“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.”
Louisa May Alcott
For many years, fear controlled my life. I have found the only way to overcome fear is to do the thing I am afraid of. Below is a speech I recently gave at Toastmaster’s Open House called, Do it Afraid: How Toastmaster’s helped me overcome social anxiety.
If you’d prefer to read the speech, here it is.
Close your eyes for a moment. Think about your life. What one thing would do if you weren’t afraid? Now open them. If you would have asked me two years ago, my list was long. My world was small because I was afraid of flying, crowds, and germs. Social anxiety paralyzed me. It took me days to sic myself up to call the doctor’s office and schedule an appointment.
There is a saying, “We change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” I have learned that to overcome fear, you must do it afraid.
Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance of fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
Over the last two years, I have faced my fears and taken my life back. Today, I’d like to share with you how Toastmasters has helped me overcome my social anxiety. Glossophopia means fear of public speaking. It comes from the Greek words glossa which means tongue and phobos which means fear or dread. Studies show that 75% of people are afraid of public speaking. That means you are not alone. Warren Buffett, the 3rd wealthiest man in the world, was terrified of getting up and saying his name. He realized that he needed to face his fear or not realize his potential. His potential? 65 billion dollars. Even pros feel fear.
Move instead of freeze. We can’t wait for fear to go away, because it doesn’t.
I’ve found that when I run headlong into what I’m afraid of, what is on the other side of fear far exceeds my expectations. Toastmasters was no different. In the last eight months not only did I gain the skills and experience to give speeches without being terrified, but I became more confident in my personal life.
Toastmasters changed me. I am a better person for the time I’ve invested. I walk down the hall with my head high, my shoulders back and a smile on my face. That is a long way from the shy, quiet, reserved girl I was.
In the past, my fear of what other people would think paralyzed me. The fear of not being perfect caused me to either not try or overachieve. In Toastmasters I learned that showing up and giving a speech is a win. No one is going to give a perfect speech. We are all humans. We all make mistakes. Embrace them, learn from them and move on.
The people in the audience are cheering for me. One of my mottoes’s in life is to look for one thing in each person I meet that I can incorporate into my own life. Mary K has a saying, “Drive, Don’t Ride.” In life, don’t sit in the passenger seat, move over to the driver’s seat. Another thing she shared with me was to walk through the center of the door like the Queen of England does. The funny thing is, no one else probably notices, but I treat myself differently when I do those things.
That’s what I didn’t expect with Toastmasters. Not only did I learn the skills and gain experience, but my life has been enriched by other club members. Bill has been in Toastmasters for over 25 years. When I have questions, Bill will sit and answer them. Annette sees a flickering flame of possibility and gently coaxes it into a confident speaker. I could go on and on sharing what I’ve learned from each one in here.
There is an unseen dimension to communication. If I’m nervous, I subconsciously make you nervous. When I’m enjoying myself, hopefully, you will too? When Marc speaks, you can tell he’s having a blast, and you can’t help but join him.
When I gave my first speech, I got encouraging feedback from other members. Many people encouraged me to slow down. That’s hard to do when you are nervous. I’d like to share one thing I learned to do when I’m nervous. It’s called Foursquare breathing.
Picture a side of a square. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Move to the top of the square in your mind and hold your breath for four seconds. Move to the other side and exhale through your mouth for four more seconds. Move to the bottom and hold your breath for four seconds. Then repeat. This simple exercise can be done anywhere and helps calm and slow me down.
Toastmasters has given me confidence. It taught me to relax and enjoy the process. Think back to that one thing you would change if you weren’t afraid? My heart is that you would find the freedom that is on the other side of fear. You have a gift the world needs. Maybe it’s public speaking, and if so, we’d love to have you join us here at Toastmasters. Or maybe it’s something else in your life. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to take a deep breath and do it afraid.
Stop waiting for Friday, for summer, for someone to fall in love with you, for life. Happiness is achieved when you stop waiting for it and make the most of the moment you are in right now.
I have never regretted doing it afraid. What are you waiting for? What do you need to do to make it happen?