What’s stopping you?
It keeps us from stepping outside our comfort zones,
away from the crowd to try something new,
and in front of the crowd to lead
It’s an electrified fence that blocks our path, a troll that refuses to let us cross a bridge, a swarm of bees – not butterflies – buzzing in our chests threatening to sting. It’s a whispered warning: people will point at us and laugh.
At my core I am a socially-awkward introvert who gets anxious approaching and speaking to someone I know, let alone someone I don’t know. Once I’ve started talking to someone, I’m fine. It’s that first interaction that’s the problem.
I fear it for reasons both ridiculous and valid. When I was younger, it could be debilitating. I’d walk away from an opportunity if I had to venture into a crowded room of strangers and – here comes the horrifying part – mingle. Yikes. I’m reliving the anxiety just by writing about it.
When facing your fear, what do you do? Believe what it’s telling you and step back, give up, maintain the status quo? Or do you decide to step forward?
Of course, it’s one thing to decide and another to act. Action requires something special:
Courage exists only in the moment we act in spite of our fear
Courage isn’t something we carry around with us – it’s something we demonstrate at fear-facing time.
But if we don’t carry courage around with us, how do we get it when we need it?
Curiosity fuels Courage
Curiosity – the desire to learn, to know what’s across the bridge and at the end of the path – can be strong enough to overpower fences, trolls, bees, and fear of embarrassment. But we must intentionally use curiosity to fuel our courage.
How do I do it? I ask myself questions answered only by stepping forward. Unanswered questions aggravate me more than fear, leaving me no choice but to act.
How I used unanswered questions (curiosity) to fuel my courage:
How I entered a crowded restaurant I’d never been in before: “What’s the architecture like inside? What kind of artwork do they have on the walls? I wonder what’s on the ceiling. I smell barbecue – do they have barbecue? I wonder if someone I know is in there. Is there something or someone in there that might inspire my writing?”
How I participated in a members-only event full of strangers so I (not a member) could listen to the speaker: “What am I going to learn from the speaker that could help me with my writing, studies, work, and career? What would it be like to be a member of this organization? Would my company be interested in joining? Maybe one of our customers is in there! I’m really hungry; I wonder what they’re serving for breakfast and lunch. How can I use this to help strengthen my own confidence? What do all of these people do for a living? Did any of them have to talk themselves into participating like I did? Maybe someone in there knows what OODA is. What’s the worst thing that can happen? What’s the best thing that can happen?”
Most of the time I hit on questions that if not answered will haunt me for days, so I choose step forward. And you know what? Over the years, if I had not let my curiosity fuel my courage, I’d have missed out on fantastic opportunities to interact with some really cool people. I’ve met customers, made new friends, helped someone find a job, and found someone who offered to give my son career advice.
Yes, I still get anxious when I have to approach and talk to someone. Even with practice, the fear doesn’t go away. But that’s OK. It’s a signal that I’m about to take a step forward into what may be a most excellent experience.