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Of what am I afraid, you ask. Of myself, I answer. The self I have hidden deep down inside, the one I'm afraid you won't like, the one I sometimes don't like either.

I'm afraid that parts of this self will rise to the surface and I won't be able to push them back down. I will no longer be able to hide them and maybe I'll lose some of what I have my friends, my loves, my present lifestyle.

I feel like so many parts of me are fighting for control of my being. I feel torn apart, confused, v wondering what I can safely let out, and what will escape. I wonder how I'll put myself back together, which pieces will stay, and which will be gone.

I don't know what will happen and I'm afraid of the unknown. It's so much safer just existing as I am, but I know I must face myself, my fears, if I'm to have any peace, and I want peace.

Fear -- that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. The feeling that makes the sweat start to flow. The feeling that constricts the blood vessels so that you can't catch your breath. The feeling that makes you think you are losing your voice. The feeling that keeps us from accomplishing many things, that keeps us from trying something new.

Fear is, and always has been, one of the greatest enemies of humankind. Fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death. When Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he was saying that the emotion of fear, rather than the reality of what we fear, is what causes us anxiety, stress, and unhappiness. When we develop the habit of courage and unshakable self-confidence, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for us.

When we have limited information, we tend to be tense and insecure about the outcome of our actions. Ignorance causes us to fear change, to fear the unknown and to avoid trying anything new or different. But the reverse is also true. The very act of gathering more and more information about a particular subject causes us to have more courage and confidence in that area. Imagine how free we would feel and what we could accomplish if we could live without fear.

The only way to effectively deal with fear is to confront it; to ask ourselves, what is the worst that can happen? Usually what we imagine is much worse than the actual result. It's ironic that some people are more fearful of public speaking than of driving in traffic. Yet, vastly more casualties and fatalities result from traffic accidents than from public speaking. The courageous person is simply one who goes forward in spite of the fear. It is a funny fact, but when you confront your fears and move toward what you are afraid of, your fears diminish and your self-esteem and self-confidence increase.

You may remember Anna in the King and I. She was afraid of the King and so she sang a song about her fears and how she noticed that when she pretended she wasn't afraid and fooled others, she also felt less fearful.

As Brian Tracy says, "the habit of courage can be learned just as any other success skill is learned. To do so, we need to go to work systematically to diminish and eradicate our fears, while simultaneously building up the kind of courage that will enable us to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life unafraid."

Fear is a natural survival mechanism. It can motivate us, or stop us in our tracks. In situations that pose a threat to life and limb, fear motivates us to be careful. However, fear is a problem when it interferes with our goals and achievements.

At Toastmasters fear is what prevents our participating in Table Topics, or making a speech. We may be afraid of making a fool of ourselves in front of others. We may have been teased or taunted as children. Whatever the reason for our fear, one of the reasons we come to Toastmasters is to learn to overcome some of these fears about public speaking and the only way to do this is to actually participate in the activities of the evening meeting. For those who are just starting, the job of "Ah counter" or "Timer" may be an appropriate job. The job description can easily be read from the back of the agenda if necessary, sparing the participant the trouble of actually having to remember the duties, thus easing a little of the tension. For those who are a little more adventurous, participating in the Table Topics, giving the word of the week, or telling a joke or story may be the next step.

I decided to join to help me get over my fear of giving a speech to a large group of people. I've been giving training workshops for a number of years, but workshops are much different than speeches. In a workshop you have a lot more time to do things, you are in a discussion with others, and you can back track if necessary. With a speech, you have to have it all in the right order right from the beginning. Working through the 10 speeches for your Competent Toastmaster certification can give you the direction and confidence you need to move ahead.

Once you become more comfortable with the people around you, you realize that they are only there to help you, to edify you. Then it is time to take the next step and confront your fears by giving your first speech - your Ice Breaker. This will help you gain confidence to move on through the rest of your speeches. Remember, the more you learn, the easier it is to face your fears.

Do not be afraid to shine. This world needs what you have to give. Open up the areas of your being; Expose them to yourself - to others. you are valuable. You are unique. You have much to give. Do not be afraid to give it.

As we risk ourselves, we grow. Each new experience is a risk. We can try, and maybe fail, And, as a result, grow-- Or hold back and stagnate.

You have the potential To be anything you want. You are free to choose. You are limited only by your fears. Let your dreams take over. Fly with the eagles. Soar into life. The world is waiting for you.

Copyright March 1987 Fran Watson

Fran Watson is a Career Counsellor and a Toastmaster (ATM-B). For more information on Toastmasters you can go to her webpage

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