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9 Ways to Deal With The Fear of Putting Yourself “Out There”

Nervous?
Hitting ‘Publish’ on my very first blog post back in 2007 was terrifying.

It was the point where the stuff in my head was about to be made public for the very first time, I had no clue what would happen or what people would think, and amid my excitement there was a very real fear of putting my stuff out there for the world to see. Somewhat ironically, I was launching myself as a confidence coach.

My point is that putting your ideas out there for other people to gawk at and judge is just about as terrifying as it gets. It’s the point at which your thoughts, ideas and opinions are exposed, and that’s the point where shit gets real. They’re no longer just your thoughts, ideas or opinions; they’re parts of you that you’ve made public.

It’s this feeling of exposure and vulnerability that keeps people back from the brink of putting themselves out there, and it’s something of a tragedy.

So many ideas are held back because people fear what might happen when they’re in the spotlight. You might be afraid that your work will be judged, or worse, that you’ll be judged. Maybe you fear failure should your idea sink without trace, or maybe you fear success should it soar. Perhaps the idea of promoting yourself fills you with dread, or maybe you just don’t trust your voice or even think you have one.

This fear is natural and understandable, so here are 9 ways to help you overcome it.

1. You’re allowed to have an opinion.
It’s not a crime to have an opinion, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking that they’re not allowed to have one, let alone voice it. You’re an individual with valid thoughts, views and opinions, and thinking that having a strong sense about something might be wrong or might fly in the face of what others think will only serve to dampen your voice. Your opinions are all yours, and that’s plenty good enough.

2. It’s Never Too Late.
Some people hold back from putting themselves out there because they convince themselves that the moment’s passed or that it’s too late. That’s like thinking that you might as well not bother walking down the street because you just saw someone through the window who’s already gone that way, or thinking that it’s pointless to start eating the delicious meal you just paid a fortune for because it’s already getting cold and way past its best.

“It’s too late” is just an excuse designed to protect yourself, and one that’s only true once you’re in that casket.

3. You don’t have an Achilles Heel.
I’ve spoken with people who have resisted putting themselves out there because they believe they have a fundamental flaw that will be exposed to the whole world and his wife as soon as they publish, send or launch. This sense of being vulnerable and having the whole world see your fatal flaw is a compelling and terrifying one, and while you’re as fallible as the next guy or girl, you don’t need to go looking for or create an Achilles Heel. You don’t have one. All you have is a fear that you might. Big difference.

4. Shape your environment.
You won’t put yourself out there if your environment doesn’t support you doing in your endeavour. Not working at the times or in the places that allow you to create and think at your best, being surrounded by the kind of clutter that makes you feel heavy and slow, not having the right kind of support when you need it or not even having your favourite music nearby to give you a boost of energy. An environment that flies in the face of what you want to create is only ever going to turn things into a struggle and hold you back. Instead, shape a congruent environment that brings to life what matters to you.

5. Find your voice.
There’s a moment in the much-derided M. Night Shyamalan movie “Lady in the Water” that’s among my favourite movie scenes ever. The titular lady in the water (played by the amazing Bryce Dallas Howard) is coming to grips with her place in the world and trying to explain the nature of things to Paul Giamatti. Softly asking if she can say just one thing, she says, “The moment a person finds their voice, is the moment their life takes on grace.”

The grace that comes when you find and trust your voice is breathtaking, but the sense that you don’t know what your voice is or that you don’t trust what it could be is enough to stop you from putting your stuff out there. Truth is, you only get to find that voice through exploration and hearing what’s there to be heard. In the meantime, it comes down to trust.

6. Don’t wait until an idea is perfect.
Perfectionism is a damaging fantasy. As author Oliver Burkeman puts it, it’s a “fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs”.

Perfectionists associate their identity with a perfect picture of how something will turn out so they can maintain the illusion of being in control and keeping fear at bay, when in fact that control is an illusion and the fear of failure is real.

Waiting for a time when your idea achieves a deific level of perfection that makes everyone weep tears made from starlight will see you waiting a really long time. And as you wait and procrastinate, you’ll be getting mightily frustrated at reality’s apparent lack of co-operation. Don’t wait for perfect. There is no perfect. Instead, ship something that’s plenty good enough.

7. Build a layer of what matters.
Putting yourself out there is a lot easier if you have a foundation of values. That is to say, you know deep down in your bones what matters to you most in yourself, in others and out there in the world. You know what stirs you and moves you. You know what drives you and compels you. And you know what mattered most about the times you’ve felt most alive.

Without that layer of what matters, you’re untethered and shifting, with no core or foundation to come back to and no real sense of which thing to try or which thing is “you”. It’s this layer of what matters that will help you find your voice, inform your expression, and will give you a not-going-anywhere sense of confidence that helps you put your stuff out there, knowing that you’ll be okay regardless of what happens.

8. Practice expression.
You’ve probably encountered the meme of mastery, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master a skill. I prefer to think that it takes “some hours” to get good at stuff; I don’t think the specific number matters a whole lot. The point is that expressing yourself and putting yourself out there takes practice. Whether painting, journalling, tweeting, blogging or singing, at first it feels awkward, clumsy or uncomfortable and the temptation is to stop because you clearly don’t have it down.

But writing an article, building a business, knitting a bonnet or getting to Carnegie Hall all require practice, and the stretch and discomfort inherent in that practice should be welcomed in the same spirit as the fruits that practice brings.

9. Being brave is just letting go.
When it comes to putting your stuff out there, there’s a point where you need to cross the threshold between what’s been in your head and what’s real. That moment takes courage and is where most people turn back, but this notion of courage and being brave isn’t as ethereal or mythical as you might think. As a confidence coach it’s something I’m asked about a lot, and I’ve seen that being brave is simply a letting go.

If the point of putting your stuff out there is expression and creating value (and I’d suggest that it is), let go of the need to have people validate your expression and the expectation that you’ll receive recognition or status from the value you create. Let go of your need to prove yourself to anyone. Let go of your craving for approval. Let go of your intent to be seen as successful.

This letting go is a skill that can be learned just as you practice any other, and the freedom that comes from letting go partners beautifully with expressing yourself and putting yourself out there.

And that’s perhaps a good spot to finish up. Despite any doubts, fears and second-guessing, you’ve always been free to put yourself out there. Now you just need to let go.

Over to you. Are you putting your stuff out there and struggling? What’s worked for you in the past?

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