I've felt fear throughout my professional life. I was fresh out of University and started temping when I first felt that cold sweat spread through my body as I realised that I was completely out of my depth, and working for a very impatient monster-boss.
Six months later, I was terrified about starting my first 'proper' job in PR. I'd managed to blag my way into an account executive role without thinking about the consequences - for them or me. I didn't even know what PR was.
As I gained experience in PR, and subsequently in recruitment, I still suffered from a paralysing fear: whether it was about making a call to a hostile client or hosting my first seminar.
My armour took the form of procrastination. I'd delay these frightening activities by coming up with a series of excuses, usually starting with 'what if...?'.
What if I make a fool of myself? What if I give people the wrong advice? What if the client is really rude and I crumble? What if the event isn't successful?
But if I wanted to keep my job, I had to eventually just do it, push through the fear and do my best to come out unscathed.
Now that I run my own business, I don't have to put myself in that fearful position. And yet I do. All the time.
I agree to give presentations about subjects before I've become an expert - and then realise that the consequence is I have to become an expert. Scary.
Last year I did a training session with a group of fundraisers to improve their professional impact. Never done that before.
A few months ago while not-watching a kids' film in the cinema I decided I'd put on a charity coffee morning, where guests could donate to charity in exchange for a pampering experience. Then I had to make it happen. Never done that before.
Earlier this year I decided I wanted to create a workshop, where people could network and learn about skincare. I set it all up and started marketing the workshop before I'd even thought about the content, because - yup, I'd never done that before.
Last week I gave my first University lecture. How completely mad is that! Me, a lecturer? When the invitation came through I said yes immediately. Without thinking about the consequences - ie that I would have to actually deliver a lecture!
On Wednesday morning I felt the fear. On Wednesday afternoon, I did it anyway. And the feeling of achievement was amazing.
The weird thing is that once you realise that you can achieve everything you put your mind to, the fear becomes addictive. Each time I do something scary and smash it, it increases my self-esteem. So the pay-off for feeling the fear is huge. Not only the sense of achievement that follows it, but the experiences gained in learning that new skill, or doing something that initially feels uncomfortable.
As long as I continue to push myself to do new things, I will continue to feel fear. The only way I can feel better about myself is to just push through and do the thing that scares me. As Susan Jeffers says in her classic book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, the 'doing it comes before the feeling better about yourself.'
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway was first published in 1987 and is now a bible for personal development. Susan Jeffers believes that fear comes from not feeling good enough about ourselves. She also believes that whatever happens, we can handle it - with the right tools and lots of practice to develop our self-belief.
By reading personal development books - and believe me I've read a LOT of them, I have started to train myself to replace the 'what ifs' with 'so what, I'll handle it'.
The fact is that everyone experiences fear. Even the most composed and accomplished people, those who you admire for their nonchalance and ability to do seemingly anything, are also crapping themselves at the thought of that next big challenge. It's just human nature. Knowing that the people I'm presenting to are fighting their own inner battles, helps me to put my own fears into perspective.
Jeffers recommends that we take a risk every day. I haven't taken the philosophy that far, but I do agree that "if it's not scary, it's not worth doing".
Do you agree?