I recently flew from my home state of California to Washington, D.C. to speak at a women’s conference called One Woman Fearless Summit. While on the plane, I contemplated the irony of life. My speech was about innovative ways to deal with anxiety (and, yet, this anxiety warrior was damn nervous about speaking to the biggest venue she had yet to present at). I told myself that it’d be an empowering experience, while, at the same time, my old fears flooded in. What if I completely blanked out – or worse yet, blurted out something completely insane!
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I’d delivered countless speeches at my toastmasters club and had only received applauds and smiles from fellow club members and guests. I reminded myself that I started toastmasters because my debut novel was about a woman overcoming debilitating anxiety, and although writing it was a cathartic exercise, which decreased many of my own irrational fears, I was still deathly afraid to speak in public, plus it felt as if I’d be letting myself down if I bowed out of possible radio or TV interviews. I reminded myself that if I got through this speech, I’d be taking over the reins of my anxiety, instead of allowing it to trample over me, just like toastmasters had taught me.
After a sleepless night, I brushed my teeth, wrangled my thick, frizzy hair into a bun (and what I had thought, a professionally sleek look), gulped down coffee and breakfast, and somehow got to the conference room on time. I was one of the last speakers, so I had even more time to focus on the nervous clip of my heartbeat. Finally, I was called to the stage; I grabbed my notes in case I blanked out and reminded myself that my fears were only thoughts, not self-fulfilling prophesies. More importantly, though, I reminded myself that the biggest reason I was there was to help others.
Somehow that very last thought pushed me forward. I got on stage and gazed directly at the audience. Fear had flown out the building. I spoke from my heart. I shared my vulnerability, and I didn’t even need to refer to my notes. At the end, I felt as if an invisible crown of courage had been placed upon my head (even though one side of my bun had managed to puff into a comical patch of frizz due to my morning rush).
Regardless of my unruly hair, after the conference had concluded, several women from the audience sought me out to tell me how much they could relate to my story and appreciated my personal tips about how to combat fear. Many of them took notes to share with family members, with a quite a few of them mentioning how much their 20-something children are suffering from various forms of anxiety (something I’ve also heard from Californian parents as well, which further cemented my feeling of connection with these wonderful women, who took the time to share their own stories with me).
Although I’ve written numerous articles about how to deal with both acute and chronic anxiety, speaking to an audience specifically drawn to this courage-building venue proved to be even more of the empowering experience I had envisioned. What an amazing loop that I had silently reminded myself that my fears were only fears, that there are concrete ways to deal with them, and that we’re not alone, then reiterate it out loud to a live audience, and then have individuals from that audience tell me how much my words had resonated. I was reminded that even though I don’t necessarily believe all things happen for a reason, when we decide to create something positive from whatever traumatic events or emotions we have experienced, our lives are better for it.
The old adage that when we help others, we are also helping ourselves made more sense than ever. Also, when we challenge ourselves one step at a time, like I’d been doing at toastmasters, we can ultimately reach goals we had only dreamed of (but, still, always make sure to thoroughly check yourself in the mirror before a big event!). And, no matter our goals, whatever struggles and pain we have to endure, when we go beyond trying to just heal ourselves to also healing others, we are rewarded with a sense of meaning that may pull us forward when we – and others – may need it the most.
Author and speaker Tracy Shawn lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her debut novel, The Grace of Crows won awards for Indie fiction.
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