Whenever a fire happens, use it for transformation

It was during an evening in March 2012 when my phone rang and I learned that our furniture family business was entirely burning on fire. I remember landing in my hometown the next morning and seeing my father in tears. I have seen him sad a few times before, but the sadness wasn’t the strange part. The new to me was seeing him afraid.

On that day I could notice his fear for the first time in my life. How humbling it is to realize that. I’m sure he has been afraid many times before, but he was able to either hide it, or overcome it faster.

Amidst all the uncertainty, I learned that it is fear what creates the opportunity to be courageous. We lost overnight a building, a lot of work and investments of a lifetime. It wasn’t insured.

Such loss was a good driver to keep us fresh and young over the past 9 years. Youth, in whatever life stage we are, means growth, experiencing new emotions and maturing to me. One who is young takes risks. Often out of ignorance, often out of a promise of a reward. Being young is being hopeful.

For moments, it would be hard to remain hopeful. Friends, community, employees, suppliers, everyone showed solidarity. A friend of mine who was living in China sent an email with a poem by Guimarães Rosa, which translates as “Life is like this: it heats up and it cools down, it squeezes and then it loosens, it settles down and then it shakes things up. What life wants from us is courage.”

Then if life is urging us to be courageous, so we did. And I was lucky enough to count on these reflections and learnings early on in my career.

  • Change: once we experience an uncomfortable feeling or position, it’s time to start making change. Change can protect us from going in a harmful direction, change of speed can accelerate to accomplish something or slow down to observe better. Changing the mindset can show more positive outcomes. Conscious choices with bad outcomes are a richer learning experience than making no choices. It takes courage to change. In the roots of the word “courage” are “act” and “heart”. Isn’t it telling?
  • Responsibility: courage should propel one, not destroy him/her. Understanding the range of possible outcomes and how far you can tolerate them, being responsible to operate within healthy levels to your system mitigates the danger perceived. The boundary of courage once experienced can stretch and the edge is a moving line.
  • The power of the known: the closer one gets to what scares him/her, the more familiar it becomes and more capable we are to assess whether it’s healthy to get closer or further away. It takes courage to start, it also takes courage to leave.

To summarize, the following matrix aims to illustrate how I perceive the power of our feelings and confidence, and how we can practice and build on those two to navigate circumstances.

  1. Anxiety: combining bad feelings with a high confidence that we don’t control things, can turn the apprehension towards an uncertain situation real, and creates a trap around negative emotions. Moving laterally towards positive feelings becomes harder as uneasiness grows. Channeling such a high level of confidence combined with positive emotions can move laterally towards accomplishments.
  2. Fear: being afraid triggers undesired feelings from the past and our memory creates a future that we don’t desire. Fear has a moderate level of confidence. We may overcome it or we may sinc, depending on the actions we take. Preparation is a possible remedy to turn fear into courage. Listening to your calling is also a booster of good emotions. Courage lives in the gap between how much one wants something and to which extent risks are tolerated. More positive feelings help moving laterally from a place of fear to a place of courage.
  3. Self-doubt: when bad feelings come together with low confidence. Better feelings can lead to hope (move laterally), and boosting your confidence may expose you to face your fears (move vertically). When both hope and acknowledgement of fears start to show up, courage emerges.
  4. Accomplishments: not all accomplishments overcome fear, they may or may not. Being action-oriented and utilizing an unlimited potential that we all have is rewarding.
  5. Courage: acting with the heart. Period.
  6. Hope: The promise of a future better than the present, the belief that it’s possible.

Whether it’s to deal with an unexpected event or a crisis, start something new, live a love story, make a career move, advocate for someone or a cause, or follow a dream, may your heart speak and your courage be a resource available to serve you breaking bad patterns, making responsible choices and becoming friends with the unknown.

As my yoga teacher once said: “Whenever a fire happens, use it for transformation”.

Camila is a Global Business Lead at Google, and former Head of Marketing and start-up co-founder. She holds a Masters degree in International Management and BBA