How to do that big scary thing you've been dreading

My scary thing

Last week I did something scary. I stood up in front of a couple hundred people and told them about something very personal and meaningful to me. I talked about the Drawing Project, which has just passed its halfway mark, and how it's changing my life. I showed my drawings, blown up on a giant screen. I was nervous, I was excited, I was happy, I was stressed - I was a big bundle of emotions in the weeks leading up to giving the talk. But I am so glad I did it.

I've done a fair bit of public speaking in my life. I did speech competitions all through elementary and junior high, I was my high school valedictorian, and I studied theatre in university, where I did some acting. It's been years since I've spoken to more than 10 people at a time but it's a little like riding a bike. While the nerves can be pretty intense, it does come back to you.

What I've never done is spoken about something so personal. I knew (underneath the anxiety) that the speech would go well. I knew that it was well written, that I had chosen good photos and that I could deliver it with confidence. What I didn't know was whether people would respond positively to my message or whether they would brush it off as being completely unimportant. This project and what it stands for - creativity, passion, living your best life, overcoming fears - mean so much to me and I was terrified that people would think it was lame.

Thankfully, they didn't. I practised the speech twice, once at my Toastmasters club and once in my living room for some friends, and both times it was received warmly and people told me that they felt inspired. The same thing happened after the actual speech, with people coming up to ask me about the project and talk about their own experiences with drawing and creativity.

I really couldn't have asked it to go any better, but I didn't know it would be such a positive experience when I started working on it. When I sent in my application to speak I didn't know if it would be accepted (it was my second time applying be a part of the event - the first time I didn't make it). I didn't know if I could find the right pictures to illustrate my words since I was out of the country when they had to be sent in. And I didn't know if I would be able to convey how meaningful this project has been to me and why I think drawing is important.

I took a number of risks and it was pretty scary. The night of the presentation I was calm but in the days before, I was a wreck. My anxiety was through the roof and I couldn't focus on anything. I knew there was a good chance doing this would throw me off and make things more difficult but I did it anyway. Why? Because I wanted to share my project and hopefully reach more people. But also, because I'm a strong believer in the power of doing scary things.

I'm afraid a lot of the time, especially since I decided to build a business around making and teaching art. I'm afraid of teaching, of meeting new people, of going to events where I don't know anyone, of sharing my artwork, of reaching out to strangers, of marketing myself, and basically everything I do that isn't sitting under a blanket reading a book. My stomach is frequently in knots. But a long time ago I decided, mostly subconsciously, that being afraid was never a good enough reason not to do something.

Why you should do scary things

In fact, sometimes being afraid is the perfect reason to do something. Like the time I knew I wanted to quit my job but couldn't for the life of me think of what I wanted to do next. I wanted to shake things up and push myself in a way I'd never been pushed before so I decided to travel by myself in South America for a year, with no plan other than to seek out women who could teach me to weave.

Or the time I decided that not being comfortable with drawing was a huge block in my artistic practice, and I would need to draw as much as possible to get over it.

Why do I gravitate towards doing scary things? Because every time I push myself past what I think I'm capable of, I get stronger. My confidence grows, I expand, I feel more competent and I reach farther. Most importantly, it makes me feel like I'm in charge of my own life. I'm not moving along blindly, I'm taking the reigns and following my own path.

How to feel better in the face of a scary thing

Here are some things I learned from this particular scary thing that will hopefully help you when it's time for you to do your own scary thing:

Just do it - The longer I went without working on my speech, the worse I felt when I finally did sit down to do it. Granted, I was on vacation so I could be forgiven for ignoring it but I promise, missing one night in the pool was worth the relief I felt when it was finished and sent off.

Get support - I almost didn't ask to practice my speech at Toastmasters because I didn't think I would be ready in time, and was worried about inconveniencing people by asking at the last minute. I'm so glad I did. The feedback and support I got that night were completely worth the extra work I had to do to get ready early and no one was inconvenienced. And when I practiced in front of friends in my living room it was actually harder than doing the speech in a theatre, because everyone was so close (literally and figuratively). But it was worth the discomfort to hear what my friends thought and to have their supportive hugs.

Cry it out - The day before the speech I was feeling really anxious to the point where I couldn't do much besides cry. And I let it happen. Anxiety hurts! Let it out.

Dance it out - Of course, after my crying session, I still had a dance class to go to that I didn't want to miss. So I gathered myself up and spent two hours moving my body. I swear crying + dancing = magic because I felt amazing afterwards. I'm sure any kind of movement would help: go for a walk or a run, play a sport, do yoga, anything to get yourself out of your head and into your body.

Go easy on yourself - The day of the speech I decided to be very, very gentle with myself. I resolved not to do anything that wasn't relaxing and easy. I treated myself to a scone and coffee at the local cafe, read, drew (this just goes to show how far I've come with drawing, since before the drawing project it never would have been considered something relaxing or easy!), went for a walk with a friend, and only allowed myself to practice the speech three times. I knew that I knew it and I didn't want to freak myself out by overworking it.

Say nice things to yourself - I kept thinking of all the other times that I've spoken in public and how nothing terrible has ever happened. I reminded myself of the people who had given me positive feedback, and their smiles and hugs. I thought about the people that were coming to watch that night and how much I appreciated them. And it felt really, really good.

By the time it was my turn to go on stage I felt completely calm. The speech I gave was the best of all the practice runs and you can't ask for much more than that.

How do you prepare for scary things? What do you do to help make the fear feel better? Leave a comment below!