It doesn’t matter if you’re about to make a presentation, ski down your first black diamond run, or ask someone out on a date.
To your body, it’s all the same. Your heart does its best to dislodge itself from your chest, your knees go wobbly, and you start to wonder where the nearest bathroom might be.
But to your mind, there’s a difference. There’s fun excitement and scary excitement.
When you’re about to receive your first kiss, your mind views those fluttery butterfly feelings as something desirable.
But when you’re queasy at the thought of putting in your two weeks notice or telling a co-worker that he’s wrong, there’s that voice that screams: abort, abort, abort!
Living is about daring. We want the thrill of being our best, of being truly appreciated for our work, of connecting with others in a deeper way.
So why do we go out of our way to avoid the things we’re scared of? Sure, we need a healthy balance between butterflies and real anxiety, but I think many of us have forgotten that fear has a purpose.
In fact, used correctly, fear might be the secret to your success. Just ask Bruce Springsteen.
Becoming the boss of (stage) fright
In a previous post, I mentioned Roger Love is my voice coach. He’s also the voice coach for many of the top names in the music industry, which means he’s got some awesome stories. Lessons with Roger aren’t just instructive, they’re riveting!
Maybe you won’t find it surprising to hear that even the biggest stars, even the ones who have been performing for decades, deal with stage fright. I mean, who wouldn’t be a bit scared to walk in front of thousands of adoring fans and try to live up to all those expectations?
But what if I told you (or, more accurately, Roger told you), that those stars aren’t working to overcome their fears, they’re trying to enhance them.
Barbara Streisand rants and raves about how she hates live performances until she is thoroughly worked up before stepping on stage. Bruce Springsteen waits until that moment just before he’s about to throw up.
As I’ve said many, many times on this blog, the secret to achieving your wildest dreams is to search for what makes you afraid and then go do it.
All those heart palpitations and sweaty palms that come with being scared also infuse your body with strength and perception (well, okay, not the sweaty palms–that’s just an annoying side effect). You’ll perform better when you’re afraid. You’ll plan more and you’ll work harder.
This is the reason I quit my part-time consulting gig to start my business. Not because I needed the time, but because I needed the motivation. I knew I’d never perform at my peak until I had to. That’s what fear does to you.
People are starting to embrace the idea that you need to “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” as I like to say. But there’s one more nugget to that advice I realized I’ve been leaving out.
One important caveat
When I went to the Air Force Academy, one of the things I was really excited about was jumping out of an airplane (affectionately referred to by students simply as “jump”).
Excited, that is, until the first day of the course. We were watching a motivational video showing former students at the intersection of plane and air. It’s not like I’d never seen videos of sky divers before, but for the first time I pictured myself in their place–and I was gob-smackingly frightened.
So I purposely flunked the fitness test and happily rode back to my dorm with two recently injured students, one with a broken arm and the other a sprained ankle.
You don’t have to be an “adrenaline junky” to put fear to use for you. Clearly, when it comes to physical feats, I’m closer to … ahhh, what to call it … a wimp. And quite proud of it really.
Embracing fear is valuable, but only if it’s holding you back from something you want to do.
Fear has a purpose. It’s meant to keep you alive. But being alive doesn’t mean avoiding risk. If that were the case, early humans would have starved to death because they were too scared to take down the wildebeest.
If you’re always saying you’d travel the world if you could, or start a business when you have a financial safety net, or pursue your passion when you’re retired, you need to ask yourself one big question:
Is it worth fighting for?
Maybe it isn’t.
I certainly never regretted walking away from jump school (with fully functioning limbs and joints).
But if you have a dream knocking, believe it or not, fear might the only one who can open the door for you.
I applied to exactly 3 colleges: the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, and Westpoint. I’d spent a summer at the Air Force Academy, and felt it was a perfect match.
But to get in, even girls had to do at least one pull-up on the fitness test. I trained for months and months on a home-made pull-up bar, but couldn’t do it. When my father drove me to the test center an hour and a half away, the car was heavy with anticipation. Like Bruce Springsteen, I thought I might throw up.
You know the ending. I did that pull-up and nearly another. My fear made me stronger. My fear pushed me higher than I thought possible.
And it can do the same for you, if you trust in it and yourself.
You’re looking up at that bar day after day, just like I was, and thinking it looks awfully far away.
You’re afraid to fight.
Which is terrific. Because it means when you do step up to your dream, you’re a lot more likely to get it.
And you’ll never feel more alive.
Editor’s note: Need help embracing your fear & winning the prize of a dream career? The No Regrets Career Academy can help. See for yourself!