Doing What Scares Me

He had always been confident, or that’s how I perceived him. He is a successful business owner and a committed public servant, and it helped that he is not at all difficult to look at. This evening over dinner, he asks me, “How do you ever get rid of speaking in public?”

He was a long-time friend and understood that what I did professionally involved talking to people, sometimes people I needed to convince to see my idea or solution. It was an introspective question that led me down memory lane to my first public speaking gig in fifth grade.

My response is, “You never stop being scared; you just get better at handling it.”

I recall this particular conversation because I’m putting myself in situations that scare me these days. These situations call to attention the genuine fears that drive them – fear of failure, rejection, or just plain fear of making a fool of myself.

I have no real “solutions,” only small actions working for me.

Just Do

I started speaking in public in fifth grade when my mom enrolled me in a public speaking class. I recall that she wrote in one of the student assessments that my weakness is that I am shy. So, I found myself in a class that may have been intended to correct this supposed weakness.

Our final assignment was to write a speech and say it in front of the class. I don’t recall how well or poorly I did, but I remember writing and rehearsing my speech. I practiced in front of family, friends, and the mirror.

Am I confident when speaking to clients, senior executives, and colleagues? No. It’s only 10% confidence and 90% preparation.

Be Prepared

Part of preparation means preparing for what I fear the most – failure, rejection, or humiliation. The mental exercise I do is looking past that initial shock. So after “big” moments, I would plan to have a glass of wine or a cocktail, a nice meal out, or in some cases, purchase that thing sitting in my cart.

Since I have something to look forward to after the event, it makes it easier for me to carry out the task.

I’ve found myself in situations that were a bit more difficult to process, and in those cases, the mental preparation allows me to sit in my feelings more meaningfully.

Understand the Feedback

Looking at the external feedback first only leads me down the rabbit hole. So, I changed my strategy and listened to the feedback I would get from my body and mind.

Usually, mine are a combination of jittery hands, racing heartbeat, a mini panic attack, and some version of “Sh*t! Did that happen? I’m so screwed.”

I try not to schedule anything after doing that, which scares me. This gives me space to process the adrenaline and calm down. Once the rush passes and I regain control, I can understand the external feedback clearly.

Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

When we do something that scares us, it means that it is something we care about, and so, in the grand scheme of things, it must be worth doing.

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