Facing Fears

 By Liz, outside of Hartford

Last week, I missed my train to New York because of a spider. I’ll tell you why that’s meaningful in a moment, but first, indulge me.

I was leaving for an 8:43 train out of New Haven to Penn Station, which was uber-convenient, since my meetings were in One Penn Plaza. Which meant I didn’t even have to go outside if I didn’t want to. Now, granted, I was already a little behind by about five to seven minutes, and nearly out of gas, because I haven’t yet learned the procrastination lessons I wrote about a couple months ago. But since I drive fast, I’m confident I would’ve made it as long as traffic was on my side. 

Spider

The incident, illustrated courtesy of Kim Fleck.

So I finally grabbed my ginormous bag, my coffee, my smoothie and my hard-boiled egg and opened the front door. And had a meltdown. There was a HUGE, FAT, FURRY, (did I mention HUGE?) spider on the front door, facing outside. I mean, it was hideous. Not as bad as the snake in the car, granted (I’ll tell that one another time) but still nasty. And I didn’t want to walk by it. I might’ve cried. Then I slammed the front door shut and willed it to leave. Meanwhile, a second, smaller spider had also come to visit. He met the bottom of my shoe. But I was stuck. 

By the time I gained the courage to open the door again, the spider was gone. I was free to go, no longer a hostage. But I couldn’t drive quite fast enough, and I missed my train.

Why am I writing a blog post about this? No, it’s not to humiliate myself. It made me think about facing fears. But more so, it made me think about the missed opportunities that come with not facing them head-on, in a timely fashion, like the brave warrior I know I can be. 

Aside from hairy spiders, one of my biggest fears is public speaking. It’s a terror that has dogged me throughout my life –  in my first speech class in college, in grad school, in my professional life. I’ve managed to hide from it for a long time. But now I’m a writer. A writer who has to promote herself, who attends conferences and speaks on panels, and is asked to give talks at local libraries and other events. When I first realized this, I may have contemplated NOT writing for a moment or two. But since that’s not an option, I sucked it up and started with baby steps, like small events.

Me and Shaggy at an event last year.

Me and Shaggy at an event last year.

Partnering up with friends helps. Hiding behind my dog, who attends many events, does too. I’m building up to solo talks. I’ve had mostly positive experiences this past year since my first book came out, so my confidence has grown. Still, I know I need to push myself further.

In my “other” work life, this fear still dogs me. I’ve gotten better here as well, but I still have anxiety when I have to make any kind of work presentation. And there are days when  admittedly I would rather hide in a corner than speak in front of a roomful. I understand this unwillingness to put myself out there has probably resulted in missed opportunities in the corporate world. I don’t want to miss any in my writing career. 

Now, back to the train. Admittedly, all turned out well, albeit more work for me. Instead of an Amtrak to Penn, I had to take the next MetroNorth train to Grand Central, then hike to my original destination – right next to Penn – carrying my ginormous, 50-pound bag. Really, it’s not a long walk and it was a nice day to get some exercise. I love walking around the city. I still made my meetings and the day was fabulous, sore shoulder aside. But I could’ve avoided all the added aggravation if I’d JUST FACED THE DAMN SPIDER in the first place. Grabbed a broom and kicked him out of the house, with poise and confidence. Banished him. Asked him not to return. 

Just like I need to do with my public speaking fears. Acknowledge them, examine them and banish them to the dark place they belong. 

Readers, what’s your biggest fear? 

19 thoughts on “Facing Fears

  1. Oh, boy, I am so with you on the public speaking thing. Way back when I was in school (in the dark ages) I was so petrified of giving speeches, that I would talk my mother into letting me be sick those days. I wouldn’t even raise my hand in class–I might have to *gasp* TALK!

    I’ve slowly gotten over the extreme fear, and I can actually do a presentation if I have to. I took taekwondo for ten years, and when we earned our black belts, we had to make a speech. No getting out of it. I learned it wasn’t so bad after all. I still have to remind myself to speak up when I’m in a group of people. I prefer to just listen to everyone else!

  2. Well, it isn’t spiders, although anything that slithers gives me the willies. I would NOT know you had a fear of public speaking, Liz. You’ve always seemed at ease when we’ve shared the stage (so to speak). My biggest fear is that something terrible will happen to one of my darling sons. Hasn’t happened yet, and they are healthy productive members of society in their twenties. But I don’t know what I’d do… okay, let’s not go there!

  3. I had to face my extreme fear of public speaking when I got my job at Emerson, and had the opportunity to teach. Those first few classes were rough, but I got through. And the passion of teaching took hold. Now public speaking is part of my life. Still a challenge, but one that I do.

    Facing fears is critical to living a full life.

  4. Mine is having blood drawn. The strange thing is that the problem isn’t exactly the blood. It’s anything touching the crook of my arm. Or, to be honest, the backs of my knees. If blood could be taken from, say, my shoulder, I really don’t think it would be a problem. The fear is so deeply rooted I don’t even look at the bend of my arms if I can help it. One of my children suggested I was bled to death by leeches in a previous life. I think that explains it as well as anything else might.

    • Yikes!

      When I worked at a police department, we got free flu shots every year. One of the detectives was deathly afraid of needles. Some of the officers would gather around just to see if he’d pass out. I don’t think he ever did.

  5. The phone. Hate it. And in real life, asking anyone for directions, clarifications, help. Drank a black coffee at Starbucks on Tuesday because it wasn’t the kind where they had the cream and milk out and I couldn’t make myself go back and ask for it. Sheesh.

  6. Change. I hate change. I stayed at a job for way too many years because I couldn’t face the change.

    And on a related note, I’m starting a new job on Monday after being unemployed for 3 months. I am happy for the income, but I’m really not looking forward to the, you guessed it, change. (And losing all the reading time I’ve had. It’s going to seriously cut into how many novels I can knock off my TBR pile.)

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