The Summer of No Fear started after the Spring of Insecurity.
That spring, I was working at one of those dysfunctional jobs with a sociopathic boss. To call her a neurotic, overbearing micromanager is being kind. She was detail-oriented to the 700,000th degree and perpetually stuck in a state of “paralysis by analysis.” Not to mention, my company was about to enter bankruptcy and potentially facing serious illegal allegations. To say we were stressed would be the understatement of the century.
My confidence was at an all time low and my insecurity was manifesting itself in fear. I was afraid of voicing my ideas in meetings, everyone’s opinion of me, making the wrong choice… making any choice.
As my health and relationships started to deteriorate from stress, I should l have left.
I knew I should have left.
But I was too afraid.
Instead of leaving, I waffled for months.
“How are you going to pay your bills?” my concerned friend asked when I told her I didn’t have another job lined up yet. I didn’t know the answer to that question. So instead of taking action, I let my fear immobilize me. I felt stuck and out-of-control.
Eventually my health got so bad that I started passing out frequently. The only possible explanation my doctor could come up with was that it was stress-induced.
I called my mother sobbing and she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: “Life’s not a prison sentence, you can make choices.” (She’s a smart lady.)
I knew what I had to do. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and trust that somehow, some way, you’ll land on your feet.
The next day I turned in my resignation. I walked out the door on May 31st and never looked back.
On June 1st, the Summer of No Fear began.
I decided to take the summer off and focus on rebuilding my confidence and health, an endeavor funded by cashing out my 401K. (I dated a finance guy a few months later and he nearly had a heart attack when he found out.)
As reckless as it seemed to everyone, I knew that addressing my insecurity and fear was the first step to recovery. I needed to do this for me. Like Bono said, “You don’t owe anyone any explanations.” So I cashed out my retirement fund and refused to apologize for it. It was a step in combating my desperate need for approval.
I started by making a list of things I was afraid of (everything). Then I thought about small tasks I could accomplish that would help me regain my confidence and combat these fears.
Afraid of rejection? Hit on five guys who I thought were out of my league. Fear of being judged? Time to do stand-up comedy and create videos on YouTube. Insecure about my talent? Give speeches on the subway. Fear of failure? Finish my book and let people read it.
I can easily recall the sick pit in my stomach while approaching the hottest guy at the bar, feeling certain that he would make some comment to his friend like, “She thinks she has a shot with me?”
“No fear, what’s the worst that can happen,” I whispered to myself.
“You’re so cute so I had to come talk to you!” I said flirtatiously, feigning confidence. He was surprisingly nice and funny. We chatted for a few more minutes and when I turned to leave, he asked for my number. I reiterate: The hottest guy in the bar ASKED ME FOR MY NUMBER!
The more tasks I accomplished, the more I started changing. I realized that most of the fear existed only in my brain. Nothing bad or crippling ever really happened.
There was the occasional moment when someone would say something snarky or no one laughed at my stand-up.
But it didn’t matter anymore.
I stopped needing so much validation and their judgment barely registered on my radar. I was finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin again.
…until I walked into a crowded subway.
Unfriendly faces sneered at me.
Public Speaking is my passion and I knew I was never going to face a more intense audience than NYC subway riders.
“Ladies and Gentleman, I’m not asking for money. I’m doing this to try and get rid of my fear,” I said honestly before delivering a speech called “We’re Gonna Be Ok.” It was about feeling lost and trying to figure things out.
“How often do you meet someone new and the first question they ask you is, “So, what do you do?” I asked my unresponsive audience.
I continued on without anyone acknowledging that they were listening.
“I hate this question so I always reply ‘sometimes I do yoga’ or ‘sometimes I eat at Chipotle.’ I hate this question because it forces us to define ourselves by our jobs. I prefer to ask the question, ‘what do you like to do?’ because quite frankly, I’m more interested in knowing that you love finding new meatball recipes, or collect stamps, or play baseball on the weekends- to me that’s a better definition of who you are. Your job at 22 or 46 doesn’t define you. It’s not a clear and accurate picture of how kind you are. Or honest. Or how successful you’re going to be. So it’s perfectly ok if you’re bartending or working a job you don’t love and trying to figure it out.”
For the most part, people intensely ignored me. My face started turning bright red as if their annoyance was infiltrating my body. My heart was palpitating in my chest. My mouth started getting dry.
But I kept talking.
Because I started it and I needed to finish it. Because I was doing this for me.
I finished and silently sat down next to my friend, eyes pointed towards the ground.
I sat for a full minute, bathing in my embarrassment, when an older woman approached me, tears streaming down her face.
“I think you were sent for me today. We ARE going be ok. Thank you,” she said, reaching down to hug me.
In that moment, I realized how connected we all are. In trying to combat my own fear, I had delivered a message that resonated and touched someone else. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to inspire and move another human being.
The Summer of No Fear changed my life. There’s incredible freedom in living without fear. Once I was able to stop caring so intensely about other’s opinions of me, amazing things began to happen and countless doors began to open.
Beyond my incredible personal growth, my No fear list was also a catalyst for numerous creative projects. I finished my humor book, Unintentionally Celibate (which is coming out soon!). My writing was featured on some popular websites and my comedy web series is getting ready to launch next month. After one of my speeches, I met someone who connected me to my current (and awesome!) job as a Communications Consultant where I get to teach people how to effectively communicate and give speeches.
I could have never accomplished any of these things when I was living in fear.
Recently I had to give a speech at an event in front of 140 people. I was uncharacteristically nervous when my best friend said, “You gave speeches on the subway! This is a piece of cake.”
I laughed and grinned. She was right. I walked on to the stage confidently and delivered one of the best speeches I’ve ever given.
So UnLost-ers, Are you willing to join Therese in taking on “The End of the Year No Fear Challenge”? Make a list of 5 things you’re afraid of that can be accompanied by a reasonable task and commit to completing them before the end of the year. Share your goals and accomplishments inside the new Unlost Private Community Facebook group here.
Can’t wait to hear about your success and adventures!
You can watch her Subway Speech here. Or if you need a reminder that you’re gonna be ok, you can also get that here.
[Image by Nathan Siemers]