I have two paralyzing fears in my life.
The first is spiders.
The second is public speaking.
Even when I was young, I was terrified of spiders, no matter how small. I’d have nightmares about one crawling in my bed at night, and always made sure my sheets or blankets never touched the floor. I’d scream for my mother to come and kill them.
The movie Charlotte’s Web didn’t even help.
My second crippling fear became known to me during high school, when I was suddenly thrust into oral speeches. We’d do a report and have to stand in front of the class to present it. These projects turned me into a nervous wreck. I’d worry for weeks, not sleeping, imagining myself flubbing words in front of the class while everyone laughed at me. The day of the presentation, I’d vomit uncontrollably all morning, sick to my stomach and dizzy with fear.
When I was ready to pick a college, I settled on two choices. One of my choices required a public speaking course.
I chose the other college based on that one fact.
In college, I studied business management and our main presentation was based on an oral report with our team which made up a majority of our grade.
Even though I was older, the same fears crippled me. Minutes before the presentation, they had to drag me out of the bathroom where I was sick and trembling. Somehow, I managed to get through my portion, and later on, my professor told me privately I had done an amazing job.
I thought he was mocking me. I told him it wasn’t very nice to make fun of his students, and he looked at me in pure confusion, asking if I realized what a great public speaker I was.
I blew him off, still believing he was joking because he’d been known in the class to be a bit of an asshole.
Fast forward years later. My book The Marriage Bargain goes viral and all of a sudden, I’m being inundated by requests for me to begin speaking or doing workshops at conferences.
It still amazes me how a career that encourages me to be a hermit has also changed so much. Readers want to see authors. They want to hear them speak and meet them and get books signed. Visibility helps an author’s career today, where before we could happily write our books and maybe get an email or two, never needing to force ourselves to go out into the world.
But it’s not the past. It’s a new world and it’s time to deal with it. Over the years, I’d done a lot of work with myself. I’d gone to therapy, read a million self-help books, immersed myself in mediation retreats where I sat on a pillow for four hours straight and never moved, trying to reach a place of inner peace buried within. I was open to helping myself be a better, happier person. It was a struggle, but I got there.
So, when I received an invitation to present a workshop at a local RWA chapter, I agreed.
I was terrified. But I’d also learned the things that scare you the most in life must be dealt with. I believe they end up coming back to you no matter how hard you try to avoid it. The fear lays in wait like the monster under the bed, ready to jump you.
I decided I’d meet the fear head on. I wanted a thriving career as an author, and meeting readers and other authors was crucial. I needed to be with my tribe, and try to give back.
I did the workshop with a partner to help. I still got sick beforehand. I still had nightmares. I still stuttered and stumbled over words and had a mini panic attack in the middle of the presentation.
But I did it. And even better, many attendees stopped to thank me and tell me I HELPED.
That was key for me. For so many years, I struggled alone until I met other writers who shared their experiences and advice. It made all the difference. Now, it was my turn.
I said yes to another workshop. Then another. It was still awful, but I got better. I knew my subject, was passionate about writing, and of course, the attendees were sweet and supportive.
Two years ago, I attended the NJ RWA conference, where I was asked to present a special workshop for the first 100 attendees. It was on my own, so I was still nervous, but then I got a call that changed everything.
The conference chair needed a replacement for their luncheon keynote speaker since the author scheduled had an emergency and couldn’t attend.
Keynote speaker? Umm, hell no! I rambled on all the excuses, but eventually, I realized she needed my help. I said yes.
And then I worried for days. I was sick to my stomach, didn’t sleep, and had a mini attack in the room. But I made that damn speech, doing my very best, and was overwhelmed by the feedback from the audience who thanked me and said I made a difference.
What is the real point of this long rambling blog post sharing my past?
I conquered one of my worst fears. Oh, I’m still terrified of public speaking. I still don’t like to do it. But each time I do, I grow. Get more comfortable in my skin. Learn. It has become a challenge in my life, to get a little braver each time I force myself to speak in front of a crowd.
What is the famous quote from Franklin D Roosevelt?
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I’m a keynote speaker at the InD’scribe conference October 6th. I’m scared. I’m still intimidated. But I push myself, because every time I do something that scares the crap out of me, I grow and change and become better.
A writing career is not for the faint hearted. It will challenge you, rip your heart out, heal you, and cause gripping, uncontrollable, brutal fear.
Do it anyway.
You may not succeed. You may still fail. But it doesn’t matter, because you will grow, and learn, and be better.
The smartest choices I’ve made in my life revolve around fear. If something terrifies me, I realize there’s a deeper meaning there, and I need to face it. Are you struggling with making a leap, or writing a new series, or something in your life that terrifies you?
It may be a sign you need to do it.
Fear is good. It reminds us we’re alive, and that there are endless possibilities out there if we are brave enough to unearth them.
Today, do something that really scares you. Come tell me about it or share your own secret fears.
Now to do something about those damn spiders….