Even strong, resilient women sometimes need to overcome fear and build confidence when they embark on something new or take on a new challenge. I used to think that I was alone in having difficulty getting motivated to do the things I actually wanted to do. But after speaking with many women about this, I now know that we all get scared and lack nerve more often than we’d like to admit. And it always seems to happen when we go after something important to us, like a new position, project, or avocation.
The usual advice to overcome fear and build confidence doesn’t work
Along the way, my clients and I have figured out an unusual way of overcoming such fears. It’s not what you’d expect, and it’s not the conventional advice or clichés, like “just do it,” “fake it till you make it,” “lean in,” and so on.
Such stuff of blind courage never seems to work well for smart women. We know better. Like babies who have mastered object permanence, we know that covering our eyes doesn’t make the monster disappear.
What works instead
Stop thinking about yourself and start sharing with the world.
To explain, I’ll use myself as an example.
I used to be afraid of any kind of public speaking. Don’t get me wrong; I am still a bundle of nerves 24 hours before I have to give a talk of any length. But when I finally get on stage, I can perform. If you were to tell my former research colleagues that I give keynote speeches at conferences, they would be stunned and in disbelief. They remember me as the co-worker who either avoided giving presentations like the plague or who shook like a leaf when forced to do so.
What changed for me was this: a teacher at my coaching school told me that if I was nervous before giving a talk, it was because I was preoccupied with myself. I was worried about how I would perform, how I would be perceived by the audience, and what the speech would do for my career. What I needed to focus on instead was my audience, the value of the information that I would provide, and how to best communicate my message.
Why it works
Once we shift our focus away from ourselves and to someone else or a greater purpose, our perspective changes. We are able to relax, hone in on the essential tasks, and do them. Our fears subside because we no longer feel a need to protect ourselves.
Something galvanizes within us when we are concerned about others. For example, when we truly focus on the act of giving, we focus less on the price of the gift and more on its intangible value. I think this has to do with our innate desire to connect with other people. (You may also recall that giving is also a key to success.)
How does all this apply to you and your fears?
If you are trying to start a new business, you may think, “But there are so many new businesses; what’s one more?” To that I would reply that perhaps you will reach the one customer who truly needs or delights in the unique service or product you have to offer.
You may say, “How could my promotion matter to the world?” My answer: maybe you would become a better boss, setting the tone for a more collegial workplace culture.
Finally, you may think, “And what if I fail?” If that should happen, you would join the rest of humanity, learn from your experience, and be in a position to try again next time, because no failure is ever truly complete or total.
Make your challenges less about you and more about the world around you, and you’ll find a kind of bravery that you never knew you had.