We all have fears. Some are obvious. Others, hidden. My secret fear, as far back as I can remember, has been speaking to groups of people. Even the thought makes my palms sweaty.
It’s strange, because I have absolutely no problem talking one-on-one with anyone. It could be the president and it’s no big whoop to me. But start adding people to the mix and I become a mess.
Which creates a problem because so much of life is lived talking to groups of people.
I’ve hidden this secret well. You might say, “But Ken, you were a DJ on the radio, talking to thousands of listeners for ten years.” Yes. But it was just me in a room with a microphone.
You might say, “But Ken, you’ve led hundreds, maybe even thousands of meetings over your career.” Yes. But most were conference calls with just me in an office with a speakerphone.
Years ago, I joined a Toastmaster’s public speaking group. It really helped! It taught me how to speak off the cuff and how to deal with my fear. It gave me confidence, but it wasn’t a cure.
The first time I became aware of my fear of speaking to groups was at my first job after college. My manager at the time picked up on my secret weakness and put me in charge of leading a new hire training class. It wasn’t the end of the world. I got through it. But no, it didn’t make me better.
Side note: If you’re a manager, please don’t do that. Identify your people’s strengths. Help them get even better at those things and delegate their weaknesses to somebody else. Everybody wins.
It wasn’t until this week when I had to once again face my fear, after wresting with this all too familiar enemy for the last twenty years, that I realized something that I hadn’t thought of before.
Even though I have this fear, I’ve still acted in spite of it.
I’ve led teams since high school. I’ve led board meetings with very senior people. I’ve presented ideas in front of groups as large as three hundred people. I didn’t love it. (I hated it.) But I did it.
For years, I’ve beat myself up for being so terribly afraid of talking to groups of people instead of acknowledging that every time I’ve had to do it, I’ve faced my fear and never backed down.
Isn’t that the very definition of courage?
Courage doesn’t deny the existence of fear. It doesn’t dismiss those feelings. It acknowledges them yet urges us to act, anyway. Just because you feel afraid doesn’t mean you have to be afraid.
You don’t have to be a superhero to be courageous. Whenever you acknowledge your very real feelings and the existence of whatever it is that you fear and you act anyway, you are courageous.
And that makes you kind of a superhero. You might not be able to fly or have super-speed or super-hearing or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you do have a superpower: It’s courage.
Stop focusing on your weakness, that thing you fear the most. Know that when you decide to face that fear head on, you become a hero. And the very moment you get through it, you become super.