I, by nature, am a shy person. Or, at least I was as a young girl. This shyness often contradicted my adventurous side that loved trying new things and taking risks.
My parents couldn’t believe it when their shy little girl declared that she wanted to be an actress—only I didn’t use the word “actress”; I said that I wanted to be “a star”. I subjected my family to plays written and acted out by my best friend and me. A personal favorite was called “Dead Flowers” which illustrated (by dance) the evolution of flowers, with their death in the winter and new blooms in the spring. (Oscar-worthy for sure.)
I pursued acting throughout school (even briefly in college), but eventually changed my vocational direction. My acting days, however, were not in vain. They taught me some very valuable lessons—lessons that have helped me push past my fear.
BECAUSE FEAR CAN BE PARALYZING. I know this for fact. I struggle with fear (think anxiety on steroids), but you know what? EVERYONE has fear at some point in his or her life. It is how we handle the fear that matters.
Let’s start with the basics. . . my mom would always tell me that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Remember those shadows that would creep across your room at night when you were little? I do! I was convinced that those shadows were monsters or ghosts. Fear consumed me, keeping me awake. My False Evidence were the shadows, which in hindsight, were actually produced by the headlights of passing cars. There were no ghosts, even though they Appeared Real.
My stint in acting involved small parts (and sometimes larger parts) in elementary, high school, and college plays. Looking back, there is one thing that I always remember. . . the FEAR. This fear would be especially dominant when I was waiting in the wings, about to head on stage.
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” I would say to myself. My hands would sweat, my heart would pound fiercely. It was panicky fear and it would grab a hold of me so tightly. It took everything out of me to push myself out onto the stage.
How did I do it? I would picture myself NOT going out on stage. I would visualize the awkwardness that would transpire with fellow actors having to deal with my absence. I would see the play being ruined. I would then counter that with the old adage “The Show Must Go On” and convince myself that in order for the show to go on, I had to go on.
It was an internal dialogue, similar to many that I still have whenever I am faced with something causing my anxiety to skyrocket. Whenever I have those waiting-in-the-wing moments, I ask myself, “What will happen if I don’t?” And you know what? That image is always more frightening.
Another question to ask yourself is: What is the worst thing that will happen if you DO try? Hmmm…let’s see. You may embarrass yourself, you may do something wrong, you may even be fired (gulp – I know, harsh). BUT. . . with every one of those scenarios chances are that they’re all much better options than giving into fear. Take the firing scenario and picture yourself giving into the fear and not trying. Chances are you would still be fired for not trying. Again, the outcomes are always worse when you give into fear.
Acting in simple terms is faking a persona. It requires taking on a role. You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Fake it until you make it.” I exercise that phrase A LOT (and I mean A LOT). There are so many times when I feel afraid, like a fraud, or as if I don’t know what I am doing.
Those are the times when I JUST DO IT, taking a deep breath and jumping in. I do fake it with a lot of stumbling and mistakes along the way, but eventually I make it. And faking and making it with mistakes is so much better than not trying at all. So go for it and FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT.
None of the above is easy, especially when fear is wreaking havoc on your brain and body. That is when DEEP BREATHS are necessary. Whenever you feel the all-consuming anxiety, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Breath slowly in and exhale out.
Meditation is such a great tool to help with this. And for those who have never meditated or think they can’t do it, let me say this: I am not an expert. I am not even sure I do it correctly.
My meditation involves allowing myself to sit in a quiet space, where I relax, listen to and focus on my breathing, and try to rid myself of any thoughts (and that is tough for someone like me with an over-active brain). Even if you don’t think you are doing it correctly, trust me, the quiet and relaxed time will refocus your energy into a mindset that can conquer fear.
Whenever I am working through my fear, preparing myself for what (SCARY?) thing lies ahead, I repeat my mantra silently in my head. My mantra is a Bible verse (you can find what works for you. Trusting God is definitely what works and helps me!). My verse is:
I totally believe in its truth. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or non beliefs), a mantra is helpful to push you forward.
In Gone with the Wind, the characters Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara try to drive a horse-drawn carriage through a battle area that is engulfed with flames. The horse becomes frightened and refuses to move forward. In other words, the horse gives in to his FEAR. What does Rhett do? He covers the horse’s face with a blanket so that he cannot see the flames. The flames are still there, but because the horse cannot SEE the flames, he moves forward.
Use this analogy with your own goals and keep your blinders on. SEE yourself achieving your goals and stay focused on that final outcome. Do not look around. . .BLINDERS!
My last step for overcoming fear is this. . . JUMP! That’s right. As Nike would say, “Just Do It.” Such insight in three little words.
Do not waste more time thinking about the “what ifs” and do not allow yourself to be controlled by your excuses.