Every Halloween one of my favorite videos is shown on America’s Favorite Videos. Dressed as a scarecrow, a man sits on his front porch, in a rocking chair next to a box containing trick or treat candy. When someone reached for the candy, the costumed man jumped to his feet scaring the unsuspecting trick-or-treater. The joke worked until a large man reacted by delivering a punch knocking the scarecrow to the floor.
The “Fight or Flight” syndrome describes how someone reacts when they are unexpectedly frightened.
Taking a walk, my wife Terri and I came across a neighbor’s yard sale. The man hosting the sale told Terri he had a special memento she might be interested in. She watched as he slowly opened a box; suddenly, without warning a fake squirrel sprung out. I grabbed her arm as she was starting to swing at the guy’s nose. “Fight or Flight,” Terri’s instinct when startled is to fight.
In a magazine survey, respondents were asked which golf shot they feared most. I expected a difficult stroke to be the number one answer: out of a sand trap; over water or an attempt out of deep rough. Surprisingly, the top answer was “The first shot off of the number 1 tee.” The fear of failing in front of people waiting to tee off gave rise the response.
The fear of failing in front of others is responsible for one of people’s greatest terrors, the fear of public speaking. The trepidation engendered from speaking in public is not limited to addressing a large audience; it prevents people from expressing their opinions in small meetings. I have heard people utter, “I wanted to say something but I was afraid someone would find my opinion to be stupid.”
There are people who seek out situations that others dread. They thrive on success: a place kicker called upon to kick the winning field goal with only seconds left in the game; a political candidate addressing an audience of thousands of people; a fireman rushing into a burning building.
I am not convinced you ever truly overcome a deep-seated dread of something; I do believe you can learn to harness and use it to drive success. When you recognize and accept a fear you can take actions overcome it: golf lessons, Toastmasters and the list goes on. Whatever you do will pay off in ways far beyond overcoming your fear.
“It is not a matter of being fearless. The fear is sometimes constant, but it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear. Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” -Gillian Anderson