I’ve always identified with the Cowardly Lion. Courage does not come naturally to me. I cannot recall a time when I was truly fearless. Everything from meeting someone for the first time to standing on a ladder can send me into a nervous refrain, “I can’t do this. Something horrible will happen. I will make a fool of myself.”
In high school I had a teacher write me a note and tell me that he thought my naturally sweet disposition was keeping me from achieving my goals. Not exactly, Teach. Anyone who knows me, knows I can be just as *itchy as the best of them. No, there’s only one thing that keeps me from my goals:
Sometimes, it’s paralyzing.
Those meet-n-greet dinners at the beginning of a conference? I avoid them at all costs, and when I can’t, I spend an inordinate amount of time in the restroom and leave completely exhausted. It’s taken me three days to work up the nerve to call HughesNet to advocate for a bill reduction. Even at the-job-that-pays, getting up in front of a classroom of college students on the first day of a semester is both exhilarating and terrifying.
Introversion, social anxiety, timidness, it’s probably a mix of the three. So how have I managed to accomplish anything without an arsenal of pharmaceutical assistance? Strong friendships with courageous people have certainly helped. Turning off my people-pleasing instincts and smothering the associated guilt works to some extent. Easing back on perfectionism, check. Routines, meditation, visualization help too. However, in college I hit upon one question that propels me forward:
If I do XYZ “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and its follow-up question, “Can I live with that?”
It’s worked something like this…Freshman year in college, I hear my Resident Assistant on the college radio station and I think to myself, that sounds like a lot of fun. I would like to do that too. Then the anxious voice takes over and says, what are you kidding? You will be horrible, people won’t listen, you will lose listeners and embarrass yourself and the station. But after thinking about it for a while, I realize is embarrassment the worst thing that could happen? And if it is, can I live with that?
Yes, I can live with that.
So I took the broadcaster course and passed my FCC test and got my broadcasting license. After a semester on the air I was running the morning drive program. After two semesters I was helping to run the station in the summer. After a year I received the station’s best new DJ award.
And yes, I embarrassed myself.
But this new mantra helps me move forward. Sometimes it’s all that gets me out of the house. It’s what keeps me employed. It’s what keeps me writing and submitting and self-publishing. It’s what I tell my students to do when they’re considering a life change. It’s what I tell my children when they want to try something new.
My mantra has motivated me all the way to Russia, Singapore, and Finland. It’s given me the guts to put myself out there singing, speaking, and writing. It’s not easy yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s working for me.
How about you? What gives you courage?