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Conquer fears by giving back

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

As a 17-year-old, Dan Ariely suffered burns over 70 percent of his body in an accident. He spent about three years in a hospital.

Today, Ariely is a professor of psychology at Duke University and a popular author.

A few years ago, a stranger asked Ariely for a big favor: Her son had been severely burned in a fire and was struggling to survive. She had heard of Ariely’s experience, and she figured he was uniquely qualified to offer words of support to her son.

Ariely, 50, didn’t jump at the chance. He knows the future is bleak for burn victims—and felt he could offer little comfort.

Nevertheless, he coached the mother on what she could say to her son. She took his advice, and it proved helpful.

A few months later, her son was still in the hospital but out of immediate danger. She asked Ariely to drop by to lift his spirits.

Given his harrowing experiences in hospitals, Ariely had never entered one as a visitor during his adult life. But he realized that “my motivation to help was stronger than my aversion,” he recalls.

Their chat went well. They discussed his condition as well as other topics such as family and life outside the hospital walls.

Ariely has stayed in touch with the woman’s son through his painful recovery. His willingness to look past his dread of reliving his own horrific experiences—and offer useful information and emotional support to a young man undergoing a similar trial—has enriched Ariely’s life in myriad ways.

— Adapted from Payoff, Dan Ariely, TED Books.

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