It’s OK to be Scared

The following is a speech given by Best of Dallas Toastmasters member Dena Delaney at a recent meeting. 

It’s OK to Be Scared

I have a scary story to share with you tonight. On Halloween two years ago, something very frightening happened to me. I must have turned white as a ghost as the blood rushed from my face and I was overcome with fear. I’m not kidding; I was so terrified by what happened I could barely speak! Two years ago on Halloween, someone asked me my first table topics question!

Fellow Toastmasters, tonight I’m going to talk to you about how facing fear is a great way to build confidence. Facing fear is a courageous thing to do but it sure is scary! Every week here at Toastmasters we all face fear. It may not seem as scary now as it did the first time we were asked a table topics question or gave our Icebreaker speech but almost every time I tell someone I’m in Toastmasters they respond with, “wow, you’re braver than I am, I could never do that.”  The funny thing is, that’s exactly what I used to say!

Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Like many people who join Toastmasters, I had a huge fear of fear of public speaking. And even though facing that fear was one of the main reasons I came to Toastmasters, for me it was about more than just public speaking. That fear was holding me back—it was crushing my confidence. So my goal when I joined Toastmasters was not to become a great speaker, my goal was to become more confident.

I work in the architecture business in commercial interiors and being able to give presentations is an important part of my job. But my fear of speaking was so overwhelming that I wouldn’t even try. There was almost always someone else willing to do it, so for years I got away with rarely having to speak.

In 2009 I was laid off from the architecture firm where I had worked for almost 10 years, and that was my wake up call. As I began preparing for interviews for a new job, I realized that at my level of experience I really needed to be confident and well-spoken. And I needed to have great presentation skills. So I decided to join Toastmasters. And what a difference it has made! I still have a lot of work to do but I’m no longer terrified. And even though I still get scared, I’ve developed the confidence to try. I’ve learned that I can face my fears and do my best.

So how do we face our fears and develop confidence?

One of the first things we have to do is develop the habit of noticing fear. That seems easy enough but sometimes our fear is hiding in excuses. And for me it usually shows up as resistance.

Whenever I find out I have to do something and my immediate reaction is “no, I don’t want to do that,” or “I can’t do that!” then I know I need to look for fear. I may have other excuses, but if I dig deep, I usually find the truth is I’m afraid. Afraid to try something new, afraid to express myself, afraid I might fail, or any number of other things to be afraid of.

The key is to recognize that it is fear holding us back so we can take the next step. And the next step is the difficult part. We have to choose to do whatever it is we fear. It’s OK to be scared, but we have to do it anyway.

And if you have trouble making that choice, ask yourself why. Why do you want to face that fear? Find a motivation that really matters to you. For me, choosing to become more confident was about being happy. I was unhappy for a long time and once I made the choice to be happy then it became easy to make decisions to do things that would make me happier.

And being confident makes me happy because it means I don’t have to live in fear.

The more we choose to do the thing that scares us, the more we chip away at our fears and the more confidence we find in its place.

Just like on Halloween two years ago. I didn’t think I could answer a table topics question. And as it turned out—I was right! But even though I could barely speak and I was only able to mumble a few words that made no sense, I still felt amazing afterwards because I took a risk. I tried to do something that I was terrified to do.

As soon as I sat down, my mind raced with thoughts about what I could have said. And then I suddenly felt excited about the next opportunity to try. I wanted to do better and I believed that I could. A tiny bit of confidence in the place of a huge amount of fear. And that’s how we grow!

So if you still have fears that hold you back and you feel that you could use a little more confidence in your life then be courageous! Remember, it’s OK to be scared. Just practice the habit of noticing when fear is holding you back and choose to do the thing that scares you every chance you get.