, he was a record breaking finswimmer from Armenia. At this young age, he already enjoyed audacious success.
- 17 times world champion finswimmer.
- 13 times European champion.
- 7 times Soviet champion.
- 11-time World Record-breaker.
- 10-time World Record-breaking finswimmer.
We might expect audacious courage from an elite athlete. After all, they are used to pushing themselves far beyond ordinary challenges. But let’s not be too quick to dismiss his man’s audacious courage.
On that fateful day in 1976, 23 year old Shavarsh He went out for a 12 mile run with his brother, who was also an athlete. That’s when they heard the crash and turned to see the bus careening off the bridge and into 30 feet of water, approximately 80 feet off shore. Without a second thought, they ran to the bridge where Shavarsh quickly dived into the water.
Notice he didn’t stop to discuss it with his brother. I could imagine more cautious minds saying, “What are you doing? You know you could get hurt or even drown in that water. Don’t risk it.”
But there is no mention of that in any of the accounts. He simply ran and dived in.
Notice the impulsivity of his courage.
Audacious is recklessly bold, like jumping in deep, muddy water to save others. Reckless is choosing to act even when the odds are against you or you could suffer because of it. Shavarsh didn’t consider his own livelihood but focused on saving the lives of strangers. He was audaciously sacrificial.
As the bus crashed into the bottom of the river, the silt exploded, making visibility nearly impossible. But that didn’t stop Shavarsh. Feeling his way through the murky water, he found the bus.
The next challenge was to get in the bus. With the doors and windows closed, he had not choice but to break a window. But how would he do that?
He quickly used his powerful legs to kick through a window. Can you imagine what it takes to break a window while under 30 feet of water? For that matter, how difficult would it be to use your legs to break a bus window? Now consider you have to do this while under water and holding your breath.
That is an audacious feat but even more, it is terribly risky.
Now consider that there was no guarantee that he would survive. Many people have died trying to save others from drowning.
Shavarsh pulled the first person out the window and to the surface, handing them off to his brother waiting on shore. Determined to save as many as he could, he immediately took a deep breath and dived again. He repeated diving until he was exhausted. By then he had saved 20 people.
Surely, he must have been proud.
Unfortunately, there were 92 people on the bus. He regretted the ones he couldn’t save.
“I knew that I could only save so many lives, I was afraid to make a mistake. It was so dark down there that I could barely see anything. On one of my dives, I accidentally grabbed a seat instead of a passenger… I could have saved a life instead. That seat still haunts me in my nightmares.”Shavarsh Karapetyan
What is the source of that audacious courage?
What drove Shavarsh to dive in the murky water and risk his own life?
He didn’t stop and think. He didn’t discuss a strategic plan. He definitely didn’t do a SWOT analysis.
He simply acted upon his impulse.
Those that follow me know that I’m a big fan of strategy and thinking. I’m not a fan of reckless behavior that frustrates success. However, there is a time to be recklessly bold, fearless, and unrestrained.
That audacious courage is required for doing what we never thought possible. Without that level of courage, we are simply observers to those who are brave and bold enough to try. Shavarsh succeeded because of that audacious motivation to help others. He was courageous because of that motivation.
Notice what actions he took.
- He NOTICED: In my work on compassion, noticing is the first step in the compassion process. Noticed how Shavarsh first listened, then stopped, and finally looked in only a second or two. First he heard the crash. That’s what stopped him. Even though he was in training, he noticed what was going on around him. That’s the value of listening. He recognized the horrific sound and knew immediately something bad happened, so he looked for more details.
- He instinctively FELT THE PAIN of those involved. This may be the secret to his motivation. His empathy was so strong that he didn’t even consider NOT trying to help. The second step to compassion is feeling their pain.
- He instinctively THOUGHT. While we define thinking as the third step, he didn’t have to contemplate the right action. He already knew what needed to be done. That is audacious courage because he was so driven to help alleviate another’s pain that he knew exactly what needed to be done. In his case, it was to save as many as he could.
- He ACTED at the PERFECT time. He could have done nothing and no one would’ve blamed him. After all, no one else jumped in. Instead, he chose to act immediately. Too many allow fear to delay their action and the opportunity to be lost. Instead, Shavarsh knew that time was of the essence and he was right. Already an accomplished swimmer, he knew his ability to hold his breath and swim. If anyone could save them, he could. Notice he didn’t worry about the worst case scenario. Many of us catastrophize situations, worrying about the worst possible outcome and blubbering, “But what will happen if . . .” Instead, he focused on each individual action. Dive, find, return to the surface, hand off, breathe, repeat.
Notice that he understood his why and knew his power. He knew what made him uniquely valuable and how he could help. That’s what led to his audacious courage. (Keep reading to see how this wasn’t the only time he would risk his life to save others.)
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be courageous. You don’t physically need to dive into deep water to be a hero. Yes, you can develop audacious courage, face down your fears, and realize your ultimate results. . When facing your fears, use the following four statements.
The secret is to make yourself available in times of need. Notice the pain of others. Like Shavarsh, do what you do best but make yourself available to those needing help. Be willing. Develop a “How can I help you?” attitude. Audacious courage isn’t selfish. Instead, as Zig Ziglar said, you will get what you want by helping enough others get what they want. Be audacious in your attitude in helping others. Mother Theresa is a good example.
“I feel your pain.”
Be willing to feel another’s pain. Yes, it hurts, but it also is the key to moving beyond your fears. This literally shifts your attention from safe, predictable, and safe to changing lives. You are creating a revolutionary transformation when you can help someone through a trauma, or at least what they think is a catastrophe.
“I’m thinking about each step.”
Compassion is worthless pity without action. But impulsive action without a clear vision is chaos. There will be times where you feel like you are diving into the deep water, situations well over your head, but by keeping your head, focusing on each step, you become the hero. Focus on each step and deflect the temptation to allow the fear to make this into a catastrophe. Tell yourself, “one step at a time. This will work. I’ve taken these steps before.” Think your way through the fears by encouraging yourself, out loud if needed.
“Now is the time. I’m taking the right action and will not stop.”
Shavarsh acted quickly and didn’t stop until he was exhausted. In the end, he suffered cuts from the shards of glass and was hospitalized for 45 days with pneumonia and sepsis.
The fairy tale ending didn’t happen. He didn’t heal quickly and return to win more championships. The reality is that his heroic feat ended his career. He lungs were damaged and he would never compete again.
To make matters worse, due to some political constraints, no one even knew of his feat for two years. Then 9 years later, he entered a burning building, knowing he had lung problems, to rescue those trapped inside. Unfortunately he was overcome by toxic fumes and presumed dead. Fortunately, they rushed him to a hospital where he survived.
Notice his courage comes from his motivation to help others. He knew his prize inside was his audacious courage. Even more than his athletic talent, it was his heart that saved lives. Imagine if he would have been “normal” or “ordinary” bystander who declined to take the risk.
Each of us has incredible opportunities at our fingertips. Will you let fear of the unknown keep you from realizing them?
As you seek to do what others consider impossible, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I ultimately want?
- How much do I want it?
- Is it worth risking my comfort and safety?
- If not, maybe my goal isn’t big enough.
Remember, if you can accomplish your goal by yourself, it isn’t big enough and definitely not audacious. If your doesn’t make you so frightened that you feel a little sick to your stomach, it isn’t audacious.
Forget comfortable and ordinary. Be audacious.
DO THE IMPOSSIBLE
Loren Murfield, PhD
I work with leaders and entrepreneurs in small business, sales and Real Estate to think bigger and reach higher to find their breakthrough success. Contact me to begin thinking bigger.