There’s no feeling like it. It is real and it is powerful. It creates intense physical sensations that cause our brains to scream “RETREAT”! It is also useful because it keeps us alert and keeps us safe. It is the emotion of fear and it has been one of my greatest adversaries.
Growing up, I was never once accused of being a major risk taker. I was not interested in being adventurous or exploratory. I remember being afraid to try the big toboggan hill, terrified of going on roller coasters and the thought of doing a student exchange program simply didn’t enter my realm of possibility. For whatever reason, I was very much controlled by my fears.
I’ll never forget a specific incident that occurred over 17 years ago. I was in grade 7 and my teacher recognized me as one of the top spellers in the school. He invited me to participate in the spelling bee which would take place in the auditorium in front of the entire school. I can still vividly remember the crippling sensations of fear as I visualized myself spelling a word incorrectly in front of the entire school. Without hesitation, I declined his invite and told him “it’s really not something I’m interested in.” Yeah right! This was exactly something I was interested in but the fear once again kept me in the bleachers. What made the whole event so tough to swallow was that I actually would have won had I participated. I knew how to spell every word in the competition including the word that eliminated the final participant. Fear took me out of the game before it started. Fear cost me a huge win, personal success and school fame.
My sister, on the other hand, seemed to have been born with a higher threshold for fear. I remember her bombing down that same toboggan hill that I was scared to try and she is 4 years younger than me. As for travel, at age 15 she took the first opportunity to travel across the world alone and live with a family in Germany for a few months. To this day, she continues to live an adventure-filled life including moving 5000 kilometres away from home to do her master’s degree, snowboarding down a mountain and even skydiving! Does she experience fear? Of course, but she does not permit fear to be a deciding factor in her goals and aspirations.
When I finally adopted the same mindset and made a commitment to take action in spite of fear, I was able to take full control of my life and implement lasting change. As I began to work on myself and learned what my fears were and why they existed, I started to truly understand the limitations that fear had created in my life. Once I placed my focus on what my fears had been costing me, the motivation to overcome the fears seemed to blossom. I actually felt angry because I was now associating the pain of missing out on life’s adventures with my inability to transcend my fears.
I now see fear, doubt and worry for what they truly are; imagined catastrophes. I once heard an author say that fear stands for “Fantasized Expectations Appearing Real” and I could not agree more. When I am feeling fearful, I can effectively deal with the emotion because I now understand that I am literally using my imagination to contemplate a disastrous outcome to a situation. Having this awareness allows me to move forward, experience the physical sensations being caused by the fear and ultimately overcome the feeling.
The best part about learning how to overcome fear is the true sense of liberation. To set the record straight, yes I was a fearful kid but I still had some amazing experiences and many came when I mustered up enough courage to do something that scared me. When Canada’s Youth Television Network YTV was at our school doing auditions for a kids game show, not only did I step up to the plate, but I actually made it on the show! Despite feeling extremely nervous and fearful of looking foolish on television, I went ahead and gained a life experience that my family still talks about today. I let them off the hook for making fun of my 1980’s mullet hairdo
From a professional perspective, I have had to work extremely hard at dealing with fear when it comes to public speaking. Despite the fact that I quit my software career to pursue a business in personal development speaking and coaching, I had a significant amount of anxiety when it came to standing up in front of an audience. You see, my ultimate goal is to be a top ranked platform speaker like so many of my mentors. But I set this goal with the awareness that I had a fear of speaking and that I would have to transform and reinvent myself completely to fulfill this desire. I would consider this particular task to be a work in progress. I continue to get up and speak in front of audiences. The size of the audience is progressively growing larger and the size of my fear is progressively getting smaller. Instead of worrying about my next presentation, I am eagerly practicing and preparing to deliver a performance to the best of my ability. The audience feedback is indicating that I am on the right track.
It is the culmination of these positive indicators that continue to chip away at my fear and move me towards liberation. While I accept and embrace fear as a part of the equation that keeps me sharp, I am able to continually move forward and develop myself to new levels and plateaus. Life is much more exciting now that I have learned to step into the fear!