A couple months ago, I received an email inviting me to read and talk about my book, We Are Fungi, at a local elementary school. At first, I was flattered and excited they wanted me to read my book. But within seconds, my thoughts switched to: “Oh no, I can’t do that. I’ve never done an author visit, and have no idea how to. I should say no until I’m more prepared.”
But then I remembered all those motivational articles and books I’ve read that shout over and over, “take risks!”, “do things that scare you!”, “step out of your comfort zone!”. So I forced myself to reply to the email and say yes.
Wait, Why Did I Say That
Fast forward to last Thursday, the day of the event. I woke up that morning full of worry and dread. I wasn’t looking forward to the event at all. There were so many unknowns it was making me nauseous. There was so much that could go wrong!
And things were already going wrong. The books I ordered to bring with me were lost in the mail somewhere in Smyrna and I only had one book to bring, so how was I supposed to explain that? I didn’t know how many children would be at the event or what the setup or schedule would be, so how was I supposed to plan my presentation? Google Maps told me it would take between 22–55 minutes to get to the event, so when was I supposed to leave? My husband Declan had an important event he was supposed to go to at the same time as my event, so was he going to be able to come and help calm me down or was I doing this solo? And most stressing of all: the event was from 6–8pm, so when the heck was I supposed to eat dinner?
I was scared. I was scared of having all these unknowns thrust on me all at once. I was scared of being embarrassed and making a fool of myself. I was scared of doing something I’d never done before. I was scared of stepping out of my comfort zone.
Safety, Knowns, and Comfort Zones
I am a creature of habit who often lives happily and snuggly in my blanket-wrapped comfort zone. I work from home and have complete control over my schedule. I do the same things in the same order every morning. I use the same mug for my coffee every day (don’t worry, I wash it every day too). Once I go into a public bathroom once, I will—if possible—choose to use that same stall for all future visits. I’m one of those people that has a “self-assigned” seat at the home dinner table. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s doing things consistently.
I am also a complete scaredy cat. I hate scary movies. I hate roller coasters. I hate haunted houses. I’m scared of saying something dumb, making a big mistake, offending someone, getting robbed in the street, falling while hiking and breaking my neck, losing my dog, being a plane crash because we hit a bird mid-take off, choking on a green bean when I’m home alone…
The week of the book reading, I was in the middle of making the final artwork for my next book, which is one of the parts of the process I love most. It’s a time of being alone for long periods of time, makin’ the art, totally in the flow. It’s a place I know. Just me and my pencil. All I wanted to do the day of the author event was to keep sitting at my desk, and keep drawing my art. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.
I wanted to email them and say, “Oops sorry lady, something came up I can’t make it!”
But I didn’t.
I went through with it because if I said no to everything I was scared of, everything that made me anxious, everything that wasn’t perfectly prepared for, planned for, and KNOWN, then I wouldn’t ever do anything.
Because the truth is, I’m afraid of everything.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” –Georgia O’Keefe
Not a Disaster
So I went to the author event with my one book. I made it there on time. I read my story, and shared how the book was made.
And it went great. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it wasn’t a disaster. I really connected with a few of the kids who told me how they love to draw and want to write their own stories. Most of them listened intently when I read the book, asked questions about how I made it, and excitedly looked through my sketchbook drawings. There were a few boys who were much more interested in playing games on the computer in the back of the room than listening me talk about mushrooms, but you can’t win them all.
All in all, it was a wonderful event that didn’t end in flames of embarrassment and shame as I had imagined. I went to sleep that night in the comfort of my blankets with a new boost of confidence and renewed energy for working on my next book. I closed my eyes, proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that scared me.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” –Dale Carnegie
Tips for Doing Something Scary (from a bona fide scaredy cat)
Get in the right mindset.
Everything is unknown. Even when you think you’ve planned for something, things can change at any moment. It’s alright, you’ll adapt. You always do.
Maybe don’t book your first speaking gig in front of 20,000 people. Start with a tiny local event. That way if you DO embarrass yourself, you won’t feel so bad about it, and can laugh it off and try again.
Let go of your expectations.
And so what if you embarrass yourself? So what if you do a bad job? The only way you learn how to do something is by doing it. You’ll learn if it goes well, and you’ll learn even more if it doesn’t go well. And you’ll learn a heck of a lot more than if you just sat at home in your blankets reading about it, instead of doing it.
You did something that scared you! Most people don’t! No matter what happened, reward yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and keep yourself motivated for the next time so you can do it again.
“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.” –Tony Robbins
So hey, that thing you’ve been thinking about doing that gives you butterflies in your stomach? It’s time to kick down your fears, stop making excuses, and DO IT. It won’t be easy. It won’t be perfect. But you’ll be so proud of yourself for doing it, and you’ll be able to grow and continue with a new boost of confidence, and the knowledge of how to do it better next time.
C’mon, if a scaredy cat like me drive 45 minutes in rush hour Atlanta traffic to read a weird book about mushrooms to an unknown number of kids, with only one book, zero clue of what I’m supposed to do, all on an empty stomach… you can do your thing too.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
And tell me about your scary thing by commenting below! :D