Is It Fear? Or Just Not My Jam?

We’ve all heard the phrase “feel the fear and do it anyway”, but what if your instincts are actually right?

How do we tell the difference between something we’re just nervous about, and something that simply won’t serve us?

Very often, when we’re shit-scared of something, we know it will be “good for us” if we just swallow hard and leap. That presentation to the Board – amazing for our career experience and exposure. That difficult conversation with an employee – there are things that need to be put on the table so we can move forward. That speaker-spot at the upcoming conference – yes, I CAN!

These feelings of fear and uncertainty are natural and normal, and are our brains doing exactly what they should be doing – trying to protect us: from humiliation, loss, social rejection, or pain.

Fear comes in many forms, such as fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of change, and so often it’s in our best interest to fight our natural instincts, take action, and discover that hey, it’s not so bad on the other side after all.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s OK to say “no”. (Yes, “no” is a full sentence – use it!)

A great way to assess if you’re just chickening out and doing yourself a disservice is to ask yourself: “Is the outcome of this task going to outweigh the fear of actually doing it?”

Take the Board presentation example above, for instance. Your brain may be going into overdrive thinking “Why would they listen to me? What if they ask me something I don’t know the answer to? What if I completely freeze and forget what I want to say?”.

These are all future “what ifs” that haven’t actually happened, it’s the story you are telling yourself and making yourself sick with nerves. So, if your brain can create this outcome that doesn’t actually exist, why can’t it create another outcome – the outcome where you nail the presentation, there are a few interested questions that allow you to draw on and showcase your broad knowledge of the subject, and the Board asks for a follow-up presentation next month because they found it so valuable.

After you’ve done the presentation, check in with yourself to see how you feel. Energised, prickling all over, proud of your achievement, and relieved? How did your audience respond? For many, this will certainly outweigh the feeling of uncertainty going in.

But sometimes, the results of doing something scary won’t outweigh your nerves – it may genuinely not be your thing. Its so important to be your “authentic” self, every day in every way. Forcing yourself to do something that goes against who you are is exhausting, and creates a dissonance in your body that is impossible to ignore.

I remember years ago I was white-water rafting in Peru, and we stopped for some lunch on the riverbank with a 5m rock-jump into the swirling waters nearby. Now, I knew from previous experience that this was just not my jam, but I had a stern talk with myself – “Alison, are you just being chicken-shit, are you going to let this once-in-a-lifetime experience pass you by?” But also: “Alison, think about this evening when everyone is sitting around recounting the day’s events. Will you regret not having taken the leap?” And I could put my hand on my heart and say no, I wouldn’t regret it. And I don’t to this day! I was proud and kind of startled by this insight I had into myself that day, which is why I remember it so clearly, 14 years later!

It’s OK to set boundaries – boundaries are a good thing, it shows you know yourself well enough, and you are taking care of yourself.

So, back to the Board example. If you know that a presentation is genuinely not your jam, that’s OK! The most important thing is to make a conscious choice, and know whether the choice is from fear or a genuine personal preference. Perhaps you can write an amazing paper for the Board instead, and still get fantastic exposure and recognition for your hard work and insights.

Know yourself, do things your way, be authentic, and you’ll be OK, my friend.

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