Excerpt: Things That Scare Me

I’ve been thinking about Things That Scare Me for a while, and when I wrote it, it turned out much longer than a blog post. So here’s an excerpt, including photos of the video shoot in Steve Garfield’s dining room cum video studio.

A few weeks ago, I had to film a video greeting that would be shown to 14,000 people who had registered for an online conference my company was holding. It was a short video – no more than a minute or so. All I had to do was smile warmly and welcome folks for dropping by – sort of like a digital version of a Wal-Mart greeter. It sounds easy enough – fun, even – but for some reason the prospect of the filming completely unnerved me.

Maybe I was worried about the number of potential eyeballs gawking at my every move. Or maybe I worried about stumbling over my script, like saying shit instead of sit. (And the more I worried about that one, the more convinced I became that it was going to happen.) Whatever the case, certainly that Tuesday when I entered my friend Steve‘s house in Jamaica Plain, near Boston, and Steve pointed his camera at me and told me to start talking, I worried about all of that at once. I felt excruciatingly self-conscious, awkward, and scared.

I was what grownups in the 1970s called a “nervous” child. I worried constantly. I was afraid of lots of things – snakes, the dark, monsters, our house catching on fire, deep water, loud noises, being kidnapped, the school bus, Russia, talking to adults, answering the telephone. I was thin-skinned; it was easy to bruise my feelings. Everything embarrassed me.

Typically, this came out at night. During the day, I played outside with the other neighborhood kids and – other than taking pains to avoid a few key triggers – generally got along okay. But at night I’d lie in my twin bed watching the shadows on the wall, and imagine all sorts of horrors that would twist my insides into a coat hanger.

“Mom!” I’d yell, as suddenly another thought occurred to me. “When was the last earthquake?”

From her recliner in the den she’d yell, “Go to sleep!”

As I grew, I learned to tolerate my fears. I learned that the school bus wasn’t so bad when, mid-way through the kindergarten year, a cute blond-haired boy named Eric decided to sit next to me. I tried answering the phone once or twice. But still it took until I was in my early 30s before I started to understand that the very things that still scared me as a grown up – meeting new people, speaking up, finding myself in a new situation – are the very experiences that I should embrace rather than refuse, no matter how terrifying the prospect. Harkening back to Nancy Reagan in the ’80s, I developed a mantra, “Just Say Yes.”

So even now, every once in a while, I’m faced with a situation that truly scares me witless. You’d think it would happen all the time, given this life I sometimes am shocked to find myself living: A career that brings me often enough into the limelight – a limelight I took great pains to avoid not that long ago. Of course, the surprise is that it’s entirely of my creation, which is how I found myself in Steve’s house that day. I did fine: We shot the video in one take, and I forgot only a few words in my script. “You’re a natural!” Steve said to me.

But in truth, that kind of fear is triggered only rarely by public interaction these days. I might still be chronically embarrassed, but I can talk myself out of it. Because really, what’s there to worry about? What’s there to be scared of? So what if people gawk? Or stare? Or make fun of me? So what if I humiliate myself? When I thought later about the video shoot at Steve’s house, I couldn’t fathom what made me so scared.

Because I’ve realized that the very thing that makes me want to hide – the painful self-awareness, the excruciating self-consciousness, the constant sense of exposure and vulnerability that reveals far more than a slip of shit for sit – more or less goes with the territory for any writer. Sometimes, recognition of who you are grows into acceptance. And if you’re lucky, you figure out how to leverage that weakness. I can’t really do anything about my tendency to be overly sensitive. But the truth is these days, I’m okay with that.

Photo credit: Steve Garfield

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55 Responses to Excerpt: Things That Scare Me

  1. I saw your video message at the Marketing Profs online event and thought you did a great job! FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real

  2. I saw your video message at the Marketing Profs online event and thought you did a great job! FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real

  3. It’s a great moment, at whatever age, when we’re finally able to say to ourselves, “Who cares what anybody thinks?” Then we discover that they’ve all been pretty much thinking of themselves (not us) anyway and nobody was really that concerned about our foibles. Except us.

  4. It’s a great moment, at whatever age, when we’re finally able to say to ourselves, “Who cares what anybody thinks?” Then we discover that they’ve all been pretty much thinking of themselves (not us) anyway and nobody was really that concerned about our foibles. Except us.

  5. I was a fear-filled child also.

    Do you find yourself being a perfectionist of sorts now as an adult, because of your fears? I am to a point, then, of course, when I realize I am making myself even crazier, I just say “hang it all” and leave it alone. Shit for sit never hurt anything.

  6. I was a fear-filled child also.

    Do you find yourself being a perfectionist of sorts now as an adult, because of your fears? I am to a point, then, of course, when I realize I am making myself even crazier, I just say “hang it all” and leave it alone. Shit for sit never hurt anything.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’ve kept this quote in my head (from a book I read in college) for about twenty years, so it might not be verbatim. (I hope it’s the right book I’m remembering.) –But, the words fit well here:

    From: Sailing Alone around the World, by Joshua Slocum…

    …”man, man, great nervousness is a sign of great brain…the greater the brain, the longer it takes to get over the affliction…”

    ~ from someone, who used to keep her suitcase packed as a girl, in case of fire. (I did get over it.) Now, my daughter keeps hers packed.

  8. Peg Mulligan says:

    I’ve kept this quote in my head (from a book I read in college) for about twenty years, so it might not be verbatim. (I hope it’s the right book I’m remembering.) –But, the words fit well here:

    From: Sailing Alone around the World, by Joshua Slocum…

    …”man, man, great nervousness is a sign of great brain…the greater the brain, the longer it takes to get over the affliction…”

    ~ from someone, who used to keep her suitcase packed as a girl, in case of fire. (I did get over it.) Now, my daughter keeps hers packed.

  9. Hiro Boga says:

    Ann, thank you for this jewel of a post. The things that scare me the most often lead the way into a deepening of my heart. :-)

    As a fellow super-sensitive writer who’s beginning to embrace vulnerability, I love hearing you say:

    “Sometimes, recognition of who you are grows into acceptance.”

    Yes!

    –Hiro

  10. Hiro Boga says:

    Ann, thank you for this jewel of a post. The things that scare me the most often lead the way into a deepening of my heart. :-)

    As a fellow super-sensitive writer who’s beginning to embrace vulnerability, I love hearing you say:

    “Sometimes, recognition of who you are grows into acceptance.”

    Yes!

    –Hiro

  11. Fear, my best/worst friend!

    As a writer, I’m always scared sitless of what people will think, never gonna change. As a person, I’m better now, thanks to my brain injury, of all things! Yup, after peeing into a cup held by my now wife, puking into a cup (at different times!) held by my now wife, staggering out of restaurants to snickers, having to sit down in the middle of a cross-walk, being unable to bathe myself… well, it’s a long list, but the result is that I really don’t care what people think of me anymore (mostly!).

    My favorite quote: (from a Roethke poem) “I learn by going where I have to go.”

    Jeff
    http://www.cerebellumblues.com

  12. Fear, my best/worst friend!

    As a writer, I’m always scared sitless of what people will think, never gonna change. As a person, I’m better now, thanks to my brain injury, of all things! Yup, after peeing into a cup held by my now wife, puking into a cup (at different times!) held by my now wife, staggering out of restaurants to snickers, having to sit down in the middle of a cross-walk, being unable to bathe myself… well, it’s a long list, but the result is that I really don’t care what people think of me anymore (mostly!).

    My favorite quote: (from a Roethke poem) “I learn by going where I have to go.”

    Jeff
    http://www.cerebellumblues.com

  13. Ann,
    Thank you for another great post.

    There a saying that goes’

    “Feel the fear, and do it anyway”

    You did WUNDERFUL.

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  14. Joel Libava says:

    Ann,
    Thank you for another great post.

    There a saying that goes’

    “Feel the fear, and do it anyway”

    You did WUNDERFUL.

    The Franchise King
    Joel Libava

  15. Katybeth says:

    I think we work to hard at trying to overcome fear and perhaps our moms had it right when they told us to go back to sleep…or perhaps said “Now think about that for a minute: What are the chances of that happening?” Sometimes the best place to be is under our beds and other times it might be saying, Hi to a video camera—that might really be a water gun ready to squirt water and run the unsuspecting victims mascara….we never really do know….
    As Always…it makes me so happy when I find you hanging out in my Google Reader!

  16. Katybeth says:

    I think we work to hard at trying to overcome fear and perhaps our moms had it right when they told us to go back to sleep…or perhaps said “Now think about that for a minute: What are the chances of that happening?” Sometimes the best place to be is under our beds and other times it might be saying, Hi to a video camera—that might really be a water gun ready to squirt water and run the unsuspecting victims mascara….we never really do know….
    As Always…it makes me so happy when I find you hanging out in my Google Reader!

  17. My fear is to expose the very intimate parts of my life that I would rather not share… I don’t mind being vulnerable as a general rule, but I have a very thin and impenetrable line that I dare not cross. Yet something keeps knocking at that door, prodding, probing me to spill the beans and be done with it. Maybe one day, I will be able to share it all, but thanks once again for sharing

  18. My fear is to expose the very intimate parts of my life that I would rather not share… I don’t mind being vulnerable as a general rule, but I have a very thin and impenetrable line that I dare not cross. Yet something keeps knocking at that door, prodding, probing me to spill the beans and be done with it. Maybe one day, I will be able to share it all, but thanks once again for sharing

  19. GiGi says:

    Another great post, Ann. I feel your pain and agree that moments of such forced or structured attention are particularly disturbing for me. But then again, like you, my job often creates these situations, so why did I choose this career?

    I’m sure you’ve seen this poem before, but I think the answer is in here somewhere! Here are the first few lines:

    Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson
    “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be?”

  20. GiGi says:

    Another great post, Ann. I feel your pain and agree that moments of such forced or structured attention are particularly disturbing for me. But then again, like you, my job often creates these situations, so why did I choose this career?

    I’m sure you’ve seen this poem before, but I think the answer is in here somewhere! Here are the first few lines:

    Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson
    “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be?”

  21. Many years ago I made a discovery that helped me to ease at least some of my self-consciousness and fear of making an a** of myself: I realized that no one really cares about me.

    I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way. Yes, I have friends and family who love and care about me. It’s just that other people are not as involved in the minutiae of our lives as we are. If you slip up and do something embarrassing, six months later the only person likely to remember is you.

    Remembering that makes it easier for me to attempt all kinds of things.

  22. Many years ago I made a discovery that helped me to ease at least some of my self-consciousness and fear of making an a** of myself: I realized that no one really cares about me.

    I don’t mean that in a self-pitying way. Yes, I have friends and family who love and care about me. It’s just that other people are not as involved in the minutiae of our lives as we are. If you slip up and do something embarrassing, six months later the only person likely to remember is you.

    Remembering that makes it easier for me to attempt all kinds of things.

  23. Can totally relate to the”painful self-awareness” when the camcorder turns on.

    I can talk to a crowd of 100 easier than I can to a sans-heartbeat video recorder. Strange, huh?

    But I loved what you said…

    “I’ve realized that the very thing that makes me want to hide…more or less goes with the territory for any writer. ”

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone. ;)

  24. Can totally relate to the”painful self-awareness” when the camcorder turns on.

    I can talk to a crowd of 100 easier than I can to a sans-heartbeat video recorder. Strange, huh?

    But I loved what you said…

    “I’ve realized that the very thing that makes me want to hide…more or less goes with the territory for any writer. ”

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone. ;)

  25. I completely understand your fears! I did a video clip in my nonprofit’s first video and it was a nightmare! It was 90 degrees, I was frizzy and sweaty, and I looked strangely stoned. I quickly discovered whyI’m in PR BEHIND the camera and not in front of it!

  26. I completely understand your fears! I did a video clip in my nonprofit’s first video and it was a nightmare! It was 90 degrees, I was frizzy and sweaty, and I looked strangely stoned. I quickly discovered whyI’m in PR BEHIND the camera and not in front of it!

  27. Alan Wolk says:

    I’ve often wondered how many people in the public eye have to talk themselves into going onstage, where they then manage to look relaxed and natural.

    Public speaking has never been a bugaboo for me, but calling strangers on the phone (and that category included anyone beyond my circle of close friends and family) used to terrify me beyond belief. Email has made that a lot easier and a lot less of an issue, but I still get a twinge every time I have to pick up the phone to call someone I don’t know especially well.

  28. Alan Wolk says:

    I’ve often wondered how many people in the public eye have to talk themselves into going onstage, where they then manage to look relaxed and natural.

    Public speaking has never been a bugaboo for me, but calling strangers on the phone (and that category included anyone beyond my circle of close friends and family) used to terrify me beyond belief. Email has made that a lot easier and a lot less of an issue, but I still get a twinge every time I have to pick up the phone to call someone I don’t know especially well.

  29. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for all the comments here, all… some surprising comments, and I can’t wait to tease each and every one of you about it later. (Kidding! Sheesh!)

    @wendy – Perfectionist. Yes. But only about things I truly care about. Not in an OCD way.

    @peg – As I said on Twitter, we grew up separately together! I love the image of the packed suitcase…

    @Jeff – “Scared sitless.” I like that.. and you are an inspiration.

    @Farayi – thanks for you, too.

  30. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks for all the comments here, all… some surprising comments, and I can’t wait to tease each and every one of you about it later. (Kidding! Sheesh!)

    @wendy – Perfectionist. Yes. But only about things I truly care about. Not in an OCD way.

    @peg – As I said on Twitter, we grew up separately together! I love the image of the packed suitcase…

    @Jeff – “Scared sitless.” I like that.. and you are an inspiration.

    @Farayi – thanks for you, too.

  31. Ann Handley says:

    @Cathy — Exactly. I am forever telling my kids as much, but somehow it seems an effort still to internalize that lesson in my own behavior.

  32. Ann Handley says:

    @Cathy — Exactly. I am forever telling my kids as much, but somehow it seems an effort still to internalize that lesson in my own behavior.

  33. Christian Gulliksen says:

    I love it when you use four letter words :)

  34. Christian Gulliksen says:

    I love it when you use four letter words :)

  35. Vicki says:

    After several decades of being anxious about many things, including public speaking and perceptions, one of the great gifts of my forties has been the ability to say “Ah, to hell with what They think–what is it that *I* think?” It’s like starting a whole new life.

    And if you want a great laugh about an anxious childhood, read “Cyclops” in David Sedaris’s collection NAKED. My anxiety was, like his, fostered by an alarmist parent, and I laughed until I cried reading that essay. It was like a walk down memory lane!

  36. Vicki says:

    After several decades of being anxious about many things, including public speaking and perceptions, one of the great gifts of my forties has been the ability to say “Ah, to hell with what They think–what is it that *I* think?” It’s like starting a whole new life.

    And if you want a great laugh about an anxious childhood, read “Cyclops” in David Sedaris’s collection NAKED. My anxiety was, like his, fostered by an alarmist parent, and I laughed until I cried reading that essay. It was like a walk down memory lane!

  37. Ken Burbary says:

    Ann,

    Thanks for sharing one of your personal fears with us and reminding everyone that despite ones success, or role, we’re all human beings facing the very similar challenges. It’s refeshing to know we’re climbing the same mountain. Very revealing post.

  38. Ken Burbary says:

    Ann,

    Thanks for sharing one of your personal fears with us and reminding everyone that despite ones success, or role, we’re all human beings facing the very similar challenges. It’s refeshing to know we’re climbing the same mountain. Very revealing post.

  39. It seems I’m always late to your parties, but never too late to learn and to enjoy.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever been habitually fearful, but for a good portion of my life, my bent was to be sensitive to a fault; overly-concerned about what others thought, often over-compensating by trying to please everyone, and usually winding up empty in the process.

    However, like you, my process of self-discovery has been a gradual one. The turning point for me was when I discovered that most folks are just as or more insecure than I am, and all they need is a little recognition; a gift of acknowledgment; the validation that someone else realizes that they’re in the room.

    That’s why I especially enjoyed your little reference to being “a digital version of a Wal-Mart greeter.” A variation on that term is something I’ve actually ascribed to myself in reference to my role on Twitter. I can’t think of anything more meaningful or ‘useful’ than to make someone smile, think, or both.

    That’s how I endeavor to affect people in my social media dealings, and its what I find *myself* doing every time I visit this blog.

    :)

    Another wonderful post, Ann.

  40. It seems I’m always late to your parties, but never too late to learn and to enjoy.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever been habitually fearful, but for a good portion of my life, my bent was to be sensitive to a fault; overly-concerned about what others thought, often over-compensating by trying to please everyone, and usually winding up empty in the process.

    However, like you, my process of self-discovery has been a gradual one. The turning point for me was when I discovered that most folks are just as or more insecure than I am, and all they need is a little recognition; a gift of acknowledgment; the validation that someone else realizes that they’re in the room.

    That’s why I especially enjoyed your little reference to being “a digital version of a Wal-Mart greeter.” A variation on that term is something I’ve actually ascribed to myself in reference to my role on Twitter. I can’t think of anything more meaningful or ‘useful’ than to make someone smile, think, or both.

    That’s how I endeavor to affect people in my social media dealings, and its what I find *myself* doing every time I visit this blog.

    :)

    Another wonderful post, Ann.

  41. Musta been somethin’ in the air. I just read this today after posting “Ever Get the Feeling You’re Bein’ Watched?” over at Middle Zone Musings yesterday. )

    I know exactly how you feel, Ann. But your conclusion is just right; sometimes ya just have to go ahead and be who you are. Besides, the ones who appreciate that will always stick around, yes?

  42. Musta been somethin’ in the air. I just read this today after posting “Ever Get the Feeling You’re Bein’ Watched?” over at Middle Zone Musings yesterday. )

    I know exactly how you feel, Ann. But your conclusion is just right; sometimes ya just have to go ahead and be who you are. Besides, the ones who appreciate that will always stick around, yes?

  43. Cam Beck says:

    Saw this on a t-shirt. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And spiders.” :)

  44. Cam Beck says:

    Saw this on a t-shirt. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And spiders.” :)

  45. Caffeinated says:

    I was just thinking about what I was afraid of, and my new Zemanta automation tool led me to you.

    Amusingly though, I think it’s confused – and thinks I’m really afraid of Nancy Reagan. Not so. She seems nice. And I live near their Presidential library which is beautiful.

    Wonderful post by you however. Very open. I enjoyed reading it.

    Check mine out if you like.
    http://5shot-redeye.blogspot.com/2009/06/fear-of-silence.html

    Best,
    - C

  46. Caffeinated says:

    I was just thinking about what I was afraid of, and my new Zemanta automation tool led me to you.

    Amusingly though, I think it’s confused – and thinks I’m really afraid of Nancy Reagan. Not so. She seems nice. And I live near their Presidential library which is beautiful.

    Wonderful post by you however. Very open. I enjoyed reading it.

    Check mine out if you like.
    http://5shot-redeye.blogspot.com/2009/06/fear-of-silence.html

    Best,
    - C

  47. Twitter Comment


    @MarkDykeman you might be interested in @unmarketing ‘s post on some of the things she worries about [link to post] – Posted using Chat Catcher

  48. Twitter Comment


    @MarkDykeman you might be interested in @unmarketing ‘s post on some of the things she worries about [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  49. Jesse Boland says:

    This is such a great post Ann. I too am one of those “thin skinned” souls who is sensitive to a handicap. I need to take on the “just say yes” motto too.

  50. Jesse Boland says:

    This is such a great post Ann. I too am one of those “thin skinned” souls who is sensitive to a handicap. I need to take on the “just say yes” motto too.

  51. Angela says:

    Hits home! I’m still a nervy kid.

  52. Angela says:

    Hits home! I’m still a nervy kid.

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