Living With Fear

I woke up at 2 am this morning, as I often do on days when I’m giving talks.  This can be any kind of talk – 8 hours of exec education, 3 hours of MBA lecturing, 20 minutes for a corporate workshop or a 5 minute welcome to students.  It doesn’t really matter – my mind is working overtime, thinking about it.

Thinking about what I should say, what points I want to make, what actions I want to trigger, and how to do this best.

Of course, those kinds of thoughts go into any type of presentation.  So why am I thinking them at 2 am instead of a more reasonable hour?

Because I’m scared.

Every time I give a talk, I’m scared.

Which is a bit odd, since talking is a big part of what I do for a living.

It’s the same with writing, another big part of my job – it’s kind of scary too.


I’m not very fond of rodents either…

Talking and writing are both hard.  Neither comes easily, they require tons of effort, and there is a very high chance that whatever comes out at the end of that effort isn’t very good.

So why do it?

I’m not passionate about talking or writing.  But I am passionate about impact – and talking and writing are two great ways to have impact.  They’re the two best that I’ve found, at least for me.

I want our jobs to be better, and more rewarding.  I want our organisations to be better places to work – places that thrive, that grow, that succeed.  I want us to be better managers – to be managers that support and build, that develop, that promote.

And because I want this, because I deeply believe that we need these things, because I know a little bit about how we might do this, I write, and I talk.  Even though it scares the daylights out of me every single time.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the importance of being professional in whatever your calling is.  He says:

The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch.  He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself.

Is he scared? Hell, yes.  He’s petrified.

(Conversely, the professional turns down roles that he’s done before.  He’s not afraid of them any more.  Why waste his time?)

So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign.  It shows you what you have to do.

It’s the fear that shows us what to do, but it’s also what keeps us from making the jump from doing nothing to doing something.

I’m not telling you this to tell that you I’ve conquered fear.  I haven’t – not even close.  I’m telling you this to show that we all run into the fear – and we have to jump anyway.  Don’t wait to conquer fear – no one ever does.  We just have learn to live with fear.

That’s the only way we’ll get important stuff done.

(Mouse photo from flickr/Ruud Hein under a Creative Commons License)


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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.