Lean Into the Fear

Nearly fifteen years ago, in a small classroom on the edge of Santiago, Chile, I had a life-altering experience:

I spoke in front of people without my knees turning to rubber.

Until that day, every experience of public speaking had produced a kind of allergic reaction: my mind would go blank, I’d sweat profusely, and my knees would wobble precariously.

I hated it.

Many of us, when it comes to public speaking or some other equally stressful endeavour, have a “fight-or-flight” (usually flight) instinct that tells us to avoid these apparently dangerous situations. It’s much better to enjoy the safety of the crowd, rather than expose yourself to the attention hundreds (or even tens) of eyeballs.

Julien Smith, in his little book Flinch, points out that this fight-or-flight instinct is often misguided. The instinct that serves us well in situations are actually dangerous is over-reactive a lot of time, too quick to raise the “flight” flag in situations that merely uncomfortable.

Public speaking, for example, is rarely fatal. Nobody walks off stage with a broken leg or black eye. And while we might worry that we’ll look silly in front of a lot of people, the greater danger — if you care about your message — is that you won’t even be remembered at all! (If you that’s the problem you’re facing, here are 10 Tips that will help you 😉 ).

While our instincts tell us to run, we should lean into the fear and speak anyway (easier said than done).

Facing my fear of public speaking that day in Santiago re-shaped my reality. The fear would always be present in the future, but I learned that the fear itself wouldn’t harm me. Instead of fleeing it, I could face it, enjoy the pre-speech jitters and dance with the uncertainty of speaking in front of people.

You might not be facing a daunting speaking gig, but we all have challenges to face that scare us, that make our knees wobble and make us want to hide.

Where are you tempted to flee, when you should be leaning into the fear?