Advance Performance | How One Woman Learned to Balance Courage and Fear to Live an Extraordinary Life
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How One Woman Learned to Balance Courage and Fear to Live an Extraordinary Life

How One Woman Learned to Balance Courage and Fear to Live an Extraordinary Life

“Without fear, we’ll do foolish things. And without courage, we’ll never step into the unknown. The balance of the two is where the magic lies, and it’s a balance we all deal with every day.” 

Today, Cara E. Yar Khan works at the International Human Trafficking Institute, an initiative of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, having spent ten years working around the world with the United Nations in a number of countries including Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Thailand, and Haiti.

When Cara was thirty and fully committed to her Humanitarian career she was diagnosed with a recessive genetic condition called hereditary inclusion body myopathy, or HIBM,  a progressive muscle wasting disease which typically leads to quadriplegia, and has no cure. She was shocked at the negative and disheartening attitude of others who told her to quit her international career and not marry. In her TED Talk The Beautiful Balance Between Courage and Fear, Cara says:

The fact that someone who wasn’t me was putting limitations on my dreams and ambitions was preposterous. And unacceptable. “  She continued in her role for as long as possible working for two years in Angola before becoming the first person with a severe physical impairment to serve in a UNICEF Emergency Operation when stationed in Haiti for two years after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

This extraordinary woman craved a big adventure. She decided to be one of the one percent of visitors to go down to the base of the Grand Canyon. But with her debilitating disease, and difficulties walking with leg braces, access down the 5000 feet of vertical terrain was a major problem. Not willing to be deterred on her dream, Cara knew she would have to ride a horse down – she just needed to learn first!

Four years hard work, a very precarious ride down the Grand Canyon base and a twelve day expedition became a life-affirming experience for this adventurer. As she explains in her TED Talk, she faced her fears and dangers for an achievement that was stressful, scary, and exhilarating. She knows which parts she would do again, and which parts she wouldn’t – but she DID it. She faced her fears, dealt with potentially life-threatening dangers, but found the courage she needed to achieve what many had said was impossible.

We can all be inspired by Cara’s mindset and actions. She had a dream which needed extra steps, new skills, and a longer period of preparation to reach her potential. But this was not just one expedition. The career woman who refused to give up her international humanitarian role when others told her to limit her ambitions and life, has been able to improve the lives of many other people whose conditions had been limited in very different ways .

“Life is already scary, so for our dreams to come true, we need to be brave. In facing my fears and finding the courage to push through them, I swear my life has been extraordinary. So live big and try to let your courage outweigh your fear. You never know where it might take you. “

Both photos are stills from Ted.Com – credit to and Cara E. Yar Khan – “The beautiful balance between courage and fear”.