Fear is my new best friend…
What do I mean by this? Well, as some of you already know, just before Christmas, I (as my alter ego) received a rather fabulous write up in The Observer. As a direct result of that hugely complimentary article, I was invited to be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. I think ‘appearing’ on Woman’s Hour was about the most frightening experience of my life. It was also one of the most fantastic, transformative and powerful things I have ever done, not because of the kudos or the ego boost or the (incredible) effect on sales, but because it was so scary. Let me explain…
Once upon a time years ago, when I was leading a small, sheltered life, trapped by debt and bad memories, hiding behind crippling impostor syndrome and an overpowering fear of failure, I would have turned down this invitation… I would have said ‘no’.
When I was convinced my fear of public speaking was just too great, too all-encompassing to ever beat… I would also have said ‘no’.
When I was still terrified of ‘coming out’ from behind the anonymity of my Genevieve pen name, for fear my friends would ridicule me for believing in magic… I would have said ‘no’ then, too. But last year, I decided it was time I stepped outside the boundaries of my comfort zone.
I wrote Becoming Genevieve and revealed my true identity. And the weirdest thing happened… I didn’t die. No one even ridiculed me.
In Becoming Genevieve, I set an intention – to start performing public speaking engagements. I didn’t know how or when it would happen, I just decided that somehow, I was going to overcome this crippling fear of getting up and speaking in public. So when, just before Christmas, I was invited as a guest on Woman’s Hour to speak on national radio to 4 million people, I had no choice.
The universe had offered me an opportunity. It was my duty to take it.
And once again, I didn’t die. The world didn’t come to an end. The sky didn’t even fall in. And afterwards, I couldn’t help wondering why I’d made such a fuss in the first place.
A few days after the radio show, my dear old friend and namesake, Matthew Davis, came to visit me for one day in Brighton. Feeling massively encouraged and empowered by my recent bravery, I decided it was rather fitting that I use this meeting to face yet another fear – that of heights.
Many years ago, before anyone knew much about Donald Trump (at least, not here in the UK), I went up Trump Towers in New York City. Up, up, up the escalators I went. Before I had time to realise, I had travelled up frighteningly high. Finding myself stuck on the landing between two escalators, I couldn’t even bring myself to look over the handrail to see how far up I’d gone. Too terrified to turn back (and get a full view of the drop below,) I sent Mike off to find a lift or staircase. Thanks to some very friendly and helpful security guards,
I was escorted down the building in Trump’s personal gold lift.
That was over five years ago, and was the last time I allowed myself to venture up a tall building.
Anyway, back to this year and Matthew. Keen to face this extremely longstanding fear, I bought us both tickets for the i360 in Brighton – a sort of large glass doughnut that travels up and down a pole, giving its occupants an incredible view of the sea, the city of Brighton and right over to the South Downs. And, on 2nd January this year, I travelled 450 feet up in an outdoor glass lift.
And I still didn’t die. Not only did I not die, but something changed in me. This winter, I haven’t just faced my fear of heights, or speaking in public, I have created a somehow different relationship with fear itself.
I’ve somehow burst open the notion of ‘scary things’, destroyed their power, their gravity. Because they almost never turn out as bad as we think they will. They are frauds, phantoms, keeping us in place with our reticence to even go near. Like the Wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain in the corner, they are all bluster, smoke and mirrors.
Since these recent experiences, I have become almost excited about facing more fear.
If ever I have a decision to make, and the choice is between scary thing and non-scary thing, I choose to do the scary thing rather than avoid it. It’s become almost addictive to seek out nerve-wracking situations.
For example, I’ve decided to give up alcohol. Maybe not forever, but definitely for at least 3-6 months. I’ve been using alcohol as a crutch to cope with awkward social situations. But after 30 years of this, I’ve become almost unable to socialise sober at all, afraid of letting people see ‘who I really am’ without the loosening effects of a glass of wine or two. I decided it was high time I faced the fear of socialising without the dratted stuff. And on 12th January, I celebrated my best friend’s birthday completely sober. And not only did I not die, I actually preferred it!
Fear is everywhere in our lives, every day we face it. But only after these experiences over Christmas, have I come to fully realise the incredible transformative power of facing fear.
Doing things that scare you has multiple amazing effects on your life. When you do something that scares you, whether it goes well or not (and things generally go better than expected), you grow as a person. You feel bigger, more capable, braver and motivated. But the effect spreads way beyond that one act. Take one step outside your comfort zone and new possibilities open up to you. Your sphere of experience becomes richer, more expansive. Your world grows.
People very often write to me to tell me fear is stopping them doing what they want to do, and they want my advice about what to do about it. It’s incredible how many people allow their lives to be restricted by fear. I always reply the same way:
Do you think I never feel fear? I feel fear all the time! I was terrified when I published my first book, when I got my first review, when I came out of anonymity, even setting up an Instagram page gave me the willies! I feel fear every single day. I just no longer let it stop me doing what I want.
As Susan Jeffers has so brilliantly described, I feel the fear and do it anyway.
You may think you’re keeping yourself safe by avoiding the things you see as scary. But this is false. This is all an illusion. Avoiding things that scare you just keeps you stuck in a permanent prison. Your life becomes constrained and starts to shrink until it becomes small, mediocre and fearful, all the time, of everything!
And you know, fear doesn’t actually stop you doing anything. It’s your thinking about fear that stops you. It’s a blindingly obvious but profoundly significant point – Those scary things are only scary because you think they are.
Because there never is any real danger in taking the sorts of risks we are talking about. We aren’t talking about skydiving or playing ‘chicken’ on the railway line. We’re talking about facing things like fear of failure, ridicule, or an unknown future. I promise you, these things won’t kill you.
Start stepping outside your comfort zone, and you’ll start to see in retrospect, there is no such thing as a bad outcome, or a big risk, or a scary thing. And when you can see it in retrospect, you can begin to see it in advance too. Unless your scary thing is base-jumping or being fired out of the world’s biggest cannon, there is never any real danger. Ever. Can you get a sense of how freeing that feels?
So try something. Pick something scary, and do it. You may just be astounded by the results.