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Fear Is A Superpower Fuel w/ Stunt Pilot Entrepreneur Patrick Sweeney

by Faster Than Normal

Life can change when you embrace your fears like our guest today did. His name: Patrick Sweeney. His occupation: Stunt pilot. He is also an Olympic level athlete, a best selling author, a World Record holder, has built and sold three global tech companies, is a leukemia survivor, a husband and a father. Why does he fly and seek-out fear regularly? Today we’re talking about managing fear and ADHD.. and also a little about skydiving!  

A bit more about Mr. Sweeney in his own words:

“I grew up terrified of everything. I didn’t have confidence or self-esteem. My biggest fear was flying. I made excuses every time I had a chance to fly – on exchange programs, to family reunions, for big races, I made excuses to cover up the shame I felt of being afraid. I was lying to the world and myself. Then at 35 I got one of the rarest forms of leukemia. The doctors told me to say my good-byes. That was when I chose courage. Yeah, it’s a choice. Not for me but for my 1-year-old daughter and unborn son. I decided if I beat the disease and got out of John’s Hopkins I’d get over my fear of flying. I did. I decided I’d get my private pilots license. It was terrifying, but I still took the first frightening step. Then an incredible thing happened. I fell in love with flying. I now fly a stunt plane in aerobatic competitions. It is one of the greatest joys in my life, a true passion that was hidden from me because of fear. My choice had a halo effect on my whole life. Suddenly courage became my superpower. It all started with that first small step. My life changed and so can yours. That’s why I left the lucrative start-up world behind; to write Fear is Fuel and help millions of people find courage and the life of their dreams. When we become authentic, strong and confident we can achieve world peace. That’s my dream.” Enjoy!


In this episode Peter & Patrick J. Sweeney discuss:

1:00-  Intro and welcome Patrick!  Check out his book “Fear Is Fuel

2:11-  On not getting over your fears

3:20-  On discovering how fear can be used as a performance fuel

4:20-  On being owned by fear and the shame of fearing fear

6:15-  On overcoming poor self esteem

7:12-  On making decisions out of fear rather than opportunity

9:17-  What advice would you give someone who’s been told ‘you are different’ all of their lives?

12:20-  On being ‘different’ and the conceptualization of fear

14:24-  About the fight, flight or freeze reactions

15:20-  On recognizing opportunity and finding more fear in our daily lives

17:30-  About the courage center in our brains

18:50-  On activating our courage center 

19:15-  Take Patrick’s Fear Level Test here  Find Patrick’s website at Find Patrick @ thefearguru on INSTA @PatrickSweeneyFearGuru on FB @PJSweeney on Twitter and on YouTube here

19:57-  Thank you Patrick! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials.


20:05-  Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits

As always, leave us a comment below and please drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! Do you know of anyone you think should be on the FTN podcast? Shoot us a note, we’d love to hear!

We have a new sister video cast called 20MinutesInLockdown! A video podcast devoted to learning fascinating lessons from interesting humans all around the world, all in 20 minutes or less!  20 Minutes in Lockdown was born in early April of 2020, when we were in fact, in lockdown, and couldn’t do much of anything. Realizing that more than ever, people could benefit from learning from people outside of their comfort zone – people with interesting stories to tell, people with good advice, people with useful ideas that could help improve lives, we started hosting short Facebook video interviews, and we grew from there. (Plus, you can actually see my hair colors change before your very eyes!) Check it out:


Guys, Peter Shankman looked at their episode faster than normal I’m thrilled that you’re here. Let’s talk Fear today. Let’s talk for your, let’s talk about the fear that paralyzes you and prevents you from doing anything. That’s the fear that says, Hey, I have this great idea, but you know what? I don’t think there was no of good. So I’m not going to take the risk. I’m not gonna do it. Let’s talk about the fear that keeps you paralyzed and inactive and prevents you from getting everything you want. And when you’re ADHD or any sort of neurodiverse, you get that a lot. The road is littered with brilliant ideas that never took off because fear held us back. And the day I realized that I could manage my fear was the day that I became free. And I think we got someone else who’s going to share a little bit about that as well. So let’s talk to Patrick Sweeney. 

Patrick calls himself the fear guru and long story, very short. He grew up terrified of everything. His biggest fear was flying. Hated flying. At age 35, he was diagnosed when the rarest forms of leukemia and the doctors told him to say his goodbyes and he chose courage, and he got over it. He beat the disease. Studied to get his private pilot’s license. And now he flies a stunt plane. He does aerobatic competitions. He loves it. Life can change if you embrace your fear like this guy did. Patrick welcome to Faster Than Normal.

Peter man. It is great to be here. Thank you so much. I love what you guys are doing and I’m excited to be on the show.

Good. I appreciate that. You know, fear is one of those things that I, I, you know, I I’ve talked to people. Oh, you know, I have no fear of fear for the weak. I don’t believe that. I believe fear is actually very beneficial because fear. You know, if I went to, if I, every time I, I don’t have to, if I wasn’t afraid every time I sat up, I wouldn’t skydive. Fear is designed to keep you alive. It’s designed to make sure that you’re on top of your game. So I think the first thing we should establish is, is you’re not anti fear(?) 

Oh man, the opposite. And in fact, people who say avoid your fears or get over your fears, or I want to be fearless; that’s complete bullshit, Peter. I, uh, I just got off a call with 200 CEOs. Uh, in Asia from this group called YPO young president’s organization. And one of them said, you know, are you afraid of anything? And I said, yeah, I’m afraid of tons of stuff, but now I know how to use that fear as fuel because when you produce that fear cocktail, when you have that those physiological changes you literally get smarter and you get stronger. So why not use that as a, as a superhuman performance fuel? 

I remember the first time I ever truly discovered that fear could be a performance fuel. Exactly. Like you said, I, when I went to get my skydiving license, my first solo jump, you know, you do three tandems and they do a bunch of solo jumps with an instructor. Right? First jump you do you’re you’re on your own, but the instructor is sort of holding onto your belt loop, right to make sure you can stay stable in the air. And for some reason I had this, I had an instructor who weighed about 280 pounds. It was the middle of August. He was sweating his ass off. He smelled horrible and I was doing everything in my power to stay away from him in this tiny little plane. But of course it had to be right next to him. And I was gagging and several,.. I get out of the air to do the job; he lets go on and he tells me to pull, I open my parachute. I land in a heap on the ground. He comes over to me and I hugged this man like harder than I have anyone in my life. And I realized nothing else mattered. At that point I was hi is a kite on dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline and that was the first time I realized that, wow, you can really target this fear and allow it to benefit you. Now, when you started telling me, this is when you started out, you know, you were just like everyone else in that respect, fear was there. Right? 

So, yeah, I mean like, is it became a life? I was, I was owned by fear. I was, uh, and, and because of growing up in a blue collar, Irish Catholic, you know, uh, immigrant area of Boston, fear was something to be ashamed of. Right. Fear was something you didn’t admit. Fear was something that you pretend it didn’t exist. Yeah. And my grandfather was thought the way to make us Men, you know, it was, was to beat the fear out of us. So he used to take his, um, uh, his belt off and put us over his knee and whip us with it. And so I grew up with no self esteem, always thinking I wasn’t good enough. And then always feeling this terrible amount of shame because I was afraid of stuff. I couldn’t tell anyone I was afraid. I wouldn’t, you know, things got really crazy. Uh, you know, I got crazy scared of something I’d start crying and you know, my dad would give me the old, I’ll give you a reason to cry and, uh, and so I grew up with this fear and then not knowing, not having any mechanism for dealing with it. Because of that, Peter, I became afraid of fear. So when I started feeling those feelings, you know, the butterflies, new stomach that heartbeat faster and all the stuff I talk about in my book, I started to think, holy shit, this is fear is happening I got to get away from it. I got to do something. So every time I felt that I, it became the fear of fear that really was crippling for me. 

And that wake up call. I mean, you know, I’m not going to say you were lucky to get the disease you got, but you know, all the major life changes that we have come, they started some random point and yours happened to be that right? Tell us about it. 

Well, you know, and, and I wouldn’t necessarily say it was random. Uh, I caused it for sure. So I was, I spent my lifetime trying to build self confidence and self esteem and, and never being good enough. And so when I started a company, I figured if I made a lot of money. So first I figured if I, if I became a great athlete, I’d signed self esteem and courage, so I spent six years training to the Olympics, finished second in the Olympic trials, race the world cup in the single skull and rowing and I got confident on the water, but no place else. I mean I still was terrified to ask out a, a beautiful girl or, or ask Investors money or, you know, all this stuff instead of \so, uh, so then I thought, well, so I make a lot of money. I’ll get self esteem and confidence. And, and so I started to build up this persona, uh, after business school where, you know, I was wearing $10,000 watches driving $150,000 car, raised about $50 million in venture capital in debt and was just terrified the whole time. And the way I dealt with it was, was the only way I could keep these anxiety wolves at bay was drinking. I’d have seven or eight beers every night and probably twice that on the weekends. And so that combination of drinking of anxiety and fear, a fear of failure, fear of employees, leaving fear of customers going and then that, that just being terrified to fly, all of those things combined to just keep a flood of cortisol, the stress hormone, going through my body and not surprisingly- that almost killed me. I’m highly convinced that combination of things led to this really rare form of leukemia. And when I went into my local GP, he said, we have no idea what’s going on, but you get no immune system and we’re going to send you to the Hopkins. My one year old daughter went to her grandparent’s house, my wife and I went up to Hopkins and we endured this battery of nightmare tests that culminated in Dr. McDavid coming in and saying look, um, you know, we’re going to do everything we can, we’ve got great oncologists, but we think you should get your affairs in order and say your goodbyes. My wife was six months pregnant and went into shock. And I was just, you know, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I, it, it was then when regret hit me like a baseball bat to the stomach. I thought I looked back on my life stop, man. I had these amazing opportunities and I just wasted them all because I was terrified of everything I made every decision out of fear instead of making decisions out of opportunity. And that’s when it hit me that, that, uh, I had wasted my entire life and now I’m going to die anyways. 

So, the podcast is primarily geared towards either people with ADHD or people who love people with ADHD, or neurodiversity, and you know, what do you, what can you tell them? What can you tell someone who has all his life or her life been accused of being different. And has, you know, is we just suddenly realizing that that might not be a curse; that might be a gift, but they’re not anywhere near the point where it doesn’t scare them- where they’re not afraid of that, where they can..where they can move forward from it. You know, when you’re, when you’re in school and you’re not like everyone else, a lot of times ‘that’s different and you’re wrong’. Right? And so you, you grow up with that mentality of: ‘my God, something must be wrong with me. I should probably keep a low profile. I can’t do anything. I shouldn’t try anything new’. You know, what advice would you give. 

Well, you know, I got a ton of advice from Peter and, um, partially because, you know, I think I’m going 100 miles an hour all the time. When I grew up, uh, you know, obviously in the eighties and they weren’t really diagnosing kids with ADHD and the, in the, uh, eighties and nineties, she was called, “sit down, you’re disrupting the class disease”.

Exactly. That’s exactly. And that was me. And so, and, and I’ll, I’ll continue the story with my youngest son as well, but, um, I had so much energy and I was always thinking of stuff and I could, I could just, you know, I was like a machine gun instead of these people who were like a bolt action rifle that I deal with. And so to me, it was always, you know, my, my. Uh, my, my friends were, would always say, you know, you’re either gonna end up in jail or as a millionaire because you’re out of control dude. And, you know, I think up until the sickness, you had that, that looking for self esteem and that was a big part of it because feel different and one of the things from a neuroscience perspective, everyone listened to your podcast needs to know— is that when something is different, it scares us. So we have, uh, a subconscious database that’s the equivalent of 500 Mac book computers, and the really messed up thing. Peter is we don’t populate that, that subconscious. Other people do. So we don’t choose where we’re born. We don’t choose the color of our skin. We don’t choose the number of brothers and sisters. We don’t choose the language. We speak, all of that’s changed. And for us yet, we use that to make 18 and 90% of our decision every day. So all of those decisions are being made subconsciously. Now, if you realize that if you realize that I’m going to populate the computer that’s making decisions for us. And one of the key warning signals of danger that our brain gives is when something’s different. And it doesn’t match up with things that are in our tribe, things that are in our environment. So when someone seems different or they’re called different, then they scare people and, and people are gonna act differently around that. They’re going to have literally a fear response. And so. When, when you look at the greatest, most successful and happiest people in the world from a, an Elon Musk to a Richard Branson and, uh, you know, to, to, uh, Gandhi, they’re all very different from normal people. And so being different. One thing I learned after, or six years of neuroscience research- being different means you’ve got a much higher chance of success and happiness and fulfillment. If you find the, the really bright shot, any exciting side of your difference. 

It’s a great way to look at it. I always think- in the concept of fear, um, if you look at the, I mean the human body and you’re right, you’re a hundred percent, right? The human body does classify things that could kill me, stay away from it. That’s pleasurable. Get more of it, things like that. It’s a very, it’s a very binary, binary approach, right? A you want a, okay. That’s B you can’t have B you should get a stick with that. On the flip side, though. I mean, there are benefits to that, you know, not, not from the perspective of ADHD. Um, a lot of the ADHD perspective is, is, is the body is telling you not to do those things when in fact you should and that’s where the training comes in. You know, for instance, um, you know, a car. Uh, God forbid a car rolls onto your kid. All of a sudden you have hope strength strengthen. You can actually pull that car off, right. Adrenaline and, and, and, and, and dopamine sorry, give you that strength. Now. You’re going to be in hell for the next six months as you heal from that, but you know, you’re going to the body says, hey, I’d rather you. It’s better for you to, to hurt for a few months than to lose your ability to procreate, right. And that’s millions of years of evolution. And so the concept of fear is that it’s fear. Fear is the same thing in that regard, as adrenaline fear tells us, Hey, that saber tooth tiger can kill you; avoid it. The problem is is that we don’t have saber tooth tigers anymore. Right. We have, you know, the risk of, of looking stupid, right? And we’ve, we’ve maximize these risks and glorify them in such a way through the media and through the us that a lot of times we are afraid to take that chance. 

Well, and that’s the problem. So we’re running a 2 million year old piece of software on our amygdala, and that knows the fight, flight, or freeze response. But the problem it is that was designed by our caveman ancestors to be an early warning system for danger. And in fact, today we can use that same system in our modern society, which is full of stimulus. We can use that as an early warning system for opportunity. Because we have, when we designed 2 million years ago, that cave man was sitting out in front of his cave maybe some birds were tweeting and gentle breeze was blowing, but there wasn’t phones ringing. There, there weren’t computers going off there weren’t horns honking and, and weed whackers going there, there wasn’t all this stimulus. So anything that, that that was the slightest bit off was something that they needed to be warned about. The problem is that software stayed with us. So we’ve got to reprogram that. So that when something feels different, when something gives us a strange feeling, we look at that and we say, Hey, wait a minute. I’ve got an opportunity presenting itself here and try and figure out what that is when you have that feeling, beause what most people do and what I did until, you know, I almost died was I looked at that and I said, Oh my God, I get that feeling. Something’s wrong. I get it. I got to run. I got to run from that feeling. When in fact you’ve got to lean into it, that’s why we need to find more fear every day in our lives. 

Well, it’s very true.  And you know, the, the, the, the first time I jumped again for sometimes under the airplane, I felt freer when I hit the ground than I ever had in my life. I’m like, I gotta do that again And every time I jump, I get scared, but that’s the excitement of it is that I know that the end result is going to be worth it. 

Oh, Peter, when I, you and I took that first flying lesson, I peed at least four times. I’m telling you. I remember absolutely every detail. It was in a, you know, ultra high definition, crystal clear and that fear response helped me learn better because my pupils were dilated. I was taking in more visual information. My hearing was better cause more blood flow went in there. My, my brain, the brain oxygen blood barrier opened up wider so I got more oxygen to my brain. And, and I was terrified, but I kept thinking I’m going to do this for my daughter, so I had an altruistic motivation. I, I didn’t want her memory of her dad being a guy who was too afraid to get on a plane and take her to Disney world. Right. So I said, I’m going to overcome this fear of flying for her. And that motivation gave me courage, that that helped me flip the switch to my courage center. The second lesson was even worse because we went out over some mountains. And, and let me tell you, Peter, in that little plane, that little diamond DA40 we were bouncing around and I actually pooped myself up.

Updrafts! Updrafts will do that to you, my friend that’s phenomenal. 

Hey, that ha that’s part of it. That’s part of the game and that’s part of the experience. And that’s the story you tell now. 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, and, you know, after that, having the courage that we’ve literally have a courage center in our brain there’s there’s, uh, everyone has heard about the amygdala, our fear center, but these Israeli researchers did a brilliant study. They took, uh, 300 people who had admitted in a survey; they were terrified of snakes. And they put them in a functional MRI machine. That’s one of those white sort of coffin-like things you can go into scan your brain. And at the other end of the FMRI machine was the snake sitting in a wagon on a little, um, a little track. And inside the FMRI machine, they had a button that could move the snake closer or further away and not surprisingly, most of the people got in were told what the buttons were for, and they pushed that snake as far away as they, yeah. But. There were a few brave souls who actually moved it closer to themselves. And what happened was incredible because the amygdala literally switched off and a part of their brain called the SGACC sub-genial, anterior cingulate cortex lit up like a Christmas tree. They literally flipped a switch on their brain and activated their courage center and they did it by choice. And that’s the amazing thing that we all have the capability to do. We can activate our courage center. It feels horrible. Right? You’ve got to act courageous first, then you’ll feel courageous. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking, Oh, I’ll do that. When I feel more courageous. 

Yeah, it’s never going to happen. It’s just your body telling your body you’re ready to do it and then just get it done. Awesome. Patrick, I cannot thank you enough. The book is called fear as fuel. It’s a Wall Street Journal Bestseller. I strongly encourage people to check it out. How can they find you? What’s a, you have a website and what? [Take Patrick’s Fear Level Test here  Find Patrick’s website at Find Patrick @ thefearguru on INSTA @PatrickSweeneyFearGuru on FB @PJSweeney on Twitter and on YouTube here]

Well, Peter, uh, I definitely have a website and something for your listeners. I think that..You have a, there’s a little button there that says test your fear. So you can take a survey for, uh, it takes about five minutes and you can test your fear in different realms, like finance and chill and physical and that sort of thing. So go to and go test your fear. Have some fun with that. Uh, we’re also got a master that released I’m really excited about. Is the fear, your listeners. Thank you all so much for taking time out of your busy day. Awesome, Patrick, thank you again. And guys, thank you as always for listening, we’ll see you next week for another episode of Faster Than Normal, looking forward to it with other great guests like Patrick Sweeney. Talk to you guys soon!


Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were performed by Steven Byrom and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week. 


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