It was 1998. I was nearing the finish line for my graduate degree in counseling and I found myself in one of my last classes: “Clinical Diagnosis” (or something like that). Each week class followed the same script. The professor would start the class by popping in a tape (yes folks, a VHS tape) and on the screen would appear a patient who was suffering from some set mental illnesses or issues. Like grad school Jeopardy, our job would be to see who could diagnose the patient on the screen the quickest and most accurately. From paranoid schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, I was a diagnosing rock star – the equivalent of the returning Jeopardy champ week after week (it didn’t hurt that I was working at an inpatient facility at the time). Once the diagnosis was revealed to the class, we would dive deeper into that particular mental illness. And every week, about the time the conversation would start to die down, Frank would slowly raise his hand.
“I’ve got that”
Frank was one of the older students in class. In his mid-40’s, Frank always looked a bit unkempt. His hair hadn’t seen a brush or barber in months and his clothes had the “I just got up from a 3 hour sweaty nap” look. His fingernails were stained yellow from cigarettes and his legs were perpetually in motion as he sat. He was a curious and nervous dude. Eventually the professor’s gaze would fall on Frank’s raised hand. Once Frank had secured the professor’s attention, he would matter-of-factly announce to the class, “I have that.” It didn’t matter the week or illness, like clockwork, Frank would end every class period by adding one more illness to his growing collection.
Fear is like that. We rarely have just one. At points in my life, I’ve been like Frank. I could raise my hand and say “I’ve got that.” Here is just a sampling of the fears I’ve had in my life that I’ve worked through.
Fear of humiliation. When I was 11 years old, I developed an uncontrollable stutter. I could not speak in public without getting stuck and going into the stutter spiral. Like a skipping CD (or broken record for you old-schoolers), it would go on for what seemed like an eternity, causing pain for the stutterer and everyone who was present. Imagine if you knew you had this thing lurking, the last thing you would want is to have everyone’s attention on you. Ordering a pepperoni pizza was no picnic. For nearly a year, I would go to school early a few times a week to work with a speech therapist. I was terrified of speaking in public. After working through it, I became more comfortable. But admittedly, it is still not my favorite thing to do. It’s ironic that today I teach classes on communication to 700+ MBA students every year.
Some fears we can shrink so small that they fit in our pocket, but we still carry them with us wherever we go.
Fear of failing. Admittedly, my high school and college days were less than impressive. In high school, I typically slept through classes in the morning, ate two lunches and then took an afternoon nap to close out the day. College wasn’t that much better. I put forth the minimum effort required to pass. In retrospect, I know what was going on. I was afraid of failing. I’m an “all in” kinda guy. Deep down, I was afraid of putting forth 110% effort and having it not be good enough. So, what’s the best way to stay on the sidelines? Sleep a lot. It wasn’t until I had the world’s worst boss that I discovered my purpose. I had something compelling enough for me to face my fear and look it dead in the eye. Today, I’m all-in in everything I do working to eliminate workplace dysfunction.
Fear of not knowing enough. Fast forward. I start my business and I’m coaching and consulting with companies that I know nothing about. I started to wonder and worry. What would my clients do if they knew how inexperienced I was? What would they do if they knew how little I knew about their business? Etc… And then a mentor of mine looked me in the eye and said,
It is not about having the answer. Everyone has a piece of the truth. Understand that the value you bring is your perspectives, insights and ability to see things the client doesn’t see. It isn’t about having the answer.
In that moment, my fear seemed to vanish.
Fear of being vulnerable. Being vulnerable is never much fun. I don’t know too many people that enjoy it but I do admire those who are comfortable with it. My two big “vulnerability no-no’s” have been talking about personal tragedies in my life(my big bro killed himself when I was 10) and asking others for help. I really don’t know what my hang-up was about these two other than I don’t want others to feel sorry for me. I’ve been working on these two the last few years and ironically, they go hand in hand. When others truly know you for who you are and what you’ve overcome, they feel compelled to help you.
Fear of hearing “no.” Admittedly, I haven’t conquered this bad boy. It is why I do not love doing business development and am an awful negotiator. I’m working on it but it has been baby steps. I’ll have to keep you posted on this one but I’m open to suggestions.
We really aren’t all that different from Frank. We all have fears that we carry around with us. Those fears can weigh us down and immobilize us or we can neatly tuck them in our pocket and continue on our journey. The first step is to acknowledge what’s holding you back.
Maybe Frank was onto something.