by Motivational Speaker and Comedian Kelly Swanson
Being a motivational speaker people ask me all the time if I’m afraid when I get up to speak. And the answer is always yes. And I hope it will always be yes. Because the day I get up on stage and have absolutely no fear, will be the day I start taking my job for granted – the day I become too comfortable – the day I start flying on auto pilot. And when I fly on auto pilot, we both lose. So fear is a given. It’s what we do with that fear that determines whether we move forward or stay stuck. So here are some tips on how to move past our fear.
Some fears are bigger than we can handle.
Let me first say that there are some fears which are really big mountains in our lives – and often those fears deal with personal safety, health issues, basic human needs like food, shelter, and water, and dangerous situations we find ourselves in. This article is not written for those who have serious fears in their life. To those people, I would urge you to find someone caring and qualified to walk you through that fear. This article is in reference to the fears that we can manage – the ones that block us from leading a peaceful life – that keep us from achieving a dream – that trap us into comfort zones.
“Now, more than ever, we have to try something new if we are going to survive in this challenging economic climate.”
Fear is not a weakness.
First understand that fear is a natural normal part of every dream. And I will honor mine as a valuable part of the process. I hope you will honor yours.
Courage isn’t about removing the fear, but jumping in spite of it.
Those other people out there living the dream, are just as scared as you are. But they chose to jump. If you are going to wait until the day you are one hundred percent ready to take the plunge – then you are waiting for a day that will never come. Tell yourself, “Yes. I am afraid. But I’m going to jump anyway. Because my dream is bigger than my fear.” Hesitate and you lose. For often we lose the courage in those first few moments after we get our idea. If you don’t act now, without hesitating, chances are higher that you won’t ever act on it.
Acknowledge why we often feel fear.
Fear is a valid emotion given to us to help protect us from danger. Many times we are afraid of what we don’t know or can’t see. We are afraid because our brain does not recognize the information we are taking in. The brain screams to us that this doesn’t make sense – this doesn’t fit the definition we have in our mind. For example, you see a big wrinkled gray animal with tusks and a long trunk, and your brain tells you it’s an elephant. You see a big wrinkled red animal with spots and horns – and you go schedule an appointment with your shrink. Your brain has told you that this doesn’t fit. It’s the same thing when you get a new idea – something that hasn’t been done before. Your brain takes in the information and replies with, “No. This doesn’t make sense. Don’t do it. “This is the time when you need to ignore your brain.
I have sat on countless committees where someone comes up with a new idea and it is immediately discarded. Why? Because it’s never been done before. And people are afraid when something new comes along. I think if we can acknowledge that we have a tendency to do that, we won’t be so quick to shoot down new ideas. Now, more than ever, we have to try something new if we are going to survive in this challenging economic climate.
Fight your desire to be like the others.
When we are afraid of being different, we look around and copy those around us. Maybe this worked in middle school – but it won’t work as an adult in the real world. First of all, it’s extremely tiring and unfulfilling to live life according to your neighbor’s dream. Second of all, if you blend in, you don’t get noticed. And in a crowded market, getting noticed is EVERYTHING. You don’t get noticed if you are doing the same thing as all your competitors – if you have the same sort of website – offer the same perks. I don’t think it’s better that sells these days – I think it’s different that sells. So fight the desire to copy. No matter how comfortable it may seem.
“It’s not in the failure itself where we fail – but in not learning from it.”
Face your fear. Define It.
What is it you are afraid of? Really? The first task is to uncover what you are really afraid of. When I was a beginning speaker, I was terrified that I would forget my lines. When in reality, I was terrified of looking like an idiot in front of a group of people. It’s hard to move past your fear, if you don’t have a good idea of what that fear is.There are a variety of different fears we carry around in life, but there are some fears that I see play out over and over. And so these are the ones I will address for now – and how to move past them.
Being afraid that we will look stupid – and risk looking stupid anyway.
It started when we were in second grade and they laughed at us when we got up to do our book report, and the zipper was down on our pants, and we were branded with a fear of getting up in front of others that would last a lifetime. Public speaking is one of the top five fears – I think even ranked higher than our fear of death. But I don’t think that it is speaking in public that people are afraid of – but of looking stupid. I’m still afraid of looking stupid and I’m a comedian! So here’s what I recommend: learn to look stupid. Seriously. Take an improv class that forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you look stupid in front of others. If you can’t find a class, get a group of people to sit and watch you act stupid for one minute. Or help out with the kids in the classroom or Sunday school. It will be one of the most challenging things you do – unless you have already conquered this fear. Do this so that you will see that looking stupid in front of people does not make the world end. Get used to acting stupid in front of people. Get used to the idea that to some people you will always look stupid.
Being afraid that our idea won’t work – and doing it anyway.
That’s the thing about new ideas. We don’t know if they’ll work because they haven’t been tested. And like many ideas, there is a good chance it won’t. So go ahead and accept that it might not work. Commend yourself for trying. And acknowledge that you will never learn if you don’t try things – and to try things means you have to allow for failure. Create a workplace that encourages trying new things, and doesn’t berate people if they don’t work.
Being afraid others won’t like it.
I wear this fear like a faded old coat. I can do the same show to three different audiences in three different states and have them all rave wildly about it – and still I will be afraid that this next group won’t like it. I am learning to let this fear go by simply accepting that some people won’t like it. Ever. And that’s normal too. And that will be their problem – not mine. Sure, I want to please the majority of people. But pleasing all of them is impossible. So quit belly-aching when someone doesn’t like what you did.
Being afraid that it simply won’t be good enough.
Usually when I have a feeling that my idea isn’t good enough – it’s because it’s not. And that’s my own internal signal to go back to the drafting table and make it better. My personal goal is to always hit it out of the park – and never aim any lower. But once I have given it all I can, I must accept that it still might not be good enough. And I’ll learn from it and move on.
Envision the fear realized.
Often when I am worried about how something is going to turn out, I will envision the worst case scenario. I will actually walk through that horrible ending I am so afraid of. There are some people who do not recommend this exercise, for they say that you will create your own disastrous ending. That you should see yourself succeeding – and you will. And I am a firm believer in that. I just do it after I realize my fear first. I imagine this show being the worst show they ever saw – so bad that some threw tomatoes – that the client asks for their money back – and that they promise me they will make sure that I never work in that state again. First of all – I realize the odds of this happening are very slim. But I still picture it happening to me. And as painful as it is – I see myself living in the end. And I even see myself getting back up and going at it again. And it shows me that even if the worst does happen, I won’t quit. And then I feel better, and I start the process of seeing myself hit it out of the park. And I keep this image the entire time. I never want that “what if” to enter my head close to a show. I can’t afford to be off my game.
Never let them see you sweat.
The only thing worse than bombing on stage is admitting that you are bombing. I love it when George Burns said that if his joke didn’t get a laugh, he’d just pretend that it wasn’t supposed to be funny. If I show my discomfort, it makes the audience have a miserable experience. Keep your cool. If you can’t – you’re not ready to jump yet. Then again – what’s the worst that can happen if you do lose your cool and look like a complete idiot? Eventually they will forget about that too.
Learn from the failure. Forgive yourself.
It’s not in the failure itself where we fail – but in not learning from it. Failure is what taught me how to be good at what I do. Failing at sales taught me to sell better. Failure in a competition made me learn how to work harder. Failure on stage taught me how to get better on stage. If you don’t learn from it, you have lost a valuable opportunity to grow. Learn from it, and then forgive yourself. Don’t walk around reliving the horrible event. It’s over. Put it behind you. Forgive yourself. Laugh about it. And move on. Share failure stories with other peers. It will make you feel better to see that you are not alone, and that everyone looks like an idiot sometimes.
Try again soon.
Get back up on that horse as soon as you can. The sooner you do it, the easier it will be. With each failure, you get stronger, and each jump comes easier. Remember that it’s not the most talented who succeed – it’s the most persistent. There are plenty of people in life who would have made it to the top – except they quit too soon. Just go meet the waitresses in Nashville and Hollywood. I’m just saying.
Here’s wishing you a year filled with courage. If you ever need a nudge, just let me know.
Your courageous motivational speaker, Kelly Swanson encouraging you to jump!
About Kelly Swanson
Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, comedian, motivational speaker, and author of “Who Hijacked My Fairy Tale?” from High Point, North Carolina. She is also creator of Pride’s Hollow and a cast of characters who make you laugh, make you think, remind you that you matter, and teach you how to stand up and stick out in a crowded market because nobody notices normal. Her shows have charmed audiences from coast to coast, from board rooms to cruise ships. For more about Kelly go to www.kellyswanson.net, find her on facebook (“funny motivational speaker”), watch her videos on YouTube (www.youtube.com/swansonspeaks), or read her blog (www.swansonspeaks.com).