LivingArts: The Way of Fear

I’m not afraid of a lot of things. Earlier today, I let a spider crawl up my arm simply for the amusement of watching my arachnophobic partner squirm. Last year, I boarded a plane for my first European solo trip, hopping on trains with ease and finding hostels on unfamiliar streets. I got lost a lot, but that was all part of the fun. There are a few things I’m a little bit afraid of. I’m slightly afraid of heights, but regardless, I force myself into the safety harnesses of the biggest roller coasters by convincing myself that the likelihood of plummeting to the ground is incredibly small.

So far in life, I’ve just been lucky in the way of fear. It’s not in my nature to fret over most things, but there is one exception — a huge exception. I’m deathly, majorly, and absolutely terrified of public speaking.

When the Hamilton Arts Council asked me to moderate a panel discussion at the upcoming Living Arts Symposium (Shameless plug: It’s on October 23rd-25th), my immediate answer was no. At least that was the answer I gave in my head as every horrific and embarrassing scenario flashed before me. I’m just not destined to be a public speaker, and I’m OK with that, I told myself. But ultimately, a fleeting moment of bravery overcame me, and I said yes.

One of the goals of the Living Arts blog series has been to expose answers to the question “What do artists need?” Many of the answers to this question have focused on the social and community supports necessary to allow artists to do their work. However, my answer this month to the question is something more personal. Artists need to challenge themselves. Artists need to do things that may make them uncomfortable, not only to push personal boundaries, but because in the 21st-century, it’s expected. Gone are the days where writers could hand their manuscripts to a publisher, expecting the publisher to do the legwork. Today, authors are expected to read at (and in some cases throw their own) book launches, participate in panel discussions, be active on social media, and the list goes on. The (many) introverts among us are often forced from our comfort zones, and today, it’s all part of the gig.

When I quit my steady day job in publishing earlier this year, I held on tightly to one of those inspirational quotes you often see written in cursive on over-priced notebooks or set against a filtered stock image of a mountain on your Instagram feed: “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” In the days before I gave my resignation, it was my mantra. It acted as a simple reminder that I had to push myself. It’s once again proving handy as I prepare for the upcoming panel discussion.

Jerry Seinfeld had a joke in the 90s about public speaking: “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Even as a young teen, this joke resonated. Back then, I was the student who never put my hand up to answer a teacher’s question, even when I knew the answer. The joke still resonates, but I’ve learned to fight against my fear. It may continue to persist and nag, but I refuse to let it keep me quiet.