For the thirteenth week of the 52 Blogs project the topic is, appropriately, fear.
Fear is an interesting concept. It’s a survival instinct, above all: it can be a motivator (if you’re scared of lung cancer that might motivate you to give up smoking, for instance) but it can also hold you back (if you’re scared of failure you may decide, for example, not to tackle that University course). Most of us tend to build our lives around scenarios and routines that enable us to avoid the things we fear (adrenaline junkies need not apply here) and I’m a great advocate of breaking those routines in order to confront thing that make us uncomfortable (I wrote about this some time ago).
Great advocate, yes: rubbish practitioner.
Next week I have to go to Hobart, on my own, to a conference, to deliver a presentation. The prospect of this has actually had me quite depressed for a chunk of the last four months (and I don’t use the D word lightly) but it seems the perfect subject for a discussion about fear. After all, if I wasn’t fearful, at some level, of this jaunt then I would probably be embracing the prospect instead of allowing it to darken my year to date.
If you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation: basically I wrote a submission for a conference, didn’t expect it to get anywhere, certainly didn’t expect to be the only person going if it was accepted. Naturally it was accepted and, of course, I’m going alone.
While I wouldn’t fully describe my reaction as fear, there are several elements of this trip that I have varying degrees of anxiety over (in descending order of severity):
- Being away from my family: we spend very little time apart from each other and I think this might actually be the first time I’ve travelled away from my wife and kids
- Being at a large conference surrounded by lots of people I don’t know (and will be expected to socialise with) … I expect many of you reading this will be in touch with that one 😉
- Travelling: while I’m not particularly scared of flying I don’t really enjoy travelling in general (possibly because it usually involves being surrounded by lots of other people)
- Delivering the presentation: I’m not overly anxious about this (and more on that a little further down) but there’s the usual nervousness about speaking in public, wondering if your presentation is going to be good enough, etc
- Being alone in an unknown city. Not actually very worried about this: I’m staying in a hotel right near the conference, Hobart looks lovely, and I’m only there for two days anyway, but there must be some anxiety about this buried somewhere.
For the first month or two of the year I was in strong denial about having to go. While I didn’t do anything to actively sabotage the prospect, I did keep thinking about ways I might be able to get out of it. I tried to arrange for a co-presenter to join me, but unfortunately the money wasn’t there. I never went as far as requesting that I be excused from going to the conference because that would have been lame and I knew that going was the best way of tackling my fear: if there’s a next time then I expect I won’t have half the anxiety I do now.
And I say that because I know it works. Some years ago nothing would have scared me more, workwise, than having to chair a meeting or deliver a presentation. Then I got a management type job where performing those sorts of tasks became a weekly occurrence. Guess what: I’m not scared of chairing meetings or delivering presentations any more (remember: enter your discomfort zone!).
So I accepted that I had to go to Hobart: while the prospect sucks it’ll be good for me and it’ll be good for my career. As the year went on, and Hobart grew closer, I actually got less anxious about it. Once certain steps had been taken to make Hobart less of a vague prospect and more of a concrete inevitability, I guess I started to accept it more: once the flights and hotel were booked; once I’d paid for my conference ticket; once I’d completed my presentation; once I knew it was really happening and there was no escape.
I’m still not in any way, shape or form looking forward to it (even last week I was thinking: “what if I somehow miss the flight…?”). However, I’ve made sure I have a few tangible things to look forward to after Hobart: I’ve booked the rest of the week off when I get back; I’ve arranged a coffee date with friends … basically things that I can focus on instead of having to go to Hobart.
And this time next week I’ll already be back home – which is something I can really look forward to.
I can’t finish this post with admitting to some of my phobias. I have a mild fear of the dark (I’ll often switch on a light before setting foot in a darkened room) but that’s a conventional, relatively rational fear. We’re inherently scared of the dark because that’s when the predators/monsters can more easily hunt us down.
I also have a fear of heights. Also fairly rational: we’ll tend to die if we fall from a great height. It won’t stop me from climbing tall buildings, enjoying the view off a cliff, etc, but it will give me sweaty palms and, occasionally, mild dizziness if I watch things like the start of Mission: Impossible 2 or look at photos like this:
I have a mild fear of needles which I’ve mostly overcome (they never hurt as much as you think they’re going to). However, I learned recently that I have a genuine phobia of needles in the eye. Quite reasonable, you might say, but I can’t even endure talking about needles in the eye.
When my wife was getting her epidural during the birth of our second child the anaesthetist somehow got onto the topic of having to deliver injections into people’s’ eyes (I think she had an issue with it too). Everyone started happily discussing what a horrible prospect it all was, meanwhile I grew more and more faint and nauseous until I had to go and sit down, take a few deep breaths, and do my best to mentally block out the conversation.
There aren’t many things that will have that effect on me.
Anyway, to cap this post off, please listen to this important message that Patrick Swayze has about fear….