The secret to overcoming your fear is to consider it your ally, not your enemy
If you don’t know the nature of fear, you can never feel fearless.
— Pema Chodron
When I was six, my father bought me a life-changing gift: a violin. I wouldn’t say I had mind-blowing talent, but I was good with music, and I enjoyed spending time studying it. At the age of ten I started to give small concerts for my family and our circle of friends. Months later, I was playing at the School of Fine Arts in my hometown. I can recall how nervous I was before every single concert. However, once I started to play, I was entering a state of ease and flow, and my violin became my best friend.
Years later, I was working for a multinational corporation. At first in Romania, then in Sweden and China. During my time with this company, I was involved in critical business projects. My leadership role in the organization required me to speak in management meetings or in front of my team. I have to confess that wasn’t always easy.
Speaking in public was one of my challenges for many years.
It made me feel nervous and sometimes stuck. When in front of bigger audiences with people I wasn’t familiar with, my fingers would tingle, my pulse got faster, and I could feel my heart beating up through my throat.
Giving a speech at work was very different from playing an instrument in front of others. It was a high source of stress. I can recall myself fighting all kind of fears and negative voices in my head: “What if I say something stupid? Will I look professional enough? What will people think? What if they won’t like my ideas?”
What I didn’t realize at the time — and what I know to be true today — I was facing severe self-esteem and confidence issues. Perfection was my worst enemy, and nothing I was doing felt good enough. The truth is I needed people to like and approve of me because I didn’t like myself enough. The moment I did some valuable self-work and shifted my perception of myself and the world around me, everything shifted.
Firstly, I made friends with my fear.
Having fears is entirely human. In fact, what most people do not realize that fear is always trying to protect them and keep them safe from emotional injury (take the fear of failure, for example). The general tendency is to suppress our fears and pretend they do not exist. My coaching experience has shown me more than once that trying to suppress our fears doesn’t work because that’s a superficial, surface-only treatment since, in reality, our mind is always creating new fears.
Each time I feel afraid I might fail with anything, I tell myself that it hasn’t happened yet and Time will tell. Whenever I find myself troubled by worries about the future, I know that’s nothing but an illusion, a scenario created by my mind. Inquiring the sanity of our thoughts is true power.
I stopped feeling weak because I was afraid. Instead, I learned how to embrace my fear as part of the package of being human. I recognized that, in the case of public speaking, my fear intended to protect me from harm and the emotional injury of not being liked, not doing a good job, not transmitting my message well.
The moment I turned my fear from an enemy into a protective friend, everything changed. My fear was still with me, but it was there to support me and keep me safe. So thank you, fear, for wishing me well.
Secondly, I detached from other people’s opinion of me.
Did you know that among all fears, the fear of public speaking comes first? Even the fear of death ranks second!
Since an early age, many of us have been raised to take other people’s opinions into account, and so it is no surprise we show up in the world trying to fit into someone’s expectations. On top of that, being liked, accepted, and appreciated by others is a basic human need, as described by Maslow is his pyramid of human needs.
I believe that looking for self-validation through other people turns us into their prisoners. If we worry what other people think about us, we are focusing on them and what they might think, instead of keeping the focus on ourselves and the message we want to deliver.
In fact, we can’t control what other people feel or think about us, but we are in charge of our feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
When I know what other people think of me has nothing to do with me and it certainly doesn’t define me, I set myself free from any form of judgment. What they see in me is their opinion and what they filter when they look at me.
Some might perceive me as smart, funny and talented; others might think I’m an average public speaker, or even a lousy one. To some, I might look gorgeous; to some I might look too fat.
No matter other people’s thoughts about me, it’s all about their standards of beauty or intelligence, and it all has zero to do with me.
Today, I start all my speeches with the intention of doing the best I know and the best I can. There is no need for perfection. I have learned how to make a mistake and get over it gracefully instead of punishing myself for making it. Mistakes are much-needed opportunities for growth.
Speaking about topics I love and sharing my knowledge has turned from a source of high stress to a source of genuine joy and fulfillment. There is no reason to impress anyone, no self-blame, no pressure. Pure freedom!
You may also enjoy reading Reclaiming Self Worth by Nancy Levin