My throat was dry before I ever uttered the first word. You see, fear has a way of taking over every thread of normalcy, a dread far worse than the worst outcome you can imagine. My fear began with a simple statement: “Sure, I’ll speak on Tuesday.”
Now what can happen that is so bad? Let me start from the beginning.
First things first, gotta make it to the podium without falling, and that’s no easy task, believe me. Three steps up, all requiring perfect precision. One misstep, and life as I know it will be over. On my face, amid throws of laughter, can’t let on that my back hurts. Or worse. Maybe I could joke my way out of it. “Hey, I meant to do that.” Problem is, my mind is so blank I can’t even remember my name. Good thing I brought notes to read. And just in case, my name is printed at the top of each page. What if I forgot something?
Now the first thing I notice, as I pick up the microphone and face my doubters, is something really annoying…..everyone is staring at me. Something wrong? You never saw somebody up here before? Okay, no problem. They’re gonna stare, it’s a given. So what am I gonna do? Let’s see…I could turn around, sit in a chair, and give my 12 minute speech that way. No problem, ‘cept my wife and her best friend are on row 2. Throwing distance for sure, and maybe “sneaking up on me and tickling me” distance. Now they’re both great supporters of what I’m doing, don’t get me wrong. But if I turn my back, anything goes. If I’m lucky, they’ll just throw something at me. Maybe paper wads. Or hold up a funny sign and take a picture. But deep in my heart, or maybe in the pit of my stomach, I figure they’ll come up and start tickling me. I won’t even know they’re coming until I squeal at the top of my lungs, microphone still pressed to my lips. Not a pretty sound, I assure you. She isn’t even ticklish, it isn’t fair. Makes me want to wrap my arms around my ribcage just thinking about it. And now, oh boy, I remember the game…..My youngest daughter taught me this one. I had to get at the deep end of the pool and start calling out colors. She was at the other end of the pool. When I called out the color she had chosen, the hunt began. Silently, slowly at first, like a cat slinking through the brush, getting ready to pounce. She started swimming towards me, the object of the game to reach me before I heard her and turned around. Think it was called “Torture Dad,” or something like that. So I’m wringing my hands, not even knowing why I keep calling out colors for the seventh time, I know she’s on her way. Ready to grab me by the back of the neck and pull me under. Not that she would try to drown her dad, but things do happen, I hear. I’ll say something funny, just to make her laugh. Just so I’ll hear her before it’s too late.
No, turning around is not an option. I have to stay focused.
Okay, might as well face my aggressors. Not much choice. You know, as I stand here at the podium, trying to be so calm and collected, something could come up from the back. I’ll just take a quick glance. Yep, there he is. Back there on the grassy knoll. I hear there’s somebody there. Matter of fact, I hear there may be two. You just never know. It’s what I hear, anyway. Don’t know who they are, it’s just what I hear.
What is this debilitating thing called fear?
Webster’s says it’s an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
I say it’s being scared out of your wits, even if you know there is really nothing to worry about.
Terror is an advanced form of fear. It’s when you’ve graduated grammar school and made the big time. Everything quits working. This where you don’t want to start laughing because you may not be able to stop. All self control is gone at this point. Paranoia sets in and all rational thoughts are thrown out the window. Basically, you’re along for the ride.
Here are a few quotes I’ve come across:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear it'self - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
---- FDR - First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear."
--- H.P. Lovecraft
"A man who has been in danger,
When he comes out of it forgets his fears,
And sometimes he forgets his promises."
---- Euripides - Iphigenia in Tauris (414-12 BC)
Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it."
---- Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)
"Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is."
---- German Proverb
"Sometimes the biggest thing separating us from our inspiration is fear."
And my favorite, one that is the mantra of so many-
The cartoon character Charlie Brown once said "I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time."
The poster child for fear is Charlie Brown. Let’s face it, he couldn’t do anything right. When he walked to the pitcher’s mound, everyone knew he’d get decked by a line drive. And who always strikes out to end the game? Fly a kite? He’ll end up in a tangled mess, hopelessly tied up on the ground, just in time for Lucy to come by and let him have it. And let him pick the Christmas tree? Yeah, right. I don’t suppose he ever once woke up thinking he was a success. Don’t you wish just once he could have been a winner? All it would have taken was an encouraging word at the right time, a little luck on occasion, a mentor. Could have changed the whole story. But I wonder if the comic strip would have lost some readers; too many people sympathize with Charlie Brown. The poor ole down ‘n outer that he is, does it make you smile when you hear his name?
More words of wisdom from Charlie Brown:
Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, 'Where have I gone wrong?' Then a voice says to me, 'This is going to take more than one night.'”
“It always looks darkest just before it gets totally black.”
“If I stand here, I can see the Little Red Haired girl when she comes out of her house... Of course, if she sees me peeking around this tree, she`ll think I`m the dumbest person in the world... But if I don`t peek around the tree, I`ll never see her... Which means I probably AM the dumbest person in the world... which explains why I`m standing in a batch of poison oak.”
A small amount of fear before an important speech serves a purpose – it encourages you to focus on your topic and avoid making a fool of yourself. However, some types of fear make you feel like escaping when it is not appropriate to do so.
No two people are alike, and we all have unique abilities to achieve greatness. Following someone else’s blueprint (comparing yourself to them) will cause feelings of inadequacy, and lead to your ignoring your own potential for achievement. This leads to fear that will hold you back from what only you are uniquely capable of doing. Be yourself, don’t pattern solely after others. Don’t feel unworthy when talented people come around, pull ideas from their skills to improve yourself.
We are born with only two fears, and they are for survival: a fear of falling and of loud noises. Everything else is learned. The good news is we can unlearn these fears.
There are three types to consider: External fears (fear of spiders, fear of flying,) Internal fears (low self esteem,) and Subconscious fears (self sabotage, feeling unworthy, fear of failure or success.)
My forty five minute discussion went okay, and in the end I believe it helped a few people. As is always the case, my fears never came to fruition. I felt a sense of accomplishment, like completing a long, tedious project that leaves you with a sense of satisfaction after it’s over. It’s good, at the end of the day, to say “I did it.”
What was I so afraid of?