you don't have to stop being afraid in order to do something great
I'm afraid to order food at McDonald's
I love McDonald's. I love driving to McDonald’s. I love thinking about McDonald’s food on the way to McDonald’s. I love arriving at McDonald’s. The door swings open gloriously, the smell of fries hits me, and I get in line.
And then something happens. My joy transforms. Suddenly I feel pure terror.
The line shuffles forward, I inch closer and closer to the register-- and start panicking.
What if I’m not sure what I want by the time I get there?
What if I mess up the order and get the wrong thing?
What if my credit card gets declined and I have to apologize to everyone here?
What if I accidentally order something insane like a bean?
What if I slip into a BRITISH ACCENT but only on SOME of the words??
WILL THEY CALL THE POLICE?!
I get to the register. It’s my turn. The cashier asks, “What can I get you?”
And I say:
And that is the true story of the time I was so scared at McDonald's, I ordered a single nugget.
all of my fears are pretty much the same fear
My therapist thinks that most of my fears are just variations of the same basic one. I agree. Here’s what keeps me up at night:
The fear of being mowed down.
Imagine you’re a daisy in a field. For most of your life, you blend in, keep your head low, and never rise far enough above the rest of the field to be noticed.
Then one day, you need to grow. You’re forced to stick your neck out and say “here I am!” You’re asked to speak up in order to get something you want.
I am deeply, deeply, afraid that if I “put myself out there” someone is going to show up with a lawnmower and mow me into smithereens.
The thought of standing out too much feels like dying.
And it isn’t only at McDonalds. The fear of being mowed down shows up all the time:
Speaking up in a meeting
Sending an email you’ve put off for months
Telling a client exactly what you think is wrong
Asking for a raise
Asking for time off to relax
Admitting that you’re burned out
Asking for help and support in a toxic workplace
Getting in touch with a friend, mentor, or family member you’ve been avoiding
(What would you add to this list?)
“Do it and don’t die”
Once upon a time I asked my boss for a $30,000 raise. In front of a huge group of people. And some of those people very actually hated my guts. This was terrifying.
Here’s what happened:
A super important member of our team put in his two weeks notice and everyone started freaking out.
We had an emergency meeting. We all sat around a huge wooden table, drinking beer and pretending to not be pissing ourselves with fear.
My boss asked us to go around the table, one by one, and offer up ideas about what we should do next.
The “answers” were either Hire someone new! or I am very worried about this!
One by one, each person said their piece. And then it was my turn. A crazy idea popped in my head:
I should ask for a promotion and a raise, right fucking now.
Of course, the old fear showed up:
That’s insane! You don’t have experience! They are going to think you’re an asshole. You’re not a leader! You’re just capitalizing on this vulnerable situation like a fucking psycho and they will definitely call you out. YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH! DON’T LET THEM FIND FOUND OUT YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH!
My boss asked, “Darren, what do you think?”
I was soaking in sweat. I was panicking. I thought about how if I put myself out there they’d all laugh at me. I thought that they would mow me down. I thought that they might turn into demons and kill me and my whole family.
But I said, “I think you should give me this job. I think you should give me the chance to prove myself by leading this team into a better place. Hiring someone new will only make things worse. I’m stepping up. I want this. I can do this.”
Every person at the table looked at me.
Then, every person at the table looked at my boss’ face.
He looked completely disgusted.
My worst fears were true. My boss thought I was a crazy person, and the look on his face told me everything.
We went around the circle a few more times. Each time it was my turn, I made the case for why promoting me was the best solution. I hated myself for doing it. I hated how scared I was. I stammered through it anyway.
My boss left.
I broke down. I almost started crying in front of the team I was supposedly strong enough to lead. I felt like a total and utter fraud.
And then I got a text from my boss.
Turns out, my boss wasn’t disgusted. He just has a weird face sometimes. I got the raise.
I think this whole idea that we can ‘conquer our fears’ is bullshit. I have never conquered fear. I am scared right now.
So how do we feel insane amounts of fear and still take meaningful action? How do we work with fear? How can we collaborate with fear and get important shit done?
When I’m afraid to do something, big or small, here’s what I tell myself: do it and don’t die.
That’s it. You’re allowed to misspeak, sweat through your shirt, and fuck everything up completely. You are totally allowed to fall on your face, to be found out, to be seen fully and completely as a failure and fraud. That is all fine. All you have to do is do it and don’t die.
Fear is a very poorly written love letter from your body to your brain. Fear loves you. It wants to keep you alive. It says, “Don’t do this scary thing! You might diiiiiiieeeee!” It gets pretty sad when you try to “conquer it,” because it only wants to love you forever.
Teach your fear. Work with it. Collaborate. Say, alright fear, I hear you, I see you, I know that you want me to stay alive and I appreciate you, but what if we did this anyway? What if we did this and didn’t die?
What could you do if you were a little less afraid? Do you really need to wait until everything is perfect?
a scary thing you can do right now to dramatically improve your career
I want to leave you with something concrete and useful. Whether you’re thinking about quitting, moving up, growing your business, or just making something happen, this could help.
Every one of my clients has struggled with networking.
Everyone knows the old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
But they don’t know what to do about it.
Networking is the most powerful thing you can do for your career, and everyone is scared to do it.
It feels like death. It feels like if you put yourself out there, you’ll be mowed down. I’m pretty good at making new friends, and I can tell you, it is scary every time.
Having a strong, supportive network is incredible. It is literally a group of people rooting for you. They will support you when you’re struggling. They will find you new jobs when you’re burned out. They will send work your way. They will love you when you help them back.
And they will allow you to stop playing the game everyone plays when they need a new job: Send out 2,000 resumes into the ether, cross your fingers, and hope for the best.
Here’s the fastest way to build your network, even if you’re scared like me.
First, memorize these three laws of getting strangers to like you:
Humans love to talk about themselves
The more someone talks about themselves to you, the more they like you
Humans love to help other humans that they like
Lots of people ignore these basic truths. When they meet someone for the first time, they think they need to impress them, so they either freeze up or talk way too much about themselves.
The truth is, no one cares. No one cares about you or what you’ve done until they like you.
These strangers are also scared, and want to impress you, too.
Put them at ease by asking really good, thoughtful questions about their lives. Ask them to go on. Ask them about their take on specific things they’ve mentioned. Show your genuine interest and love for them. They will love you for it.
THEN AND ONLY THEN, should you ask to connect. It will feel scary.
Do it and don’t die.
They will want to help you. Can you imagine how you'd feel if someone spoke to you like this? If they treated you well and asked you really good questions about your life? And then they opened up about their struggles? YOU WOULD LOVE TO HELP THEM.
Second, find five people whose work you love, and email them to say so
This is the bread and butter of growing your circle to include your heroes and people who can help you.
Find five people who are a few steps ahead of you in your career. A few steps. (You might be disappointed if you try to email Oprah).
For each person, find a real project or accomplishment that they have achieved that YOU LOVE. Don’t fake it. Faking it weirds people out.
Send them a very quick note (5 sentences max) and tell them exactly why you liked something they did. Ask them a specific question about what it was like to do that. Don’t talk about yourself... yet.
Wait for their response.
If they do respond, you just made an important friend.
Ask them out for coffee to learn more.
If they don’t respond, pat yourself on the back. You fucking did it.
And you didn’t die.
Very Actually Yours,