Don’t bullshit yourself. You DO have fears. And I do, too. We all do. And to deny that upwelling of emotion is to deny a physiological truth of your body.
A grounding in truth is essential. Not just in a woo-woo spiritual sense, but in a concrete psychological way. Lying to yourself about such a solid and real physiological response can make for unsure footing about everything. If that feeling is a lie, what else is? Can I trust my gut instinct at all?
Acknowledging the fear doesn’t in any way make you weak. What you do in the face of that fear is the real question.
This, of course, is where courage is summoned. The courage to take that initial leap of faith. The courage to rise up out of bed tomorrow, and
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m scared to death of speaking on stage. Doesn’t matter if it’s in front of 10 people, or 10 thousand. I’m scared to the point of near immobilization; sweaty palms, racing heart, quivering knees, the whole 9 yards.
It’s totally illogical, of course. I’m in no real danger on stage. It’s an emotional response that’s been tough to get to the root of.
But yeah, in the few moments before I walk on stage, I dream of running the fuck out of the building.
What exactly is it that I fear? Rejection. Ridicule. Judgement. Stuttering, drawing a blank, misspeak… my conscious mind goes into overdrive with negative, “shitty roommate” self talk.
Who are YOU to be on stage? What the fuck do YOU know? Why the hell are YOU on stage when there are so many others who are smarter, more skilled, better equipped to deliver a rockin’ talk? Tony Robbins you are not; sit the fuck down!
And then I turn the narrative in my mind. I’ve learned to use that fear as a motivator. I’ve learned to see that physical feeling of impending doom as the exact same feeling as excitement. Because, in reality, the only difference between fear and excitement is my internal narrative.
Many great minds have opined on this idea, but none so eloquently as William Shakespeare when he wrote:
“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…”
When I was 12, following a group of older kids, I climbed to the top of a train track bridge trestle with the intent to jump into the river below. The heat of summer on the iron burned my hands and feet. The thin ribbon of river below looked impossibly far away. If the iron of the trestle weren’t so damn hot, I would have laid flat upon it in fear.
And all of this trying to keep up with the older boys. To prove myself worthy of running with a pack that, at that time in my life, was the only thing that mattered.
Hands shaking, heart pounding; immobilization. The same physical reaction that I now feel prior to going on stage. My mind willing me to say “fuck it”, shimmy back down that hot-ass trestle, and run back to the safety of home.
But I jumped anyway. How, I really don’t know. It’s all kind of a blur to me now. But I did.
And I died a thousand deaths in that 3 seconds of freefall.
Something transformational happened in that process. I re emerged out of that river a different being. I’d solidified (at least for the moment) my place in the cool, older boy’s pack. I’d conquered my fear. And without realizing what I’d done, I’d made that connection between physiological response, fear and excitement. I learned what a powerful rush overcoming fear can be.
The power of emotion
And yet, in those moments before I step on stage, I’m still gripped by that same damn physiological response. The fear doesn’t vanish; it’s woven into my limbic system, triggered by something (who knows what) in my past.
In one sense, it would be interesting to know what those triggers are. But it really doesn’t matter; the conscious mind can create all kinds of stories to support an emotional upwelling.
But if my conscious mind can create “just so” stories in support of why I’m gripped with fear, it can also flip that narrative and assign excitement to the same response vis-a-vis the scenario at hand.
That is, I can assign excitement to that feeling of stepping on stage.
Is it easy to do? Fuck no. Partly – for me, at least – because there is nothing physical involved. It’s “just speaking”, and my “shitty roommate” balks at the idea of comparing speaking to freediving off a railroad bridge.
It does help, though, to have a motivating reason to walk on stage. Or to jump off a bridge. For my 12-year-old self, it was status. I wanted to run with the older, cool-kid pack. Rise above kids my own age. To get even the slightest nod from one of those older cool kids in front of my age peers? That was pure gold in that environment.
And that’s part of the trick. I’m not the 12-year-old status-hungry kid anymore. Oh, I still status-seek (I’m no saint), but I’ve yet to find the emotional tie between delivering a great talk and the status I do seek.
That’s the part I’m working on now. The project of ME (like the project of YOU) is never-ending. As it should be. That’s life.
We can choose to stand safely in the garden and defend in fear, or place one foot in chaos and attack with courage. The choice is mine, and the choice is yours.
Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –