It was Mother’s Day weekend two years ago when my mom, my dad, and I sat in a Nashville café eating brunch. Satisfied from the laughing and the food, I slumped back in my chair. My eyes wandered along the wall behind our table and I saw a bunch of words written on two hanging doors. After scanning the words, I found my gaze land on a quote. As I read the words, they became a part of me. “You may find the very thing you seek is hidden within the very thing you fear.” I had no idea that exactly two years later, again on Mother’s Day weekend, I would recite those words as a mantra…
Deep breathing wasn’t working so I started to pace. I had been standing still for the last half hour, but my fitbit told me that I was in my target heart rate zone for exercise. 140 beats per minute… 142… 146. I could see the number rise as I got closer and closer to presenting. In that moment, no part of me wanted to or felt prepared to stand up and talk in front of the group. The days leading up to the presentation hadn’t been any easier either. This feeling of uncertainty, fear, and nausea had been growing despite my best effort (and the effort of everyone around me) to convince myself that everything would be okay.
What could possibly be worth feeling like this?
- Growth from the experience
The outcome of my presentation was less important than the value of the overall experience. I could have prepared for another year and I probably would not have made as much progress as I did in the small time I presented. Acting despite fear produces feedback and receiving feedback is one of the most effective ways to grow. Had I not tried, I would never have figured out exactly what I needed to work on in the future.
When it comes to fear, you can either try and possibly fail or not try at all. In the worst-case scenario, you fail. And while failing at something hurts more than not trying in the short-term, not trying is worse in the long-term. If you fail it hurts your ego, if you don’t try it stunts your success. The learning that comes from a failure far outweighs the comfort of inaction. And remember, failure is the worst-case scenario- you may be successful, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.
- A new reference point
The fear of presenting this weekend did not stem from a fear of public speaking, but from presenting on a more challenging platform than I had ever done before. What I was feeling was the fear of failure. Presenting under the circumstances exceeded my comfort zone and exceeded the ability level that I believe I possessed. There was no previous experience I could compare it to or draw confidence from. I tried to quiet the voice that told me I couldn’t do it all week, but the best self-talk and encouragement from colleagues couldn’t do what facing my fears could.
Fear is partly fueled by the unknown. The new territory you wish to explore is an area you cannot yet see clearly. But, as you climb a mountain, the summit always becomes clearer and more manageable the higher you climb. Every fear you overcome, helps you chart a new reference point for the next fear you face. The other side of fear has a much different view if you only choose to push through.
- The sense of accomplishment
As I found myself delivering the last sentence, the feeling of pride, relief, and joy filled the place of fear and uncertainty. It was not my best presentation. There are things I will work on for the next one and things I would change if I could, but I faced my fear. I can’t remember half of the presentations I’ve done in the past, but I will remember this one. The experience that caused an incredible amount of discomfort, will now be a place from which I build confidence the next time.
You may or may not be successful, but the outcome is not the reward. Overcoming your fear is the reward. There is nothing quite like it. On the other side of fear, you won’t care how you looked getting there because you’ll be so content just enjoying the view.
Next week will focus on the ways to overcome fear. But first, answer this:
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?