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Running to Your Fears

Ever since my first experience in an elementary school play, I have had stage fright. I was 5 or 6 and I froze on stage. I can’t even remember what the play was or what I was supposed to say but there I was, frozen with just a smile on my face to hide my discomfort. All the way through high school and college, I was deathly afraid of public speaking. It was a paralyzing fear. Every class I took, I carefully examined whether I had to make any presentations or speeches. I tried to avoid any class that had such requirements, but it was impossible to know for sure. Occasionally, I would come across a situation where I would have to make a presentation, but I was always able to worm my way out of it. At church, I would avoid any situation where I might have to pray out loud.

After college, it was no different. In one-on-one situations, I was very comfortable and usually did well in job interviews. It was what I had to do during the job that worried me. My fear of public speaking was a serious detriment. At the time, I didn’t realize what a speed bump it would be for my future success.

If you knew me, you would never think I had this condition. I was and still am an extrovert and very outgoing. I had tons of friends and loved meeting people and making new friends. The irony of all this was that I always loved being the center of attention. I craved it. I wanted it. Thrived in it. The problem was that I could never do anything serious with this need for attention. I was a joker and a clown. I wanted to make people laugh and I was pretty good at it. But, when it came down to doing something serious, I struggled mightily, and I avoided it at all costs.

It all comes down to self-esteem and how I viewed my ability in those situations. That first experience in elementary school set the stage, no pun intended. That frozen moment, served to define me and my ability to deliver anything meaningful in any similar situation. I wasn’t a good public speaker, and I didn’t want anyone to know. This, as I learned later in life, was critical in how I would live my life. How I identified myself in any situation was how I behaved.

Fast forward to early 1999, my best friend Jae asked me to best man at his wedding. I was a complete surprise to me. I always thought he would have asked another one of his close friends. He explained how close we were for so many years and it was always meant to be me. It was an honor. Then I had time to think about it and the reality struck me. A best man’s responsibility is to make a best man speech at the reception. I immediately became terrified at the thought of two hundred people watching on as I made a speech. SHIT!!! How the hell do I get out of this. That’s what I was thinking.

For months I lamented my situation. How the hell do I get out of this. I couldn’t. My best friend asked me to be his best man and it was an honor to be asked. I had to do it. I had to. But how? Any time I had a moment to even think about it, I agonized. I had no ideas. No thoughts of what I’d do. No experience. I had no one to tell me what to do.

A few months before I was to deliver my best man speech, I went to another wedding for a close friend of mine. As with most weddings, there was a best man to give the Best Man speech. There I witnessed one of the most entertaining 10-minute-long best man speeches I ever heard. It was funny. It was engaging. It had all the groomsmen involved. It was amazing. I walked away from that wedding thinking, “boy I wish I could do that!”. For the next couple of weeks all I could think about was how to do what he did at that wedding. What could I come up with that would be just as entertaining? I had nothing.

Weeks of thinking about what to do was annoying but then it came to me. I suddenly realized I didn’t have to think of anything. I was already done. I’ll do what the other guy did. Why recreate the wheel? I’ll just do what he did. That was it. DONE! Well, not really. There was work to do.

For the next week, I wrote down a plan for what I was going to do and how I would do it. I created a script to read from and practice. For the next couple of months, rehearsed what I would do and read from the script every day. I practiced alone with no one watching. I practiced with my eyes closed and visualized that I was in that wedding hall with hundreds of eyes watching. I practice hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times.

On October 24, 1999, it was game time. I was nervous. The wedding ceremony went great. Beautiful and touching. Prior to the reception, I had to gather the troops. All the groomsmen had to be involved. I gave everyone their respective assignments. I used the remaining time pacing the hallway with my eyes closed rehearsing the speech. I visualized the room. I imagined the positive reaction and the smiling faces in the audience. Then it was go time.

To be honest, I don’t even remember everything that happened. It went fast and I had to make changes during the speech depending on the flow. It didn’t go exactly as I planned. It didn’t matter. It went and it was perfect. It was awesome. We had fun. The audience laughed. It was a success. I did what I came to do and fulfilled my responsibility beyond expectation. Many of the attendees approached me afterwards to congratulate me on a successful speech. They loved it.

Here is what I learned through this entire experience. I learned that I really liked being out there in front of an audience. I learned that I was good in front of an audience. I learned, again, that whatever I practiced in earnest would ensure a successful outcome even if it does not go as planned. I learned that visualization is powerful, perhaps just as powerful as the actual experience. Practice was the key. There was no substitute for it. I learned that you don’t have to invent something new to be successful. All you need to do is take what has already been done and make it your own. I learned that if you want progress, you must get uncomfortable. That discomfort is your brain tell you to get better. Your comfort zone is where there is no change, no progress. I learned that fear was inevitable, especially when stepping into new territory. I learned what you do with that fear is the difference between positive change and no change at all.

In the coming years, I would be put into situations at work where I was required to make presentations. Each time, I grew more confident. I wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t great but with each instance, I got better. My confidence grew. I was best man for my brother’s wedding. Another successful best man speech. I even presented to a couple of hundred people while working for a large Wall Street Bank. Most of them were remote, but I had at least 50 people live. These days, I welcome the opportunity to speak in front of people to share my experience. I am still nervous. The more I practice and rehearse, the easier this becomes.

If you have a fear of something, there is only one cure. Run to the fear. Running away from it will do nothing but serve to create even greater fears. When you run to your fears, you’ll learn that your fears are nothing more than your mind playing tricks on you. It’s your mind imaging a negative outcome, an outcome that hasn’t even happened.

5 thoughts on “Running To Your Fears”

  1. Awesome. I can relate Fear is never bigger than the reward. Always go for it and grow. Smiling always helps cause ultimately it brings everything else all together.. great story more & more people should read this. It is the essence of living life not hiding abs running from it. Run to it, LIVE WELL NOW!

  2. This is amazing! I never knew what you were going through, although you handled it so well as with everything else you’ve done in life. I still recall the joys and laughter you helped shine that day. This speaks to so many people. So grateful for our precious friendship and how far we’ve walked together. You’re truly unleashing your potential in giving back to others to better themselves. The best is still yet to come ~ thank you!

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