Posted by: silverliningsblog | September 15, 2016

Conquering fear

fear-womanI stepped onto the stage. All eyes were on me as I prepared to give my 10-minute speech in a French public speaking contest at regional finals. I was 14.

I took a deep breath, opened my mouth to speak and…nothing came out. I broke out into an instant sweat as I tried in vain to recall the words I had so carefully written, memorized and delivered several times already. But the words did not come.

The silence pounded in my ears as I shifted side from side for what seemed like an eternity, with everyone staring uncomfortably at me. I finally left the stage and took my seat, humiliated and choking back tears.

That was almost 30 years ago. And yet I can remember the scene like it was yesterday.

That moment has haunted me for much of my adult life, causing me to shy away from taking the stage again, even though there’s a part of me that has always envisioned myself on stage, speaking to large groups of people, motivating them to create better lives.

It’s funny how one difficult event can cause us to fear being put in the same situation ever again…and to lose out on so many great opportunities as a result.

But our brains are wired to look for patterns and to avoid pain, so we subconsciously avoid anything that reminds us of previous “negative” experiences. (That’s why you may avoid a certain food, even if you only got sick once after eating it. Or why you dislike driving in the city, because you had one accident. Or why you don’t like Aunt Doris, because she once pinched your cheeks too hard.)

Food for thought: What fear is holding you back in your life? Is it a fear of public speaking, dating, meeting new people, being assertive, changing jobs, ending a relationship, being alone?

Moving through fear

Three years ago, I decided to open a business as an author and empowerment coach for women. Ironically, that career forced me to face two of my biggest fears: sales, and speaking on stage.

I have gradually been moving through both of those fears (which are ultimately rooted in a fear of rejection from childhood). I’ve been taking it one step at a time, using the techniques I outline in Taming the tiger within: How to move through fear and anxiety. And gradually the fear has subsided.

But I still tend to overprepare and use notes as a crutch, terrified of yet again not knowing what to say.

20160912-momondays-ottawa-karen-allen-5Earlier this week, I took the stage again to deliver a 10-minute speech. Without notes. This time, 130 pairs of eyes were watching me as I prepared to speak. I had prepared for this moment, so was not too nervous, though I was a bit worried about forgetting my words again.

Funnily enough, I forgot my first line. But I recovered quickly, and went on to give a great speech that got me a standing ovation and many compliments afterwards.

It was a terrific moment. I knew I had finally conquered my fear, and that it would never stop me again from taking the stage.

Learning to trust yourself

“If you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you possibly have to fear?” —Susan Jeffers

fearIn her book Feel the Fear…and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers says that all fears really boil down to one thing: the fear that we can’t handle something.

She says the key is to move through our fear and take action despite it. Then one of two things will happen:

  1. We’ll succeed, which will give us the confidence to take new risks.
  2. We’ll fail, and we’ll realize that failure is not the end of the world…it’s an invitation to do something a different way (or try something new).

In other words, no matter what, we’ll discover we can handle the outcome.

I have no illusions that my fear of getting on stage is gone or that I’ll never be nervous…I simply know now that I can handle it. And that if I do forget something, it’s not the end of the world. I simply need to remain connected to my audience, give myself a moment or two, and it will either come back to me or I’ll figure out something else to say.

Many of us try to deal with our fear by either avoiding what makes us afraid (limiting our potential), or trying to control everything in our external world (driving other people crazy). But really, the way to feel safe in the world is to trust yourself that you can get through any challenges that come your way …and eventually succeed.

As for me, I have finally learned to trust myself to figure things out no matter what happens, and that is a very good feeling indeed.

Have you conquered any fears? Please share your tips/comments below!

Resources for further learning

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Karen Strang AllenKaren Strang Allen is an empowerment coach for single women and mother of two. She is the author of Free to be me: Create a life you love from the inside out! and international bestselling co-author of Unwavering Strength Volume 2. Widowed at 22 and separated at 35, Karen’s mission is to help single women feel great about themselves, turn their heartbreak into the best thing that ever happened to them, and create a life they love, so they become a magnet for their dream partner. Learn more about Karen and check out her free empowering resources at www.karenstrangallen.com.

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