Why We Should Go to the Places That Scare Us
Abby Weng, English Coach & Consultant
I still remember standing in front of an audience of hundreds, the spotlight burning bright in my face and my knees knocking feebly together. There was the script in my hands, trembling like a frail autumn leaf about to fall off the branches.
The only way out of this was to read the words on the page aloud. So that’s what I did — one word after another. I could feel the goosebumps on my scalp, but I kept going anyway.
Then I hit the last few words: “Please vote for me as your secretary. Thank you!”
That was the cue to applaud and to my relief, the audience reluctantly clapped. It was over! I did it! Yes, I almost wet myself trying to run for a Student Council position, which I knew I wasn’t going to get, but that did not matter. What mattered was this: I succeeded in delivering the speech.
You may be wondering why I put myself through such a torturous experience to begin with
I was only in fifth grade at the time. Having completed only two years of my education in the International School of Bangkok, I was still far from English fluency.
On top of everything, this was the Middle School Student Council election. Everyone knew that none of the silly fifth graders would get the cabinet positions — who wanted someone fresh out of elementary school to be in a position of power in Middle School?
But I was lured by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (to me at the time anyway)
The mere thought of delivering a speech before all those cool, older kids sent my heart racing. I was really shy and embarrassed by my poor English at the time, so often in class, I felt frightened at the prospect of being called on by my teachers. Presentations were even worse. I figured that if I could force myself to do the scariest thing possible, everything else would be a piece of cake afterwards.
I was going to scare myself so much that my daily challenges would pale by comparison
It might sound crazy, but going to the places that scare us has a way of expanding our world. If we can take up challenges that frighten us as we learn English, we will make improvements that are simply beyond our imagination.
Taking that leap of faith can be a life-changing experience!
In this article, we will explore the reasons why you should consider scaring yourself more:
Taking up a big project can be thrilling!
Suddenly, you have a purpose. You know exactly what you need to do. Having an ambitious but concrete goal empowers you to start your journey instead of just hoping to become “better” without a clear sense of what that means.
Though the distance between you and the destination may frighten you, at least you know where you are heading. All that’s left is the hard work. I’m not saying that the journey is easy, but having this huge goal can be extremely motivating.
I frequently rejuvenate myself by taking on big challenges
They make my life exciting! There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to tackle the seemingly impossible, and then taming it into a possibility.
When the timing is appropriate, I encourage members of English Ever After (my membership) to take on greater challenges that are outside of their comfort zone. For instance, a while ago, one of our members asked me about how to better organize her English learning notes.
I recommended trying Evernote, and in the process, shared a great book on the service: Brett Kelly’s Evernote Essentials. She promptly began a project on Evernote in the membership and created thorough summary notes based on her reading as well as experimentation
Note: I suggested using Evernote as she read the book for best results. if you want to know more about why I prescribed this method, you should read my article: “The Power of Learning As You Go”.
Then, I gave her a huge challenge
I asked if she would be willing to turn what she’d learned into a live presentation for our community. It was an intimidating idea for her because she’d never done anything like this before! At the same time, she found the opportunity exhilarating: it was a chance to do something truly different.
After weeks of preparation, she gave a great presentation that was both informative and inspiring to the other members. None of this would have happened if she hadn’t been willing to accept the challenge to venture into the unknown!
At this point, I want to point out a really important detail
In order for a big project to be truly motivating, it has to be part of reality. Meaning: you have to set a clear deadline and ideally, have an audience who expects you to turn out the work on time.
In this case, we had a very clear deadline because our live session for the presentation was scheduled on a specific date, and everyone in the community was looking forward to this member’s presentation. Completing the project wasn’t a vague idea that allowed procrastination. It was something that simply had to be done.
I was able to create English Ever After by leveraging the same kind of pressure
After announcing the membership program to my email list and putting people on the waiting list, suddenly the project had to be done by a specific date for a specific group of people who had expectations I must meet.
I had dreamed of a community like this for years but never took action. Having a deadline and an audience can force us out of fantasy and start shaping our dreams into reality.
Once this journey begins, we can also start to reap the other benefit of our adventure, namely: experience.
The process of completing a project is enlightening
It allows you to become familiar with an area that was previously unknown to you. In the vast darkness, now you have at least one illuminated path, which can allow you to branch out and discover more areas in the future.
You will learn things along the way that you didn’t even think of learning about. You will also learn things that you cannot otherwise find out from books or classes: things that you need for the particular situation you’re dealing with.
You can discover what’s truly difficult for you personally instead of imagining the difficulties, and at times, you may also be surprised to find that what you had thought to be challenging was actually much easier than you had anticipated!
Stop imagining what’s in the unknown! What’s in your head may be a lot scarier than what’s really out there.
Go to the places that scare you and you may be pleasantly surprised!
In the case of our member, for instance: she learned a whole range of new things
First, she actually had to learn how to make her first Powerpoint slideshow in order to do the presentation for us. What’s beautiful about this is that the new skill is now part of her arsenal of abilities. Here is a whole new way she can express herself, and if she ever wants to give a talk again or create her own workshop, she’ll know exactly how to set up her visual aids.
In addition, she learned more about herself: what made her nervous and what didn’t. She learned to organize information in a way that is interesting to her audience, and she learned to prepare for technical difficulties, and so on. As a result of this experience, she knows exactly what she needs to prepare before her next presentation!
This brings us to the final benefit of going to the places that scare us: knowing that we’ve overcome difficulties can give us courage for the future.
The fact is: we are scared of what we don’t understand
Before various natural phenomenon was well understood by scientists, people were extremely frightened of them, and this in turn, gave birth to many myths and legends to explain the unknown.
Though science still cannot explain much of our world, thanks to the advances we’ve made in the field, we are no longer as scared and as superstitious as we used to be.
In the same way, when we actually go into the unknown in our learning, we make it known to us, and therefore, less scary.
In addition, our ability to conquer such a great difficult is proof of our power
My grandparents treasure a particular photograph of me: in it, I was on a mule in Yosemite’s national park. On that particular sunny day, my whole family was traveling up and down the mountains, each on an animal’s back. Sometimes, the mules were naughty and would choose to slide down especially steep rocks just to toy with us.
Some of my relatives gave up quickly early in the game. I was scared out of my wits (and you could see that in the photo), but I insisted on completing the journey. My grandparents often recall this photo and laughed, “Your jaw was so tightly clenched, but you just kept going. We always think that moment captures who you are.”
The fact that I persisted, the fact that my grandparents think of me as a brave person, the fact that I then went on to give that speech against all odds and a list of a whole lot
Being able to tackle these projects — no matter what the outcome — have become a part of my self image. I have faith that nothing is beyond me. I may do it poorly the first time around, but because of my life experience and my history of going to the places that scare me to make the whole kingdom less scary, I know I can do anything I set my mind to.
This may not be a part of your self image yet
But it can be if you try to take that first step. Remember: it isn’t about the results. I totally failed at that election I told you about. I was an embarrassment on the stage. In fact, right before delivering it, my classmate told me that the script was riddled with grammatical mistakes. Still, that experience proved to be one of the most powerful moments of my life because the point was: I did it.
To be sure, the member who gave us the presentation wouldn’t shrink from similar opportunities in the future
If she ever encounters another opportunity to make a presentation again, she has a greater chance of accepting it, because now she has the experience to say, yes: this is something I can do.
Let’s summarize what we’ve covered!
We should say “yes” to opportunities even though they can scare us senseless because:
1) They can force us to stop daydreaming and start taking action
2) We can gain much experience in the process
3) We will receive the gift of courage for our future endeavor
It should be obvious that I did not become the Middle School Secretary
However, participating in the election piqued my interest in the Student Council. The following year, I ran for representative and won (yes, I actually made some progress in my public speaking skills)! I had a lot of fun going to meetings as well as conveying information to my fellow classmates.
Building on this experience and deriving the courage from my previous campaigns, I decided to run for president when I was going on to eighth grade. Having this grand goal motivated me to design an elaborate campaign of posters with clever slogans and ultimately: a creative speech that got a standing ovation!
I have not become immune to the anxiety of public speaking, but I did become a lot more outspoken and daring in my life.
Do you have a challenge in mind? If you are reading this, there’s something that’s probably still scary to you about the English language. Write down your feelings and figure out what’s something frightening you can try to do.
If you need additional guidance, join English Ever After, and we’ll work on your project together! Even if you have no idea what kind of challenge you should pursue at the moment, you can still join us — I can make recommendations as I get to know you better (that’s exactly how we came up with the Evernote Project)!