It’s not easy. As an adult it feels like a shameful topic, but the truth is we are all afraid. Afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of being made fun of, afraid of being discovered as a fraud, afraid of falling down, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of losing our jobs, our loved ones, ourselves. So our tendency is to retreat, to hang back and hope nobody calls on us.
Now in some cruel twist of fate that we wind up with children, managing a team of people, a small business or something equally dreadful, here are some quick ideas to help lessen the blow as we all struggle to step out of our timid shadows and into those harsh lights of adulthood.
Have a ritual.
This can change all the time, but have a song – mine is almost always some Superchunk track – and routine that can really help you focus. I have always taken a moment before anything stressful to go on a walk. Then after any presentation, any job interview, any confrontation, any pulse pounding moment in parenting; I do the same walk again, just to imprint that sense of permanence and calm in place of all that awful apprehension.
Own your fear.
This took me all of my 20’s to even begin to do, but I now fully own and announce my fears to my loved ones, my colleagues and random strangers on the bus. See, the thing is that once we voice whatever makes us tremble we disempower it, we remove the stigma. The best example I have is public speaking, I’m terrified to do it but it is a big part of my job. Once I started to tell those around me I found that it really took that pressure off. I still feel anxious, but now I also feel heard. Additionally it doesn’t make me bad at my job, nobody judges me, and in fact I’m pretty sure nobody blinked twice. All of which had been my secret narrative of shame.
Stand for something.
There are a lot of righteous things in this world, if you can find a way to focus your work and life around those things it can help keep doubt at bay. Have a purpose, a reason to get out of the house; have a passion that gives you some motivation and then broadcast that message loudly. If it is less about you and more about a larger cause it can be easier to gather your courage.
It happens quickly, all of a sudden we have to take the spotlight and inspire others to stand up when we’d just assume sit down. In these moments it’s important that we pinch ourselves. For me anytime I read the news I am reminded of how lucky I am to have opportunity to be fearful at all. To the same effect you can also volunteer somewhere. You’d be surprised how much perspective can do for your trepidation. Spend some time giving back to the community you most identify with, the wake up call is that we don’t really have anything to lose so why not take the chance.
This is the hardest mantra to keep: get up early every morning to do the best work your can, try to be present as you can be and let go of the shit you can’t control. Forgiving yourself and – gasp! – loving yourself (like truly caring for yourself), should be the major thrust of our work and our life. By all means strive to be great, but do it with an all-forgiving joy. When we get stuck on perfection we set ourselves up for an endless cycle of guilt, shame and cynicism. Trying to let go and trust yourself could be the hardest lesson of all, but it might be the only one that matters.
David Lewis is the Director of Career and Alumni Services at McNally Smith College of Music and the founder of Riot Act Media. He lives in Roseville, MN with his wife and two awesome boys.