I’m sitting at a TEDx event unsuccessfully trying to pay attention to what the speaker before me is saying. I’m a couple minutes away from giving a very personal talk and my irrational fears are in the forefront of my thinking.
Ironically the talk is titled “Follow Your Fears” and the main message is that fear serves as an internal compass towards growth and opportunity. Even though I fully believe in this message it’s really not comforting me right now. My knees feel weak, I’m developing a strange pain in my stomach and my mind is acting like a worst-case scenario generator.
It’s no wonder that I’m nervous; I didn’t quite follow the typical TEDx formula. For example I was advised to validate that I’m an expert in my field and instead I wrote lines like, “The most exciting part about what I do is that I really have no idea what I’m doing.”
I try to calm my nerves by thinking about the times I overcame fear. Like when I used to go off 100 foot gap jumps on my snowboard. I recall feeling a similar tension right before committing and then an unshakable certainty that ‘I got this’ right after dropping in. I really hope it will be the same in this case but my doubts are fighting harder than usual.
I know that this anxiety can slip out of control rather easily so I figure that reciting parts of the talk in my head will help. This plan fails when I can’t recall the closing sentence, which happens to be my favorite part. The words have mysteriously vanished from my memory but what I do remember is that I have a cheat sheet in my pocket. With a fast, swift movement that startles the program organizer who is sitting right next to me, I grab the cheat sheet and read the closing line. She looks over at me concerned and whispers, “Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m fine” I tell her with a forced smile as she gives me some coconut water claiming that it cures anxiety.
The speaker is now delivering his closing line, which I vividly remember – “See the impact that you have on your own world.” The sentence reminded me of something very important I once heard – “You are not the victim of your thoughts.” Perfect timing for this memory to have popped into my head.
I’m staring at the lights, cameras and 700 quiet people sitting in the audience as the announcer calls me up to the stage. I drop in and feel an immediate shift in my thinking. The pain in my stomach turns into a tingle, I feel focused and in control. This doesn’t surprises me; I’m always fine while I do the things that I think I won’t be fine doing. I think it’s because my anxiety is fueled by what could happen and never from what is happening. Either that or I just drank some pretty magical coconut water.