Yesterday marked the end of my 40th week of working through the year-long Empire Building Kit authored by Chris Guillebeau. Only 12 more weeks to go! I also finished reading Chris’ Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World book on my subway ride back from teaching in Brooklyn yesterday. I had extra time to read since I made the mistake to get on the train going in the WRONG direction. I realized my mistake 5 stops later when the train emerged from the tunnels – an impossibility on my usual trip back to Manhattan – and I found myself in a rather run-down neighborhood.
Why am I reading Chris’ book when I’m getting daily emails from him already as part of the Empire Building Kit? Because I feel that getting a message reinforced in slightly different formats is often the best way to learn. Also, I really like Chris’ philosophy and approach to life.
Take for example the focus of one of the day’s lessons from this past week:
Dealing with Fear and Insecurity
I believe, as Chris does, that striving for the absence of fear is an impossibility. Fear is normal, is a part of our everyday lives, and, in some cases can be a life-saver. On this subject, I highly recommend the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. We are all gifted with the innate power to sense when something is not right or is potentially dangerous. Tuning in to my surroundings and paying attention to my “fear-dar” yesterday, not only helped me to realize my mistake on the train in Brooklyn, but also got me back home safely! The fear that Chris talked about this week, though, is more along the lines of the fears that Susan Jeffers talks about in her popular book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. This kind of fear is like the innate “good” fear on steroids and it does little to further our growth, and more to keep us stuck.
Chris points out that the first step to dealing with these fears – such as the fears of failure, success, and boredom – is to admit that you have fear. He then goes on to point out that the next step is to engage with the fear and explore it fully. One of my most successful tools with dealing with performance anxieties has been to imagine the best and worst outcomes of the upcoming performance or audition. Years ago, I stopped expecting Zubin Mehta to hear through the grapevine about my exquisite performance and hire me on the spot to be his next concertmaster. (Maybe that’s when I switched to the viola…an inside joke for my musician readers!) I also realized that I probably wasn’t going to wet my pants, or fall in a faint on the stage floor out of fear during the performance either. (And, even if I did, my parents and true friends would probably still like me.) Something in the middle of these two scenarios was probably a lot more likely. Given that I’m prone to meticulous preparation, I realized that on balance the scales would probably tip more towards the favorable end of things.
These days I’m more preoccupied with doing battle with my “your-not-good-enough-until-someone-else-says-you’re-good-enough” demon. He’s a relentless task-master and I find myself often exhausted trying to please him. Oddly enough, he also morphs quickly from one person into the next. As soon as I’ve won what I think is His approval, I realize that I was deluded into thinking that that accolade or praise would be the be-all-end-all, and I’m back to my fears of inadequacy.
The cycle isn’t all doom and gloom though. Chris points out something that I’ve already taken to doing, if not on a deliberate schedule as he suggests, at the very least whenever I’m aware of it. To overcome fear, you need to take little steps in the direction of your fears. For me that means telling others about my work, and being my own best advocate. Trying to do this on a daily basis is still scary for me, but I’m moving in the right direction.
How about you? How can you move towards tackling your own fears today?