Public Speaking: the 3 Phases of Fear
“Fear is your ally. She’s a caring messenger and supportive friend – and she’s always got your back” – Marie Forleo
First, let me start with an apology, mostly to myself. I’ve unintentionally taken a little hiatus from my MPR blog, lots of reasons (excuses) but I’m now doubling down on my commitment to keep creating content that will hopefully inform, inspire (maybe?) but at the very least give ME an avenue to be creative – of which I am extremely grateful.
September marked my "1-Year Strong" of the soft-launch of Manejah PR. When I first set out, I set many short-term/long-terms goals as a small business owner. In addition to growing my business, I had put a couple big dashboard dreams out there: 1) To start my own podcast and 2) To start speaking publicly as a way of getting my voice and my story heard. Both felt very uncomfortable. But I figured as long as I had them way out there, everything would be fine. I’d be ready by the time either one landed on my front step.
As I mentioned in my blog post “8 Things I’ve Learned in my First Month as a New Biz Owner," one of the best things I did when I officially, officially launched my business in January was join the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber of Commerce. One of the things I love the most about the Chamber is its relentless interested in member feedback and how they can help you and your business grow. It is under this premise that they approached me about an opportunity to run my own seminar. ("Is this really happening!?)
My seminar -"Content Strategy for Small Businesses, Making the Most of your Content" - was part of the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce's Small Business series meeting back in August. Ok, so, I wouldn't call myself a shy person. I’ve done some time on a stage and led many pitches throughout my agency days but this was different, this was uncomfortable, this was that suffocating, it’s-all-on-me feeling, no band or piano to accompany me, no mood boards or baton passing to fellow team members, this was just me promoting something that only I created - my business. I was the expert providing insights and knowledge to a group of 25 fellow chamber members who have given their time and money to hear what I had to say. ("Crap. This is really happening!")
Since my MPR speaking debut, I've had some time to decompress and to reflect on my own mental preparation process. I’ve also had a chance to catch up on some Maire Forleo TV and making my way through her new book “Everything is Figureoutable” which dedicates a whole chapter on the role of fear in your everyday life and ability to reach your goals and dreams.
In a recent Goop podcast “Why Fear Can Be Magical” Marie says that “Our fear is really directive and trying to nudge us to a project or a possibility or a growth edge where there’s magic.”
This could not be closer to the truth for me and the metamorphosis I went through prepping, giving and reflecting on the opportunity. As I thought about what this fear really meant for me, I was able to break it down into 3 clearly defined phases.
Phase 1: Getting old and not growing. Although I absolutely love owning my own business and working for myself, I do see one “con” in being a sole-proprietor, it’s the word “sole.” Everything is on you, including your professional growth. Gone are the days of valuable water cooler chatter, and riffing with a colleague outside your cube about cool new tools, ideas and struggles. When you're out there on your own you must rely on your own know-how and curiously to keep expanding that knowledge horizon. Creating those dashboard goals has never been more important – to make and to achieve. Because years go by (a lot of years) and you realize that you are still doing the same stuff you were doing 5, 10 years ago. Your head has been down, diligently working, growing your business, then you attend a conference in your industry and hear people talking about tools and strategies and technology that you’ve never heard of before. And you silently freak out. ("Where have I been?!") So you put that goal out there. I’m going to do more public speaking. Done. Just writing it down, is enough to make that first phase of fear, disappear into space. There's a weird "Phew, I don't have to think about that again" comfort by just writing things down and moving on. A temporary sigh of relief. ("You got this, Manejah!")
Phase 2: We’ve got the wrong person. I've been reading a lot about "Imposter Syndrome" to try to understand the inner workings of my fear. For those not familiar, Imposter Syndrome is basically just a belief that you are nothing special. And the idea of you being an expert was all just a facade and soon the gig will be up, the curtain will close and that will be the end of your run. ("It was good while it lasted, right?!")
According to this piece by The Harvard Business Review, "Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence."
All the years working on a team, I had absolutely no clue that deep inside I was suffering. But now, mask off, no shadow to hide behind, I was convinced once I put my foot out there on that stage, on my own, I'd be found out. So immediately after it was confirmed that I would be speaking at the seminar, and up until the second before I started speaking, I kept my breath held, waiting for someone to call me out, for the email stating that they had changed their mind and had someone "more qualified" to speak. I realized that subconsciously it was Imposter Syndrome that had held me back all these years, that had held me back from seeing my career and personal dreams realized. Knowing it exists has helped me to battle against it. So I pushed away the self-doubt and crushed that seminar. Feeling revived and full of confidence as I left the room. Then, just as I stepped onto the elevator, I remembered: "THERE'S A FREAKIN' SURVEY!!"
Phase 3: FOPO (Fear of what other people think). Oh, the killer of dreams, dark horse of spontaneity, royal buzz kill to a seemingly perfect idea - FOPO. You hate it but you also need it. It keeps us on our game, pushing us to do better. But it can also be crippling and prevent us from going after our goals in fear of being criticized, made fun of or devalued (cue Imposter Syndrome again!) It's this fear that has created a whole movement around not giving a shit. But the reality is we all really do give a shit. And this FOPO often hits when we are most vulnerable and when our protective ego layer is at its thinnest.
As this piece from Thrive Global states "As adults, very few of us are immune from caring about what other people think. And when we become preoccupied with a need to be liked — or try too hard to be everyone’s hero — we risk abandoning ourselves."
FOPO weighed heavy on my mind after I left the building that morning, thinking about the survey that was soon to be executed, when all would be revealed. I thought, "I could just quit this whole owning a business thing, get a full time job somewhere, work at Starbucks in the short term, it's all just too much." Really, I had a whole escape plan worked out in my head. And then the surveys came in...and...they...were...FINE, HELPFUL, GOOD. It was all GOOD. And MPR was going to live another day. Conquer the world, maybe. (ok, looks like my ego is still intact!)
Bottom line...fear is frustrating, exhausting and scary but it can also be cool, helpful and as Marie Forleo says "an ally." When was the last time you did something you feared only to wake up on the other side a better, stronger, happier person?