Fear has been described as beautiful. There’s nothing sensual or ripe about it; it’s one of those lean emotions, the kind that rides bitch in the backseat, who suns on the golden shorelines of our “almost” moments, and manages to slip in effortlessly even to the most exclusive of parties. The gift of fear. It’s celebrated as a catalyst to safety.
This might very well ring true when it comes to trusting our instincts about others, but it is not germane to the fear we create, that paralyzing sense of defeat.
It’s not that I hate the idea of public speaking; I hate preparing for it. Sitting in my seat, waiting to be announced, my mouth creamy, stomach heavy, taking deep breaths that never seem to sooth me. In the family of fretful emotions, suspense is the showy older sister that uses up all the hot water; expectation drives the car without permission and leaves the tank on empty; while anticipation is the brainiac with the horn-framed glasses reading a book in dim lighting conditions. It’s all in our own heads.
I fear I’ll get up there and stammer into the mic, my nerves completely transparent in a quivering voice, in too many stalling “um”s. No one will laugh. They’ll feel uncomfortable for me. It’s not just a fear of failure; it’s the fear of being ordinary. Uninspiring, unremarkable, plain. Forgettable. Or worse, a letdown—the first cousin of the fear sisters. We want so much to make our mark in this world, to be remembered, to make a difference, to feel confident in our choices. And to be truly great at something. In the wanting, we apply the pressure and begin to self-doubt.
These feelings, of course, extend far beyond my upcoming speaking engagement in Dallas and widen to include everything I expect of myself. I try to make nice with Stuart Smalley, reciting positive affirmations about pants and one leg at a time, but it seems in my quiet moments, I’m always trying to outrun the crippling feelings of failure. Of not being good enough, sub par.
Sometimes I combat it by being prepared, a hive of industry, trying anyway. It’s never enough to calm me. I remind myself of all the times I’d faced what scared me and assess all the good that came from it, the growth and the joy, but really that’s far too intellectual to impede my emotions. Especially fear, that able-bodied babe in the racing shorts. So I’m left with my most primitive coping technique: the gift of why.
I’m scared that my book will be ignored. Why? Because there won’t be enough promotion and marketing around it. Why? Because maybe the right people aren’t paying attention. Or maybe it’s not being pitched the right way. Why? And why do you think there are “right people?” Because there are people who know better than I do, people who are better. Why? Because sometimes working hard isn’t enough. Why? Sometimes it takes talent. And the right people know how to recognize that. Why? Because they just do. And you don’t? I don’t trust myself enough. Why? Because I don’t value my own opinion. I worry that my own voice isn’t good enough. That what I have to say can be said better. Good enough for who?
And then I realize it’s really all about validation. And I’ll never be satisfied until I’m truly able to validate and believe in myself. Anything we feel we need or want more of from others is something we need to learn to give ourselves. Once we’re able to do that, fear becomes quite the chump.