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  • Writer's pictureTessa Floreano

Fear, my old friend

A stuffed doll
Darla the Dammit Doll

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”—Theodore Roosevelt

In 1997, as part of earning my Certified Toastmaster designation, I had to present 10 different speeches. Each one focused on different tips, techniques, and types of speeches. The first one is called the Ice Breaker and its where we introduce ourselves to the audience. This speech provides a benchmark for our current speaking skill level, and helps us learn to stand and speak without falling over. Often, the Ice Breaker involves humor. Mine did, as I shared a story about a mix-up at a bar on a blind date. The story I told got a lot of laughs, but I am sure glad I had to go public with it just once.

The seventh speech in the roster is one that involves research. It is one in which you address the importance of backing up your arguments with evidence, and touches on the types of evidence to use. I used Gavin de Becker's book, Gift of Fear, as the basis for my research speech on fear. Oprah Winfrey considers him the country's foremost expert on violent behavior. Jeff Bezos relies heavily on his expertise. Suffice to say, the man knows a thing or two about the threat of violence that surrounds us every day, and how we can protect ourselves, by learning to trust—and act on—our gut instincts.

So what does Toastmasters and a book about fear have to do with Fear, my old friend?

Well, most people's biggest fear is public speaking. If we were to listen to our gut, it would tell us not to be brave and to protect our heart from getting hurt. Getting up on a stage or standing at a podium and talking to any size audience is terrifying. It takes practice to overcome the jitters. It takes time to learn how to modulate one's voice so you can not only be heard, but have the audience comprehend what you're saying. In a similar vein, it takes years of learning the craft of storytelling so your readers understand your story, love what you have to say, and beg for more.

Having left the world of high finance decades ago where I regularly spoke in front of groups, thinking about speaking to a group nowadays results in night sweats. At some point, I will publish a book and I will need to speak to others about it in some kind of public forum. Just like the fear of showing my work to my friends, family, critique group, agents, and editors, the regular practice of it takes nerves of steel. Sharing what you know, either in a speech or in a book, is a vulnerable act.

Brené Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly, talks about "finding the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts." Facing our fears about publicly sharing our work, our words, shows us "that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection." Austin Kleon, in his book, Share Your Work, shows us how to "take that critical next step on a creative journey — getting known. After all, you can't find your voice if you don't use it."

They're all right, of course, but trying telling that to your scared, overactive mind and heart each time an opportunity to dare, to share your work, to speak in public is offered to you.

Gavin de Becker shows us how to "learn to spot the danger signals others miss; it might just save your life." Well, I know what my danger signals are when it comes to fear getting a grip on me. Sometimes it takes eons to loosen it so I had to develop tools to deal with it so I can continue to be productive.

Here's a few ways I tackle fear when I write:

  • Recite a silent mantra: Suck it up and do it anyway. Or an even shorter one, which I'm sure many of you have heard before, "Suck it up, buttercup." Easy to remember, too. A variation is my take on Mel Robbins' Five Second Rule. Count down 5-4-3-2-1 and write!

  • Let it all out of your system: I have a Dammit Doll which I named Darla. Like darling, but not so much. She represents my doubts and fears. And when that gremlin pops up, I grab Darla and yell--dammit dammit dammit :-) and then repeat some variation of Liz' Gilbert's "letter to fear" out loud. Like Liz Gilbert, I'm learning to replace fear with curiosity.

  • Invoke the power of yoga: I close my eyes and take 3 deep breaths. When I'm done, I tell myself I will write something, even if it is not my deadline work. One word. A phrase. Perhaps two or three sentences. Enough to wake the Muse. If the deep breathing alone doesn't cut it, I get in some yoga poses. When my body is flexible, so is my mind and that flows to the keyboard.

  • Do it manageable chunks: I set a timer, styled as an owl, which I call Percival. He and I are sprint partners, 20 minutes at a time. Not too long, not too short. The ticking actually helps. I know the noise might bother some (apps are a good alternative), but like a ticking time bomb, it signals urgency. Think feet to fire.

A red owl timer
Percival the Owl timer

What do you do to tackle fear? Fear of writing? Fear of sharing? Fear of speaking? I'd love to know so drop me a line.

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