the gift of why

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.

Stephanie Klein, International Speaker

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.



  1. I could assure you that you will do just fine. That there is nothing to worry. But of course you have to believe in yourself. What I can tell you is the following:

    People will buy your book. I will buy your book. You'd like to know why? Well, because I liked your first book very much. And because I really LOVE your blog, as so many other readers do. Actually it is the best marketing someone can get. People know you / or think they know you by reading your blog. If a good friend of yours would write a book what would you do? You would of course buy her book!! Out of curiosity, out of admiration, out of the simple fact that it is your friend. Have a little trust in your readers, your fans. They won't let you down! As you wouldn't let down a friend.

  2. If it's any comfort at all, and I'm sure you've heard this, all creative people doubt themselves. Afraid they'll be found out. The voice behind the pointed finger will bellow, "You're nothing."

    And if you're any good, and if you care about what you do, you'll worry each and every time. Sucks. The only way I've learned to cope is to welcome the unwelcomed acquaintance. "Yeah, I know you. Don't really like you, but here you are again. For every question you pose, for every doubt you express, I'll have an answer."

    What you call the "why's" are what I call the "what if's," and I answer each and every one. The answers aren't always entirely satisfying and don't always defend me against my enemy, FEAR, but at least I'm not left cowering in the corner.

    You're right. We're all seeking validation. And we can only give it to ourselves, but it feels damn good to hear it from others. If it didn't, why would we bother putting our words out there? We'd write for ourselves and only ourselves. In a diary. In private. But we don't. We want to share our words. If you didn't think you had something to say, you wouldn't say it. The risk is that damned pointed finger.

    The reward is always greater than the risk. Even a few kind words can silence the bellowing voice, well, at least reduce it to a whisper. And FEAR becomes fear. Lower case is always easier to manage than upper case. At least, that's the case for me.

  3. I think it was on Oprah, they were talking about Katie Lee Joel and fear of public speaking. KLJ said that she got over the public speaking fear when she realized it was a selfish emotion. By selfish, she meant that it wasn't about her- it was about the audience, and them having a great time. And once she took herself out of the equation by realizing the selfishness of it, she was fine.

    I don't know if looking at it that way works…but it's a thought. Public Speaking was my number one greatest fear- then for three years to keep my job I had to do it. I ended up loving it in the end but I was still cotton-mouthed and freaking out before going on every time.

    Good luck! I'm sure the book will do great- you have a lot of fans and you never know the power of OUR own word-of-mouth, in addition to your "professional" marketing.

  4. I used to betray my nervousness when speaking to groups at work–shaky hands, splotchy skin on my chest, quivering voice. A funny thing I noticed when I returned from maternity leave. I wasn't scared anymore. Maybe after surviving months with no sleep and overcoming first-time mom paranoia, I gained strength and confidence. Maybe I just didn't worry about the little things so much. When you get nervous, think about those beautiful beans.

  5. Growing up, I didn't even want to be looked at, let alone the center of attention. I quit ice skating after 10 years of lessons, because my mom gave me the ultimatum of being in the "skate show" or no longer taking lessons. I once told my family that I was never going to get married…because I couldn't imagine everyone LOOKING at me during the ceremony. At the character breakfast in Disney World, I hid under the table, because I didn't want Goofy or Mickey to acknowledge me.

    Now, that same girl who hates to be the center of attention, hates to have people watching and listening, has to present for 30 minutes (as an assistant!) in front of an entire publishing division (several hundred people). And I'm excited. I still get so scared, and there is still that little girl inside of me who wants to run under a table and hide, but there is also a young woman who knows that she knows more about online publicity than anyone else in the entire company. And that knowledge gives me confidence. Sure, I could mess up, but I could also shine. And the excitement of the latter outweighs the devastating fear of the prior option.

    It's going to be amazing, Stephanie. Let's crawl out from under the dinner table and show the world what we're made of.

  6. You are normal. Each of us have shared these fears at one time or another.

    Maybe you will go to the podium and look at the crowd; immediately get the giggles; and start laughing. You don't stop laughing. You actually laugh harder the more you stand there. Breathing is impossible. Your face turns red and you stand there laughing.

    The crowd is silent as they watch you. Nobody understands. But you do; you don't have anything to say; you didn't practice; you didn't write a speech. You. Have. Nothing. But you stand there laughing. An older lady steps to the podium and ushers you away.

    You are never asked to give a speech ever again. Life goes on and you become successful in your career.

    :-D (This is a true story about a younger sister of mine when she was 15 years old. I was in the audience. I can still cry with laughter remembering this occasion, 20 some years later.)

    I think I need to blog about this event!

  7. Other people can tell us we're special/wonderful/genius all day long and it won't make a dent in our psyche if we've decided otherwise. But I guess the good news is that one person deciding we're plain/boring/not worth reading won't make a dent if we've decided otherwise, either.

    End of Psych 101 lecture :)

  8. Other people can tell us we're special/wonderful/genius all day long and it won't make a dent in our psyche if we've decided otherwise. But I guess the good news is that one person deciding we're plain/boring/not worth reading won't make a dent if we've decided otherwise, either.

    End of Psych 101 lecture :)

  9. I am so excited to buy your new book, it is absolutely silly. And I don't care if every word isn't perfection – it's the whole package that I'm looking forward to – you have an astonishing gift, and I appreciate being able to share in it.

    My daughters are in the most profound age of insecurity (14 and 16). God, the hours spent second guessing themselves, fussing over an errant hair strand, a pound they don't want, a blemish…EVERYONE will notice. Everyone will laugh and point. No, no, no…it's not about that. Be confident. Stand tall, I tell them. Head up, shoulders back – people will never see the blemish or the pound, they'll see and feel the excitement, energy and confidence you exude. They will want to stand near you just to be part of the aura.

    Stephanie – you are going to be phenomenal. Head up – shoulders back – we're right there to cheer you on.

  10. I hear you. I get paralyzed by my own perfectionism sometimes. It is another kind of fear. As for public speaking, I can only recommend practice, practice. I hate it too but had to overcome it in law school. You'll be fine.

  11. I have seen you speak publicly and I distinctly remember feeling that you had all of us in the palm of your hand. You were charming, self-deprecating, and funny.

    When I have to argue something in front of a judge who is about to tear me apart, and my mouth is so dry that my tounge is sticking to the inside of my cheecks, I remind myself of last summer when I stood waiting to jump off of a high platform, holding onto a trapeze bar, my heart pounding in my ears.

    Nothing in my whole life has been scarier than that moment. I knew it then, I remember it now. Nothing else comes close. Maybe you have a moment like that you can go back to and calm yourself down?

  12. I'm second Lisa's comment and, follow it up with suggesting you hold a paper clip in your hand…like the Senator did in "Maid In Manhattan" – anything is worth a try. It may take your mind off your fears so much so, that you think of the movie, momentarily forget your fear, stand up there and smile, then start speaking with that ferocity you have in your heart!!! Good luck!

  13. My doctor prescribed low-dose beta blockers to help with my performance anxiety. Worked like a charm — and I still felt in control.

  14. I'm sure that this absolutely random comment from a some-what first time reading won't be the cure to your fears and worries; however maybe it will at least make you feel a bit more validated.

    I just finished your first book. I saw it for months and months and months at Barns and Noble and just couldn't buy it, it was on the table with all those other books about becoming who you were meant to be and having faith in yourself, and I figured it was going to be a hodgepodge of boring sentimental for about 250 pages that wouldn't leave me feeling any better or any more of sense of self-worth.

    Anyway, a few weeks ago I was down in Virginia Beach with my boyfriend and it was on sale and I just had to buy it. It was the first book I picked up and I didn't let it go until it was firmly in my green plastic bag. I started reading it on Sunday… and finally finished it this past week. It took me about 10 days (college is a lot of work!) but it was so worth it. I became entangled in your life an absolutely inspired by your views.

    My whole life I've struggled for optimism and happiness wondered.. will I get married, will I be happy, does he treat me right, will I get what I want? And your book made me realize you have to want pure things first, to love yourself, to be content in who you are and not be dependent on someone else for happiness. And for the first time in my LIFE I felt free. Free of the burden that I needed a boyfriend to validate my self worth, free of the fear that if things ended I'd be a emotional wreck for months (I was after my first serious boyfriend and I broke up). I've come to realize that when you finally stop searching for things and wanting them so badly they'll come your way. And in the end, if marriage is something I want, I'll probably get it one day. but I have to stop searching for it.

    If I could do anything, it would be to suggest that every girl I knew read your book.

    Because of you Stephanie Klein, I feel like I'm finally free from the chains I wrapped myself in. And if your first book was that good, I can guarantee you that the 2nd will be even better, and that I personally will buy a copy as soon as possible.

    -Emily, Maryland.

  15. Completely off topic….

    What's with all the links to Amazon products? Usually your links go to a previous post, but recently your posts have become one big Amazon ad.

    Just curious if this is one of the blog changes??

  16. I agree with Trish Ryan. It's okay and normal to ask these things of ourselves and be unsure and fearful…And yet, this feels half like genuine confession and half desperate need for outside confirmation on how great/wonderful/fantastic you are.

    If your book does well, great. If not, it won't make you not a writer or take away the love of your family. Not everyone gets to be "bestselling author, so and so" but it seems as though that is something you really want.

    Wants are valid (I want to win Mega Millions) but don't hitch your happiness on it. Many excellent authors make plenty and write throughout their life without ever hitting one of those arbitrary lists.

    If you and your family are happy with Moose it shouldn't matter if not another person likes it or gets it or it's featured in O Magazine or is on the NYT list.

  17. Stephanie-
    Nice to meet you yesterday at Starbucks/Target. Looking forward to reading Moose and all your future work. You're fantastically talented- and so beautiful in person!

  18. The first few sentences, the descriptions of emotions was well written. Clever without being too much.
    I read that one of the most common fears is public speaking. You captured the feeling quite well here; the physiological effects prior to making a public appearance. The fear will never go away but I think after the first minute or so you'll be fine.

    If you are brave enough to really make eye contact instead of looking just above their heads as I do you'll gauge the positive reactions. The nodding, smiling and intent listening will all be evident. Best thing I can say is to remind yourself that everyone there wants to be there. They want to hear what you say and they want to succeed.
    And of course, good luck to you.

  19. I love you to pieces because of your courage and honesty. I've said it before and I'll say it again; you've been a huge inspiration to me. Huge. This post couldn't have come at a better time. The self-doubt thing must be in the air. I've had it all week. It reminded me once again that I'm not alone. I want to make other people feel how you've helped me feel…that it's not only okay to be bold and quirky, but that it's even okay to flaunt it.

    I once read that the root of bravery is doing something even though you're scared shitless.

    By the way, I pre-ordered 'Moose' last weekend off of Amazon and can't wait to read it.

    Keep being you – you're so good at it!


  20. Fear schmear – you wrote this so vividly and I felt your fear. I think it's great that you'll be speaking and sharing your gift with others. Picture it as you would if you were meeting with a bunch of girlfriends and dishing about your exciting new recipe, beauty product etc — she is dying to hear about it, just as you're anxious to share.

    :)Plus, you're so well spoken, you'll be great!

  21. "And I’ll never be satisfied until I’m truly able to validate and believe in myself…" Considering where you've been, all you've gone through, and where you are now, what the heck will it take for validation and belief???

  22. This post is really well composed. I cannot figure out how to continue that compliment without it sounding as less of a compliment. However, I found many of the descriptors used were quite good.

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