The thing about fear

The thing about fear a candid diary of scaring hard.

You know the feeling you get when you’re standing on the edge of a precipice?

It’s thrilling and terrifying. The pit of your stomach churns with excitement, and dread. Your heart beats faster and it feels like you’re going to be sick.

It’s old-school FEAR and your body is working out whether it should fight, or take flight.

That’s how I feel when I’m presented with an opportunity to do something that will take me out of my comfort zone.

Taking flight

A few years back, a massive camera company approached me to write some copy. I am totally dazzled by big-name brands. I don’t understand why because I’ve written copy for a few (only a few, I’m not being modest) and I much prefer working with small to medium-sized businesses who are seriously passionate.

So, this big camera company needed some website copywriting done, urgently. I don’t like doing urgent work at the best of times because my creativity works best at a simmer.

Great copy needs time.

Time was something we were both short of.

I was very close to my due date for #1 kid. I was also organising an international move for our family and I had my parents staying with us.

I turned it down.

Now, most people would think I had lots of good reasons to turn that project down, and they’d be right.

I recommended several other copywriters who were not only awesome but available too.  The client was extremely appreciative and gave a nod to my professionalism, promising to come back and chat if they needed more copywriting.

So that’s a win, right? Nothing to be feel bad about?

The whole truth

What I haven’t admitted to anyone is how relieved I was to say no. My gut untangled and tension flowed out of places I didn’t even know existed. I had really valid excuses not to put myself in the path of potential failure – and I was delighted.

And there it is.

I love what I do, I really do. I love it so much that the idea of not being utterly awesome makes me feel sick. And sometimes, that means I consider gently side-stepping really great opportunities.

They might be difficult to work with.

I might not be good enough.

I might not get the ROI on my time.

I might not be good enough.

I’m not ready. I’ll do it [insert time]

I might not be good enough.

I blame the lizard brain

Oh yes, Seth Godin’s lizard brain is alive and well. For some people, it rules. For me, it’s a squatter that bangs the pipes now and then.

The lizard brain is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive.

The lizard brain hates change and achievement and risk.

Seth says, “Your lizard brain is here to stay, and your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it.”

Stay and fight

In the first few years of Copywrite Matters, I was asked if I could present a copywriting workshop for local business owners, and how much it would cost.

“Err.. why um yes of course I can” I stammered while I swallowed the rising feeling of nausea. Present?

At that time, presenting live workshops and seminars was something I wanted to start doing. And here was the perfect opportunity. Laid in front of me.

But I had no price. I had no content. I had no clue about presenting. I wasn’t ready and all the same feelings of standing on a precipice were there.

I felt the fear …. and I did it anyway. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Really. I could suck. So what? Life wouldn’t end.

But it was brilliant.

I wasn’t perfect but the audience was eager to learn and it was a great experience in a friendly space.

I was asked back to present to a different group, which gave me an opportunity to improve the presentation. And it was easier the second time. Since then, I’ve presented many live and online sessions about copywriting, content marketing and social media and they are getting easier each time.

Have the courage to suck

The fight or flight instinct is something we’re genetically predisposed to feel. It keeps us safe. It’s just we don’t risk our lives every day any more. In today’s business landscape, the desire to always be safe can hold us back.

Don’t get me wrong. Getting out of our comfort zone can be terrifying. When terror hits and our body gets ready, it’s a deluge of sensations. Sometimes, it’s easy to interpret that as our gut telling us it’s not the right thing to do.

But that’s just the lizard brain using fear to hold us back. I remind myself that every new experience will expand my horizon, making my worldview bigger. And that’s a good thing.

When I see another copywriter owning it and I think, man! I wish I could do that, I remind myself that I CAN. I just need to kick that god-damn lizard brain out and get on with being awesome.

I have to have the courage to suck.

Sometimes you will take flight. Just don’t let it be too often eh?

19 Responses

  1. Great article. I was asked to do a rebranding project recently, which was WAY out of my comfort zone, but I said yes anyway. And so far, whilst it’s been terrifying, it’s also been fine. I’m always amazed by our ability to rise to the challenge. I NEVER think I can do it at the beginning, but everything usually sorts itself out. And the worst case scenario? I look a little silly, pick myself back up, and keep going. Grateful for the reminder!

    1. Thanks Kate. You are exactly right and it’s actually an approach I take to everything – what is the worst that can happen? Can I deal with that? Ok. Let’s do it.

      I try to remind myself that getting out of my depth now and then is a very good thing. I just have to try and not throw up while I say, YES.

      Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂

  2. Fear is a shocker and when you are in awareness of it, it helps to be able to belt it to the curb. I like working through why it’s there and joining the dots backwards to other life situations until you come to the first one and then you can cut it loose. Good message Belinda.

  3. Great comment from Charlotte Calder (on Google+)

    Great usual +Belinda Weaver! Encapsulates those ole chestnuts:
    Ya gotta be in it to win it
    No gain without pain
    The lord ‘elps them wot ‘elps themselves!

      1. That’s an excellent point Charlotte. If you can be brave enough to take that first step, the rest is actually relatively easy.

        I’m going to remind myself of that next time I’m feeling a bit wobbly. Thanks!

  4. I think sometimes it’s not the lizard brain, it’s the perfectionist that dwells inside many of us creative types that holds us back from incredible new opportunities. For me, making a mental switch in the scary moments does the trick. Instead of thinking ‘crap, that scares the beejesus out of me, better not do it cause I might bugger it up’, I think ‘That churning gut rolling feeling? It’s not fear, it’s excitement. Excitement for what you’re about to do, for what might be about to happen, for the new doors opening up to a brand new adventure. Don’t die wondering, go for it.’

  5. How many of us are financially able to say no to work, especially from the big boys? It’s a luxury. And also our right to exercise, something we overlook when we’re on the running on the hamster wheel of ‘not enough’. So if you can afford to say no and you want to say no, and you really need to say no, then say no. And feel fantastic for it.
    Great piece, Belinda.

    1. An excellent point Brooke. Have the courage to be crap, yes, but also have the conviction to walk away and be happy with your decision. Nah, feel fantastic about it.

      I really like that. Thanks for commenting.

  6. I am of the opinion that we NEED to challenge ourselves and feel what it is like to be new at something and clueless every so often so we don’t become intellectually arrogant bastards who think we know everything.

    If we’re always at the top of the tree, we get an entirely skewed and biased view of the world. That leads to a lack of growth and a complete disconnect from the world around us. We start thinking we’re better than we are. Guru syndrome. There’s nothing more painful than an elephant continually blowing it’s own trumpet.

    Stretching yourself, challenging yourself and really feeling that gooey centre of inky black fear is delightful… as long as you know how to use it to create wonderful things (as opposed to big fat gaffs).

    Great article Belinda.

    1. Thanks Bek. Gooey, inky, black fear… That’s the feeling!

      I think you are right – 100%. If you never put yourself at the bottom of the tree you risk becoming a complete dick (and people notice, oh yes they do). You’ve given me another reason I should welcome the slightly vomity feeling of potential failure. It makes me try harder.

      Thanks for stopping in after your day of traveling!

  7. Belinda this is an awesome read! Everyone has had (and has!) the same doubts and fears – it’s nice to know we aren’t alone. 🙂

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