Facing a Fear

Way back in the year 2001, I had my astrology chart read. It was altogether fascinating, but here’s the part that really struck me.

Let’s set the scene with a little dialogue.

Astrologer: (Smiling and peering intently at my chart.) So, you do a lot of public speaking, a lot of teaching. You like to be up in front of people, sharing what you know with them. (She said this like it was a given; there wasn’t even a question in that remark.)

Me: (Aghast, like what kind of an astrologer are you if you are getting me SO wrong?) No!

Small sidebar: at the time, I didn’t have a “career” to speak of. I was the master of variety, doing a bit of film work, cleaning houses, working at a literary journal, and selling rooibos tea at our farmers’ market. My secret ambition was to be a writer, but I knew that writers had to actually present their work, and that meant getting up and talking in front of people. And that was the stuff nightmares were made of.

Astrologer: (Incredulous, looking at her chart more closely and then back up at me, obviously wondering if I was an imposter with the wrong birth date.) You don’t?! Why not?

Me: I’m terrified of public speaking. Always have been. (I stopped short of saying, I blush ferociously when I have to talk at any kind of a meeting, my heart pounds relentlessly when I have to introduce myself in a group, etc.)

Astrologer: Well, you should. More than that, actually. You have to. This is who you are. (She pointedly pointed to the chart.) You’re meant to share what you know in some sort of very public way. And you will. You just have to get over the fear and when you’re free of it, you’ll be able to do more of what you are really good at.

To say this conversation was a revelation is a gross understatement. Partly, it was her passionate certitude that I was missing out on a huge element of who I was. But even more important was what she said about fear. That I could be free of it. That the fear wasn’t me.

This was a totally new spin.

For so long, I had thought of fear as an integral part of who I was, not some interloper who shuffled in, liked the look of the place, and took up residence in my being. Was fear just a squatter? Was fear a mere couch surfer that I could toss out? Could I really just “get over” my fear?

Enter a challenge. Our local writers’ federation offered a program that paired an emerging writer with someone published. You worked together for many months on a project and at the end you presented your work in a public reading. See the problem? While I longed to explore myself as a writer, I’d refused to apply because I didn’t want dying of fright to be part of the package.

The revelations of my astrology chart made me (sort of) brave. So, I applied. And of course, because the universe is like that, I was accepted. And I did the program, all the while dreading the end, but forcing myself to practise speaking in front of mirrors and the cat. When it came time, I did the unthinkable; I stood up in front of people and read a story. And you know what? Someone who I didn’t know all that well came up to me at the end and said, “Hey, I didn’t know you were so good at that.”

So good at that? Are you kidding me? Like I’d been public speaking for years and she had just missed the opportunity to see me!

I jumped right on that momentum (if you’ve got the demon in a chokehold but it’s still thrashing, that is not the time to let go) and signed up for a series of open mics around the city. I made myself get up and read, over and over again. It worked. I no longer had nightmares about public speaking, and although I was still nervous, it was a lot more comfortable. I proved to myself I could do it – that the fear was not me.

And then a few years later, the true test came.

Oh no. Another cliff-hanger! Stay tuned…


Originally published on my blog “This Sweet World”