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Follow The Fear: Do Things That Scare You


I used to think that being afraid of everything was a weakness. Then I learned how to “follow the fear,” and use fear to my advantage.

This is an annotated version of a talk I gave on the Bold Talks stage at Hubspot‘s Inbound ’13 event. Right now, I’m tempted to publish the essay that became the basis for this talk. But instead, I’ll think I’ll just give you the slide deck. It more efficiently tells the story of why a “Bold Talk” pushed me out of my comfort zone.

(Speaking publicly about content marketing is a piece of cake. Speaking publicly about myself? Not so much!)

(Note: This might be best viewed in Full Screen mode. But maybe your eyes can handle it. Your call.)

Also, here’s a cool visualization of my talk from graphic recorder/sketch artist Kelly Kingman. (Click to enlarge this to a size that makes more sense):

25_KingmanInk_Inbound_Handley Big thanks to my good friend Doug Kessler for the idea of producing annotated slides, and letting me co-opt his idea so gracefully.

And also thanks to:

Amy Gahran, for articulating so well the idea that your comfort zone is your dead zone, which I first wrote about over at LinkedIn;

Debbie Millman for sharing that John Madea quote and articulating in her work what I’ve felt in a vague way, but couldn’t quite grok until I read it;

and Tim Washer for introducing me to the work of actor, writer and improv teacher Del Close, who coined the phrase “Follow the Fear.” I don’t know if Del meant to apply it the way I ultimately did. But I don’t think he’d mind.

And finally: Big thanks to Laura Fitton for inviting me to Inbound ’13, and equally big thanks to Hubspot for scaring me senseless. In the best possible way.

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22 Responses to Follow The Fear: Do Things That Scare You

  1. Tim Washer says:

    I’ve thought about point #2 (slide 45) several times since your outstanding speech. Why is this one so difficult for so many of us? I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to Simon about it.

  2. Leigh Durst says:

    Is it possible you have your next book topic, Annie? I can see it now… your own unique insight and wisdom written with the transparency and sometimes sardonic humor of David Sedaris, the frank warmth of Ruth Reichel and the poignant life insights I’d find with Annie Lamott. You are amazing. Thank you for following the fear and encouraging me to do the same. XO.

  3. Shannon McDonough says:

    Ann, thanks for sharing this thinking with those of us who weren’t there that day. I wish every 6th grader, high schooler, college graduate, teacher/professor, repressed artist, parent, grandparent and clergyperson could read this.

  4. unbdot says:

    Hey, wait a minute…. slide 14, which ones?

  5. Mickey says:

    I loved – LOVED – your list of fears from when you were a child. It seems hauntingly similar (in scope, that is) to my current list of fears. What struck me is the fact that my brain seems to find more and more to fear *if I stop to think about it*. My trick is to diffuse fear using humor – my way of whistling in the dark.

    And I adored (as you knew I would) Simon’s insights. That dog? Fuzzy sage.

    Thanks, Ann, for making me think. And for making it fun.

  6. Great post and presentation Ann. Your diary of fears sounds eerily familiar, although, I do remember being a lot more extroverted in my youth, and introversion has crept up on me these last few years. I really like that part about Simon, and assuming everyone loves you. I need to keep this in mind as I navigate the geo-political landscape that is corporate America.

  7. Beth Cochran says:

    Tremendous post! Somehow it’s comforting to you know you of all people had a fear of…well…people. I would never guess it. I loved the slide about Simon too. That is such a great tip. My dog Piper is the same – warm, bubbly and assumes everyone loves him. They also don’t take things too seriously.

    At any rate, great post and slide deck. Wished I could’ve heard you at #cmworld this year…there were too many good sessions all happening at the same time!

    Thank you for the inspiration! #FollowTheFear!

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  9. Doug Kessler says:

    Fantastic talk. For most of my childhood, I was the cocky kid who wanted two turns on the playing field.

    The fear stuff kicked in later, when I opted to stay in my comfort zone (as a freelance copywriter) for way too long.

    It’s funny how airing fears robs them of their power to paralyze…

    THANKS for sharing yours.

  10. Rhonda says:

    LOVED this. Facing a huge presentation next week and this was exactly the pep talk I needed.

    P.S. Aren’t all kids afraid of old people? 😉

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  14. Hi Ann

    Thanks for sharing your story of great fear and following your fear, choosing not to opt out of sharing your wisdom. Yours is an important story and post. It was my story, and that of many other talented and sensitive people.

    Because I had so much fear and anxiety about speaking and being seen, I was driven to create a way of transforming it for myself and others. In 1989, I started facilitating people to transform their stage fright and fear of public speaking by guiding them to follow the flow of fear in the body at the center of attention in a supportive group. I learned that when you follow the flow of fear with acceptance, fear turns into a bodily-felt sense of presence and even excitement to share one’s ideas.

    The Zimmer Method eventually became a process for learning to be seen for who you are in front of others. Rather than critiquing speakers for what they are doing wrong, we acknowledge them for who they are and what they do well. It sets them free to speak authentically. The combination of consciously following the flow of fear and positive mirroring helps people relax and become present at the center of attention. Speaking starts to flow from a deep connection to self and so gets easy.

    In my research, it became clear that people who have the most fear of speaking can become the most amazing speakers because they have the feelings. Their feelings are up to the surface where they can be used to create a genuine emotional connection with listeners.

    If your readers are interested, they can learn more at My book is “It’s Your Time to Shine” which can be found at

    Thanks for your open-hearted sharing about learning to use your fear for the good. Seems like people are discovering the power of fear as a path to transformation. As Marianne Williamson said, “When you are liberated form your own fear, you automatically give others permission to do the same.” You are giving us permission to be who we authentically are. Bravo!

    Sandra Zimmer
    Self-Expression Center

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