I mentioned last week that one of the little brave moments I had was to choose to go to a conference by myself, where I was not only going to not know anyone, but I’m not really the target client of the conference, so I was probably going to feel seriously intimidated. But, I went anyway.
This was a conference for educators in a specialized niche segment. I’m a parent of one a student in that niche. Having parents there isn’t unheard of, there was actually a seminar track for parents, which is why I thought I could legitimately be there, but, in general, most of the parents there were really also educators, which is why they became interested in that education niche, to begin with.
To boil down the situation for you. I was attending alone, in the midst of experts, in a field I know little to nothing about. That’s an uncomfortable situation for a perfectionistic introvert with imposter syndrome.
I also told you last week that I was going to put together a toolkit on fear this week. And, I started to. But, like overwhelm, the number of suggestions out there for dealing with fear is…well, overwhelming. And, riddled with what seems to me to be stupid advice. So much so, that I tossed the toolkit idea out. Many of the first-aid style tools used for immediate relief of overwhelm (the type mentioned in episode 54) will work as first-aid for fear as well.
Instead, here’s what I’m going to do. Today, I’m going to use my conference experience to explain three tools to help you act in spite of fear. Next week we’re going to talk about different types of fear so that you can understand what you’re experiencing and the best ways to deal with it. And, then, I’m going to give you a process for dealing with a decision or a situation that is making you scared. It’s a five or six step process, depending on how I break it down and I’ll walk you through how I applied it to a decision I’m struggling with fear about this week. It was super helpful for me, and I hope you’ll find it helpful too.
Countering Fear With Practice
But, today, back to my conference. I like to do conferences with a pal for a couple of reasons. First, doing things with friends is just more fun. Second, I find interacting with strangers difficult. And, I like having someone to process the conference content with. For today, the relevant reason is that I’m not a talking-to-strangers kinda gal. I admire people who are, it’s a really valuable skill. I remember sitting on a bench at a marina where I was soaking up alone time and recharging in front of water and sailboats, two of my favorite things. And, my husband at the time was wandering around talking to people. He came back, sat down and started telling me about one of the boat owners he’d met who had previously worked for the CIA and details of that CIA experience. I remember looking at him incredulously. He’d been gone for 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, I might have said hello to someone. From a distance. Maybe. And he’d practically gotten their security clearance information. How is that possible?
I realized about a year ago that with the work that I do and the schedule that I keep, I was becoming more and more isolated. That the trouble I have opening up conversations with strangers was becoming more and more difficult for me…because I never put myself in a position to do it. So, what did I decide to do about that? I volunteered at my church in a position that would make me do it over and over. I’m not a door greeter, that would be easy for me. Smiling and saying hello when it’s expected of me isn’t really uncomfortable. It’s initiating real conversation and connection with strangers that’s tough. So, I make myself do it every. Single. Week. And, you know what? It’s helped. I was much less stressed at this conference than I would have been a year ago.
Here’s another example. In high school, I was terrified to speak in public, like statistically, most of you. Speech days were the absolute worst. In college, I wound up in a major that required me to present my solution to a problem and sell my ideas to a group three times a week. After presenting regularly, I remember vividly a speech to a larger group where I felt like I really had the audience with me. I could have told them anything and they would have believed me. And I was talking about the design of the Biosphere 2, a science research facility in Arizona. This wasn’t a talk about something of critical importance. At that moment, during the speech, I was feeling this, for lack of a better term, power to influence, and I was hooked. While I might get nervous now because I haven’t done it in awhile, I am not afraid of speaking anymore.
Incremental exposure to our fears has the power to break their hold. You may not love whatever you were afraid of like I learned to love speaking, but the fear can be significantly reduced.
Countering Fear With Gratitude
Another approach is countering fear with gratitude. Tony Robbins has said that you can’t be fearful and grateful simultaneously, but I like the way Wendy Fontaine said it better (Sorry, Tony).
It’s impossible to think about how scary life is when you’re focusing on all the ways it is beautiful. It’s like trying to keep your eyes open when you sneeze. You couldn’t do it, even if you wanted to…Gratitude shines a light on hope, and hope drives away fear.
How did that apply to my conference experience? I truly was grateful that this conference was available to me. I needed the information for me and for my son. While it was mostly geared toward educators, parents were welcomed and encouraged. I was grateful for that. It was local-ish. I could drive into Nashville for it each day, so I didn’t need to travel and I didn’t have hotel costs. It was relatively inexpensive and it was on a Friday and Saturday, so I only had to miss one day of work. Focusing on how grateful I was to be able to attend and made fears recede.
Countering Fear With Purpose
Gillian Ferrabee, who I’ll talk more about next week says that fear lives in the vacuum of un-intentionality. Having a strong “why” helps you act in spite of fear. If you haven’t read Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, I strongly recommend it. The concept can be applied to so much more than leadership or even personal development. Studies link a sense of purpose not only to slower rates of cognitive decline as we age but to lower rates of disability and death as well. A purpose, a “why”, is a big deal in life. And it can help get you through a conference by yourself too.
One class at this conference was the real reason I was going. It was on perfectionism. As it turned out, I’d seen these presenters before about 6 months ago. I didn’t realize they were the ones doing this talk and it was still valuable because it was so content-dense that I caught some information I missed when I heard them speak before. But, there were other jewels at this conference that I would have totally missed out on, had this class not been the reason driving me to get over my fear enough to get me there.
Three different approaches that you can use in very practical ways to get you past your fear to action. The first was incremental exposure. Do the thing you’re afraid of in small doses, increasing over time. Second, focus on gratitude. And, lastly, choose an intentional purpose that you feel more deeply than the fear.
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