Fear typically rears its head when we are drawn to something powerful: an idea, environment, or relationship that we know could be life-changing if we only took that first step.
Think about the last time an idea really intrigued you. Were you pushing your boundaries, standing on the precipice of a leap that could bring you something terrific? Were you this close to landing a deal, strengthening a relationship, maximizing your talents, or creating something powerful? If you didn’t take that leap, do you feel regret over what could have been?
We’ve all felt that before, the combination of anxiety and exhilaration that comes from the realization that we are on the edge of…something. We have that overall body tingle, a heightened awareness, and our fingers and toes twitch involuntarily as we prepare to jump right in or run away as fast as we possibly can.
You know what many of us do at this point. We step back and the anxiety fades, taking with it the exhilaration, the feeling that we are moments from something fantastic, if we can only push through. At first we console ourselves with statements like, “it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway,” but we know deep down that is false comfort. By saying no to the opportunity – which is what you do whether you consciously step back or let the clock run out – you are making it a sure thing that it won’t work out.
Action Trumps Analysis (or, “why not?”)
You know the old joke, that most people attending a funeral would rather be in the casket than than standing at the podium to deliver the eulogy. Fear of public speaking is a big concern for many people, and I’ve seen this play out personally and professionally for even the most confident people.
Stepping up to the microphone – even the thought of it – makes our stomachs tense and our hearts beat a little faster. We imagine forgetting our words or having a technical problem, clicking quickly through our PowerPoint presentation as we fill the air with nervous chatter, watching as the audience members nod their heads and whisper to each other about how stupid we must be. We’re doomed to a life of mediocrity, everyone will laugh at us, and it will all be front-page news tomorrow.
(I know, shades of the Drama Queen here.)
Now imagine you were diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome as a kid and you’ve spent your early adulthood researching and trying all kinds of techniques to manage your vocal and motor tics. Josh Hanagarne found success over his Tourette’s Syndrom through strength training and other forms of intense body discipline, and he writes about his day job as a mild-mannered librarian who can rip phone books in two at World’s Strongest Librarian. (Like Clark Kent with a Library Science degree.)
Josh is not a person who shrinks back from challenge. In fact, he is the guy who leaps forward into opportunity, and it shows in the level of success he’s seen in his life.
I asked Josh to give us a little background on how he “accidentally” became a professional speaker:
In December of 2010 I got an email from the PACER organization in Minneapolis. Apparently someone had heard me talk for a couple of minutes at a Tourette’s Syndrome Support Group picnic here in Salt Lake and immediately wrote to an acquaintance at PACER to ask that they invite me. That was a huge surprise. From a casual picnic of maybe 20 people to a group of 1200 special educators and parents of kids with special needs.
A week prior to the Minneapolis engagement, the same group asked if I could fill in for someone at their conference in Washington, DC. I said yes, and so far those two engagements have resulted in more invitations. So it wasn’t thrust on me, and I didn’t chase it. I got invited and thought, “Why not?”
To ease his concerns about his first speech, he made sure he understood what information he needed to convey, what kind of audience he would be speaking to, and the kind of result they wanted with the speech.
I was a little uneasy about whether I was right for the audience, but the leaders assured me that I was, so I trusted them. I had a story to tell and all I could do was tell it well, so I prepared and did it. Based on the reaction, I did everything I was hired to do.
Other than his action-based approach to challenging new opportunities, Josh has some great insight into using fear as a motivator.
Fear is useful. For me, it’s a clue. I tend to thrive when something makes me uncomfortable. I don’t think fear should be avoided, and it often can’t be avoided. I don’t seek it out as in, “I’m going to run into that burning building because that would be scary and therefore edifying.” But when I sense that something scares me, it feels like an opportunity. When I do something that scares me, someone else usually gets something out of it.
There’s nothing wrong with being afraid as long as the fear doesn’t paralyze you.
How this can help you in your next big challenge
- Ask yourself, “Why not?” Are your answers legitimate (I would get burned putting my hand on a hot stove) or in the realm of the ridiculous (Failure would mean I could never show my face in this town again)?
- Instead of worrying, inform yourself. Find out what is required of this new opportunity and work through the logistics. Too often we spend time worrying about things that don’t matter and let the things that do slide by. We increase our chances of failure when we focus on the fears and not the facts.
- Acknowledge your fear and use it as a compass. Is it something that will help you or someone else? Then you are probably on the right track. Just don’t stop moving!
Do you struggle with fear and confidence? Check out Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident, available on Amazon on March 15, 2012.