How to overcome your fears

Apr 13, 2023

I was backstage last Monday, getting ready to speak to 300 people at a conference in Nashville. My microphone was wrapped around my ear, mouth was a bit parched as I opened the water bottle to take another swig of water. There were a few a/v guys backstage with me doing their thing. It felt like pre-game back in my soccer playing days. Was I nervous? Yeah, but it was good nervous. Dare I say, I was excited. The kind of excited where you get butterflies because you want to do well. Breathe, I told myself. Trust the work you’ve put in. It won’t be perfect, I’ve learned, but be present is the mantra – trust and let it fly. My new friend, Tom, welcomed me onto the stage. I had a bottle of water with me (you can never have enough water!), clicker in hand in tandem with the water bottle, right hand available to greet Tom. We shake, I set the water down and look up, it’s go time. An hour later, I walk off the stage, a guy I had just met comes running back behind the curtain to thank me – not sure if he’s supposed to be back there but I love that he did that. I’m a bit unsure of my “performance” – I put it all out there but I was coming off some intense travel and wasn’t sleeping much. I was up at 4am because I don’t sleep too well before I speak these days. That anticipation – of wanting to deliver value and serve the audience – that anticipation is a gift and a curse. It keeps my mind spinning and it also makes me better. I’m learning to lean into it – to let it dance a bit – to control my perspective on it. Later that night, we were at Jason Aldean’s bar in downtown Nashville, I spoke to many people who thanked me for speaking and sharing my story. They openly talked about their story. I’m learning that we’re all connected, us humans. Yes, you and me. We all deal with “stuff”, and we must be okay talking about our “stuff”. When you share your story (the good, the bad and the ugly), you give permission to others to share theirs – this I’m learning.

The truth is, I once bonked on a similar stage. That’s right, I had a crazy episode about 10 years ago where I had a panic attack and had to leave the room. I faked a headache and was too proud to admit my personal life was a mess due to many years of not taking out my trash. I talk about this in my book and the road back. You see, I’m a working lab of sorts, at least that’s how I’m viewing it. They say public speaking is one of the scariest things anyone can do. While there may be some truth to this, it’s also one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.

I showed up at Toastmasters 10 years ago after that panic attack and I was determined to learn how to speak confidently again. Every Thursday for two years, I’d show up and deliver mini speech after mini speech until I could do it without second guessing everything. Four years ago, my friend Alan introduced me to Heroic Public Speaking, where I ventured into the professional speaking waters. It’s been a long journey and I know I’m my harshest critic. Imposter syndrome is a real thing – I fight it daily. But I’m learning to lean in. To keep showing up and putting in the work.

The co-founder of Heroic Public Speaking and my good friend, Michael Port, has encouraged me to do two things – 1, Be helpful, not good & 2, Break yourself open. The first has changed everything for me – be helpful, not good. I know my talks aren’t perfect. I know I’m not perfect. I’m okay with that. Being helpful is what matters. The second, breaking myself open, is maybe the most important thing. Michael’s urging to me to share my story of struggle led me to write With Intention two years ago and it’s now the backbone of my speech. It’s amazing how breaking yourself builds trust with people. Genuine connection, I’m finding.

So, how about you? What’s holding you back? Can you break yourself open a bit? We all have fears. I still fear speaking at times. I’m getting better but there’s definitely a piece of me that wonders if I will bonk again. Phil Stutz is a psychologist who wrote the book Tools and is the lead character in the Netflix documentary, Stutz. He has a core concept he teaches called the Reversal of Desire. Stutz’s experience is that those who can stare fear in the face and move towards it – those are the people that feel alive. I love that.

My encouragement to you is to really think about what you fear and to wholeheartedly move towards it. Life is too short to keep playing scared. Will you join me in playing on our front foot in life?


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