When Todd launched his ebook “Kicking Fear’s Ass,” I was terrifically proud to be part of it. I had overcome – if not a fear – but at least a certain amount of discomfort to become a very effective networker and so I was happy to share my experience with getting over the fear or negative anticipation.
How incredibly ironic that the analogy I chose to use was that of jumping into a cold lake.
Because at the time I wrote my essay, I had been invested in a terrible fear of water for over fifteen years. It was something I would never have thought about revealing at the time. But it certainly caused me grief and inordinate anxiety over the years. And yet I couldn’t point to any specific origin of the phobia. There wasn’t a traumatic incident or terrible accident, although there was a particularly stressful event in my life. That stress caused a pattern of dealing with that stress which came out in some funny ways.
Claustrophobia and a fear of water were the most visible – and the easiest to deal with. I simply avoided any situation that caused a problem. Small spaces… nope, not going in there. Go swimming? Not really into it and there was no way if it was an indoor pool. That was impossible. Cruise ship? Absolutely not. Those tiny cabins deep inside a ship floating on a giant ocean was the worst possible combination of the two problems. Except for a submarine. Fortunately, I wasn’t going to be joining the Navy any time soon. I even had to have a clear shower curtain.
Eventually, as my stress ebbed to a more normal background of life, work and family, the claustrophobia subsided. I would ride in an elevator and I didn’t have to sit in the front seat of a two-door car. But the water problem actually got worse. I was invested in the idea of being afraid of water and it was self-reinforcing. The more I avoided it, the bigger deal it became in my head.
Funny thing was in the last few years, I was regularly doing plenty of other “scary” things.
I started running at age 40 and began competing in local events. Even going so far as to try to place in the locally-renowned Valley Runner of the Year Series (I finished second in the Master’s Women category this year).
I got a road bike. I was afraid to ride in traffic at first, but my husband encouraged me, showed me the rules of the road and eventually I grew to love barreling down the road with traffic whizzing by.
In April of 2014 I left a job I had been in for eleven years. It was frightening to think about going somewhere new and doing something different, but I made the change and I love my new job and the people I’m working with.
Then my running buddy got bit by the cycling bug and started riding in the group my husband and I rode with. That’s when the talk about triathlons got started.
“Hey, we’ve got two-thirds of a triathlon down!”
“Too bad I’m afraid of water.”
“Yeah, it’s a shame you don’t swim.”
Too bad … what a shame … you won’t swim … you can’t do a triathlon … you can’t ever take on that challenge.
The words banged around in my head for weeks, until one day in May all that kept going around and around in my thoughts until I remember thinking:
“I’m tired of this. It’s ridiculous!”
I wasn’t going to let what I knew was an irrational fear keep me from doing something I very badly wanted to do. It was like a rubber band snapped. I wanted to do a triathlon far more than I wanted to be afraid of water. I declared to myself that I was no longer afraid. I would no longer think of myself as someone who had a phobia. I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing what I wanted. I uninvested myself of whatever benefit – attention, drama, an outlet for something – I had been getting out of it.
Five months later I finished second in my age group in a small, local, lake-side triathlon. A month later, I completed an ocean-going triathlon. Did I feel fear at any time? No. I had decided to not be afraid. Oh, I do remember being tired of swallowing salt water! But not once did I feel fearful or think I wasn’t going to make it back to shore.
What did I do to create such a transformation? I don’t have the answer to genuine phobias, especially those born out of trauma, but I do have some insights into the “sudden” dispersal of my fear habit. Yes … habit. I think I created the habit of thinking I had a phobia when it was an old reaction to a (temporary) stressful situation that should have faded along with the stress. Instead, I had invested time and effort into thinking about and feeding into the fear.
Here’s what I believe led to that singular moment of shedding that habit:
* I had conquered a series of smaller fears with very positive results. I was rewarded for taking action whether I consciously knew it or not.
* I spent time with people who were ambitious and not afraid to take risks, including a73-year-old friend who hadn’t started riding until just ten years ago. She regularly rides us into the ground.
* My friends saw me as so bold and fearless in the rest of my life that the water phobia didn’t fit into the personal brand they believed in … and which I had to believe in too.
* I wanted to do a triathlon very, very badly. I wanted to earn the non-revocable, lifetime achievement of being called triathlete more than I wanted to be afraid.
I was single-minded about digging out fear and conquering it. So much so that it took a couple weeks after the ocean triathlon for me to start wondering what else I was afraid of. What other fear was holding me back. And what else I could do once I shed that?
We shall see!
And get Beth’s fine book on networking:
Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Powerful and Profitable Business Network