5 Suggestions To Help Overcome Your Fears
And live your life more fully.
Not long after I had landed a gig as a contributing writer, my editor sent me an email saying she had seen a job she thought I should apply for.
The position was for a humor blogger for one of the top-ranked writing sites on the web. The publisher of the site wanted a cover letter, which not only showed your humorous writing style but would also explain how you would deal with the demands and pressures of a twice-weekly blog that receives a lot of traffic and comments.
High on my editor’s encouragement, I thought to myself, “Why not? After all, I have survived basic training, potty training, and on-the-job training, and first-year teacher training. Plus, I’ve won awards for my humorous speeches. I can do this.”
As I entered the 3rd night of crafting my cover my partner came down at midnight to find me sitting in front of my computer in sweat-soaked jammies, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle.
I looked up and broke down, crying, “I can't take the pressure. I don’t know how to be funny on demand. I’d rather go back to basic training!”
After that, I promptly deleted my cover letter and burned my jammies.
I may have exaggerated slightly there. There was no whiskey involved and my humorous speech awards consisted primarily of 2nd places in area contests. However, the point is still the same. What really stopped me from applying for that position? My own fears.
How many times have you let your own fears stop you from applying for a job, pursuing a degree, or stepping on stage to deliver a speech?
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. We can all overcome our fears. In this climate of uncertainty, I think it is even more important to learn how to address our fears and not let them stop us from pursuing our goals and dreams.
So how can we overcome our fears? There are a variety of ways and lots of resources available. Different things will work for different people, but here are a few of my suggestions based on what has worked for me.
1. Ask yourself what you are afraid of and why? For example, are you really afraid of public speaking or are you afraid of being laughed at or that you will look stupid?
In my situation above, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to come up with funny stuff twice a week. I was also worried about juggling my full-time job at the university along with my other volunteer commitments.
2. Seek out support. If your fear is public speaking, try Toastmasters International. Toastmasters provides a friendly, supportive environment where people can work to overcome their fears. If it’s writing, try a local writers group or one online. Want to lose weight? There are groups for that.
What I did for that particular situation was to work with a career/personal coach. She provided me objective feedback, assistance with setting goals, and encouragement.
3. Start with small steps. Maybe you’ve already taken your first small step by giving a speech at Toastmasters. Maybe you’ve started writing here on Medium. Achieving these small steps can help bolster your confidence and prepare you for the next step.
Some of my small steps included reading more books on humor writing and comedy. I also started my own blog. Although now defunct, it was a good learning experience.
4. Be prepared to redefine. What do I mean by this? Let’s say you that you tell yourself that you are simply a bad public speaker or can’t write well. If you continue to tell yourself these stories, they will continue to be true.
However, if you want to overcome your fears you need to be willing to redefine yourself. Stop defining yourself as a bad speaker or writer. Instead, tell yourself that you are a speaker-in-training or that you are working on your writing.
One of the areas I worked on redefining is my idea of success. For years I operated on the notion that success meant having a certain title and earning a certain amount of money. However, most of those jobs never left me time to write. If I wanted the time and energy to write I had to redefine success in a different way.
5. Create a plan. Let’s say your son/sister/best friend is getting married in six months and you want to be able to deliver a toast in front of a hundred friends and family. You could create a plan which might include joining Toastmasters, finding an experienced speaker to mentor you, researching and writing your toast, and practicing the delivery.
Working with my coach, I created a plan for myself. One aspect of my plan was to join a couple of different writing organizations. A bigger and scarier part of the plan at that time was to find a part-time position, which allowed me more time to write but gave me the financial sense of security I needed.
I’m not saying that overcoming fears is going to be easy or that it will happen overnight. There will be setbacks. There are times you might need to readjust our plans. But I do believe that with work and an honest desire for change, you can overcome your fears.
Dorothy Thompson, a journalist, who in 1939, was considered by Time magazine to be one of the two most influential women in America (the other being Eleanor Roosevelt) said this:
“Only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live.”