Fear is perhaps the greatest enemy people have. Fear prevents us from taking risks or chances in life. Fear places huge limitations on achieving success. The fear of stepping outside of comfort zones paralyzes a lot of people and keeps them boxed into a place where they cannot branch out and change.

Change frightens people, too. Some never move away from their hometowns because they have the comfort and reliance on family and friends. Even if offered the job of a lifetime, these folks seldom take the opportunity. They don’t venture out. They fail to see the benefits of visiting new places and making new friends. Without accepting a career that could better their lives socially and financially, they stay in the rut–their daily endless grind–and they might not ever admit aloud that they’re miserable. Some do admit this, and yet, they accept it.

Why do they stay? Perhaps they’ve been sheltered for the majority of their lives and not given enough independence to make their own decisions. Their parents did everything for them. It’s possible every schedule they’ve had was made by someone else. Their checklists were pre-made and fabricated by parents, teachers, and/or counselors. They never deviated or altered the list. Instead, they followed each written step. Without such lists, an uncertainty grows and it becomes impossible to cope. When everything is given as a spoon-fed program, the ability to build their own decision-making schedules lessens dramatically. Problem-solving is a necessary task for everyone to learn, and without these skills, one can become mentally disadvantaged and unable to cope in new situations.

The fear of the unknown causes worry and anxiety, which builds unnecessary stress. Stress tears down the body’s defenses, making people prone to sickness. Imagine if early world explorers had remained fearful of sailing over the horizon? The world was believed to be flat, and if a ship sailed too far into the horizon, it would fall off the edge of the world. These were strong fears, which led to superstitions and legends. People believed these things until those courageous enough to test the theories proved the opposite. To overcome fear, one must take the risks and challenge the norms. Otherwise, how would anyone ever succeed?

For many years, I lived my life as an introvert. I didn’t want to be seen. I had chosen a job at a textile mill where I worked at a machine without having to interact with others. This crippled me for years. After I finished my college degree, rather than pursue a job with my degree, I settled back into the job I had before. I worked at a machine and was squandering my education, because I was fearful to take the chance to apply for better jobs. I made good money, but I was miserable with the job. It offered me no emotional growth and no fulfillment.

After I finished my Masters degree, I applied for my first college teaching position and received a call to be interviewed almost immediately. Part of the hiring process required me to give a five minute lecture before the staff at the college. I was terrified. I prepared a PowerPoint and set up a mock presentation in my living room. I practiced going through the slides. I pretended to make eye contact with others in the room, and I kept doing this until I was confident in my material. I think our cats and little dog thought I’d gone insane, but they were curiously attentive. I made certain I was prepared for my presentation and nothing was done on the fly.

The college hired me within a few weeks of graduation. I was surprised, but more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. I was given the responsibility of teaching college students who were relying on my lectures to learn and apply better English skills. My first quarter I also had to teach two public speaking courses, and what the students didn’t understand was that I was more nervous than most of them. But, like most any skill, the more you practice, the better you become. For the first two weeks, I was a wreck internally, until my confidence began to grow. Students placed their trust in me and regarded me as their instructor and I couldn’t let them down.

The second quarter of teaching was much better than the first. I found myself looking forward to giving lectures. I had overcome my fears through practice and challenging myself to be even better. What had filled me with anxiety had become fun and filled me with anticipation.

For almost three years I taught Public Speaking. Speaking before an audience is in the top three greatest fears that people suffer. The first class meeting was when they expressed their greatest apprehension. They feared freezing up, passing out, or making fools of themselves. I assured them that not one student had ever passed out in front of the class. And if they were worried about how the other students were viewing them and judging their performance, I told them that the other students’ thoughts were more on what they were going to say when they got up to give their speeches and they were not likely to be overly critical. Based upon how previous students had done in my speech classes, I told them that halfway through the course, the students would start arguing over who got to present first.

One student later said, “I thought you were lying when you told us we’d fight to give our presentations first, but you weren’t.” They actually argued to go first because they wanted to see the reactions of their peers, and he had been one of them.

One thing I learned, too. The students who were the most fearful of getting up in front of the classes were actually the best presenters. I’m not sure why this was the norm, but the most timid people lost their insecurities when they gave their speeches. One lady stood and gave her five minute speech like she’d been teaching classes for years. We were all amazed. After her presentation, I complimented her for her calmness.

“Calm?” she said. “I was scared to death. I was shaking.”

Maybe on the inside. But her outwardness was calm and cool. Almost flawless.

The hardest part of giving a speech seems to be making the walk to get behind the podium. Once there, and once the words begin to flow, fear gets quashed.

Fear of failure and fear of rejection are something we all face from time to time. What if I’m not good enough? What if they don’t like my work? These are common questions that rush through our minds. Self-doubt is based on the fear that we don’t have the qualities others have or that our work won’t measure up with everyone else’s. If you’ve ever watched ‘Back to the Future’, you should recall that Marty McFly was afraid that his music and singing wasn’t good enough, so he feared sending his demo tape to record companies. When he goes back in time, he discovers his father wrote science fiction, which wasn’t something he or his siblings even knew. He asked his father about why he wouldn’t allow others to read it, and his father replied, “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if nobody likes it?” That fear is something that holds us back. Not willing to take the risk of how others might view our writing or other skills prevents us from stepping outside our comfort zones. Without taking the risk, no one knows if you’re the next bestselling author or a great talented singer or artist. They don’t know you exist.

My mother was two college courses from earning her A.A. college degree. Only two courses. She had kept a 4.0 throughout all her college quarters, and the two courses she lacked were college algebra classes. She dreaded them, not because she couldn’t necessarily pass them, but because she would not receive a 4.0. I offered to help her study, since I had taken algebra and trigonometry, but she refused. She’d not get the 4.0. She didn’t believe she could. And yet, she allowed her fear to prevent her from ever achieving her college degree. So, sadly, she failed by not even trying. By not taking the chance or risk and not believing enough in herself to learn something new, she robbed herself of her college degree.

Sometimes, people fear success. For most, success is within one’s grasp but instead of grabbing it, a person will subconsciously do something to derail the opportunity. Why? It’s difficult to picture success in one’s mind or the person doesn’t believe he/she deserves it. When one is raised in poverty and has grown to accept that as the norm for life, suddenly having wealth makes the person uncomfortable. The mind has already accepted being poor. Gaining wealth and status pulls the person out of the comfort zone and into a different bracket.

Have you ever wondered why poor people who’ve won huge lotteries will squander the wealth within a few years and become poor again? They don’t know how to budget might be one answer, but their subconscious is the true reason. They’ve never truly pictured life as a wealthy person, and having lots of money doesn’t feel right. They don’t know how to deal with wealth. So they give it away. They spend it unwisely. They gamble it all away until there’s nothing left and unknowingly, they do so to satisfy the subconscious. One must change the subconscious view beforehand and prepare for greater things. Prepare for wealth. Aspire to move into a higher level of success and treat the current state as a place to move away from.

So many fears surround us. Perhaps the greatest fear is the fear of loss.

My wife has had two surgeries since we’ve been married. With each of these, she’s had to be put asleep. There’s that last moment when she’s on the wheeled bed and they’re taking her away for the operation. They stop long enough for me to kiss her and tell her I love her beforehand. After the kiss and they wheel her away, I sit in the waiting room in cold isolation with the greatest fear of what if something goes wrong? What if that was the last kiss we shared? The fear of loneliness and losing the love of my life overshadows me until they tell me the surgery went fine and I could see her soon. But until that reassurance, my heart is torn, heavy, and my mind is filled with grief and worry. I cannot picture life without her. I don’t want to picture life without her. And that is my greatest fear.

Regardless of what fears overshadow us, we mustn’t allow these to paralyze us and prevent us from living better lives. I met a man years ago when I worked as a cashier for six weeks in Valley Head, Alabama. His name was Jerry Riddle. He was a jovial man and came in at the right time in my life. I was in a dark place at the time, filled with worry and despair. He read that on my face and started talking to me.

A complete stranger gave me advice that has stuck with me for over twenty-five years. He said, “If you were to sit and worry about your problem for seven days, would that problem change?”

“No,” I replied.

He smiled. “Then why worry about it? Have faith and believe God will make your life better. All worrying does is eat you up inside. So, don’t worry. Have faith.”

His advice got me through a lot of bad times.

And also, have faith in yourself for success, as others cannot achieve success for you. Quash the fears. If you have talents, don’t be afraid to present them. Pursue your goals and be prepared to take courses to perfect your talents if necessary. Don’t let fear stand in your way.

Until next time …

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