Conquering Fear


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I finally started a pet project that I've wanted to do for a while. It's not another app or blog. It's a meeting. (Whaaat???). It's a session to share people skills, a common area we tend to forget as IT professionals. It's not about being an expert a particular area but rather having a safe space where we can share skills we wanted to grow. While it was presented to software engineers, hopefully it's helpful to anybody.

I started the series of sessions by talking about fear. This is a rough transcript of the presentation. Some of the sections are cheesier in writing than live but hey I'm pretty cheesy.

Fear. Everybody has it. From junior engineers to senior engineers, from CEOs to presidents, we all have it. Presumably you're reading this because you have a fear and want to know some magical secret to conquer it. Let’s find out that secret.

Let me start by telling you my greatest fear.

Heights.

That is one of my greatest fears. I'm afraid of anything with heights. Whether it's riding roller coasters, looking down from tall buildings or riding a Ferris wheel, I start feeling uncomfortable in these situations with a surge of emotions rushing to my body. It might start with nauseousness or anxiousness. It might escalate to my body getting goosebumps, tensing up and, at its worst, freezing up.

That’s how I know it's fear. We want to run away from it. We want to fight it. We might just freeze from it. Fear is anything that can make us feel all these feelings.

What's fascinating is that our fear can be developed from an event we experience ourselves or it can even be something we see. The fear becomes part of who we are. It controls us.

That's what I felt like in 2013 when I jumped off a plane. Let's analyze this picture. We'll notice from this photo that the subject seems to have 3 main thoughts at occurring at very moment the photo was taken.

  • He seems to be severely scared to his core
  • The subject is fearing his death
  • The person is highly likely to be regretting his decision to partake in this activity

Something Magical.

Something magical happened. A few moments after this photo was taken, I was having fun. I felt an immense sense of freedom. I had adrenaline rushing though my body a long time after landing. It felt amazing conquering your fear. It was one of the most amazing feeling in my life. To this day, I feel like it's one of my greatest accomplishments in life.

If this was a movie, the next part would be becoming a pro athlete getting the game winning shot, a CEO successfully getting zillions of dollars or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson saving da familia. A movie it is not.

I found out I was still afraid.

I wanted to know how did I conquer that fear. How can I get passed not just that fear but all my other fears? Is there a secret out there?

What a nice notebook.
And so I traveled the world. I hiked mountains. I crossed rivers. I sailed the seven seas. There I met a man that told me he had the magic book of secrets. In page 15, I could find the secrets to conquering any fear. I thought it was a steal for $5.

When I went home, this is what I found.

Scammed.

The Secret to Conquering Fear.

Nothing. There was nothing.

I thought I got scammed so might as well use that book to write on it. So I decided to write why. Why did I jump? What would make a man who is so afraid of heights jump off a plane?

I realized that was the secret all along. The secret to conquering fear is being honest with myself. In the end, you can be who you want to be if you find a reason. Find a reason to go against yourself. That’s the thing that will help you get through it.

The only thing stopping you is yourself.

Our Fears at Work.

You may say “Kris, how the hell does this BS story help me”. That's a fair point. I don't want to sound like self-help author/life coach who just wants your money.

Well, we all have our fears especially at work.

Even more than the lies that is our social media accounts, we want to present the best version of ourselves at work. Most people have the impression that they need to be a perfect person at work. I need to be seen as professional. I need to be seen as a serious individual. I need to be seen as an expert. I need to be seen as a hard-worker. I need to be seen as a hero. I need to be seen as the social butterfly.

This strive to be perfect instills fear in us.

We fear presenting. We may not be able to smoothly deliver our ideas. We may not be able to be a Steve Jobs presenting the next iPhone. We don’t want to talk to other people besides our friends at work because we fear being socially rejected. We don’t like showing our work until it's perfect because we fear we’ll be mocked. We don’t like trying to lead change because we fear we’ll look like an idiot. We don't want to try something new because we fear the unknown.

We all have our fears at work. We have things that we're uncomfortable to do for one reason or another. While it's scary showing your fears (especially in a blog like this), it's only human to have fear. One of my fears at work is speaking up and being vocal especially when I was just starting my career.

Presentations.

(While reading more about this topic today, I realized that speaking up in particular may have a lot more too it. The values of different cultures and how you were brought up shapes a lot of your behavior. This is especially common for “Western” companies with East Asian employees. I added a few interesting articles on this at the bottom of this article.)

It should be easy, right? Just talk.

There's a meeting and you suddenly hear an idea that sounds pretty bad. Ok, I should speak up and give my thoughts on why that idea might not be how we want to approach things. There might be roadblocks or concerns that I should raise to the VP. There might be a process improvement I thought of.

When I was going to speak up, the sudden rush of emotions drive me crazy. Suddenly, I think of a thousand reasons why I shouldn't speak up.

  • What if my idea is dumb?
  • What if I offend someone?
  • How can I say this so that it's easily understood by everyone?
  • How can I convince all the people collectively right this second?

It was easier to keep my thoughts. It was easier to procrastinate. It was easier to convince myself that someone else will think about this. It was easier to keep my head down, complain internally, work harder and think that things magically be better.

It was hard for me to speak up.

Sad face.

FRAUD Conquers Fear.

I decided to research a lot about fear. What is it? How do people develop it? What are steps to conquer it? I've summarized my way of conquering fears in 4 steps with the acronym FRAUD (because it has to be catchy and marketable if I ever get a book deal).

  • Find a Reason
  • Acknowledge Your Fears
  • Understand Yourself
  • Develop a plan

FR: Find a Reason

The first step to conquering fear is finding a reason. You need a reason to change. It won't be easy and it'll take time so you need something to keep you motivated to keep going and to keep trying.

Why do you want to conquer this fear? Is it for yourself? Is it stopping you from growing your career? Is it stopping you from being happy at work?

For me, my reason is my growth. I am taking a journey to become an effective leader. That is my goal and my reason. That is what I wanted to be. Being an effective leader meant I could do 2 things well. I can drive change and make an impact. I can inspire and lead a group of people.

I cannot drive change if don’t speak up.
I cannot lead people if don’t speak up.
I cannot be a leader if I don’t speak up.

A: Acknowledge Your Fears

Before taking the next step, I had to stop and look at myself. Why was I afraid to speak up? Why was I scared?

I’m afraid to look like an idiot.
I’m afraid of the unknown.
I'm afraid to fail.

I’m never gonna grow if I keep procrastinating.
I’m never gonna grow if I don’t change.
I’m never gonna achieve my goal.

If you want to make the world a better place, then take a look at yourself, then make that change.
Looking at myself in the mirror, suddenly I see a face. I hear a voice. Someone spoke to me. He said this to me. In fact, he said it multiple times. He said it to me and then hoo~ed.

"If you want to make the world a better place, then take a look at yourself, then make that change. Hoo~" - Micheal Jackson

U: Understand Yourself

Now that you know what are your fears, you know why you want to overcome them, the next step is to know yourself.

What would Micheal Jackson do. What would Micheal Jordan do? I don't know. I'm neither. I'm Kris.

Wait. What would Kris do?

Kris is a software engineer. He likes to figure out requirements. He likes to analyze, design solutions, set milestones and roadmaps. He's a nerd like that.

Why don't I tackle it like a software problem?

Note: Obviously, everyone is different. That's the point if it wasn't obvious. How do you like to solve problems? How do you tackle an obstacle?

Plan.

D: Develop a Plan

As Kris, I want to be able to speak up and be more vocal about so that I can share my ideas and concerns.

I created a user story. I am specific about who is doing this and have an understanding of what that person can do. I describe what I want to do and what is the value in being able to do it.

Next, I asked what’s the priority and business value of this.

  • If we do it (Best case): They hear my idea or concern. We improve our lives.
  • If we don’t it (Worst case): My idea gets ignored. Nothing changes.

The worst case wasn't so bad. I mean nothing much changes. So I thought it was worth a shot improving it.

What if it's worse than that?

As an additional note, someone asked me after the talk about this worst case scenario. They said they are the type of person that can think of way too many terrible worst case scenarios. Some of the worst cases was getting fired, something exploding, diarrhea, death, etc.

If you fear speaking up because you might get fired, there are bigger problems. Probably try to find a new job where you can be heard and valued instead.

There's nothing wrong with thinking of terrible possible situations. If that is who you are then that is hard to change. Here's some alternate options or solutions.

Law of Averages.

According to an article in HBR, this technique was used by the navy to reassure marines that the submarine won't explode if it got hit by a missile. The law of averages' idea is to list down all the likely scenarios then figure out how likely is it to happen. If it has a high chance of happening, what can you do if that situation happens? List it down. If it's not highly likely, why are you fretting over it? It gives data and probably to reassure someone of all the possible scenarios.

There's nowhere to go but up.

Another alternate solution is to come up with solutions from the worst point. How can you pick yourself up if you fall? What's the possible steps to come back to a good situation?

Let's say the worst thing that could happen is if you get fired. If you work as a software developer, there is still a high demand for them. How hard is it to find another job? Probably not too too difficult.

If the worst thing that could happen is if you stumble and mumble in a presentation, then try again. Figure out the areas you need to improve and go for it again. Olympic athletes weren't born that way. They had to fail, practice and develop skills in order achieve what they achieved.

Multiple approaches.

How am I going to be vocal? What are my different options? Which one sounds the least horrible? I developed a 3 step plan that I felt comfortable with.

  1. Think what I'm going to say
  2. Rehearse it.
  3. Say it.

Scenario: If it’s a meeting and I want to be vocal about an idea or concern.

Option A: Talk in a meeting

I need to think of what I'm going to say.

If I have an idea, Why is this important? What are the benefits to this? If I have a concern, why is it important that we take care of it? What are some solutions?

Rehearse it

Does this sound good to me? How would I feel if I hear this in a meeting?

Then say it.

Option B: Just do it in writing

I need to think of what I'm going to say.

Maybe write it in a notepad. Make sure I cover the whats and whys. Make sure I cover pros/cons.

Rehearse it.

Read the message multiple times. Does the tone convey what my feelings are? Is it too verbose? Is it too emotional?

Then say it (by actually sending it)

Option C: Talk to my manager, VP or similar

Your support people are called support people for a reason. They are there to support you. Reach out to them for help.

I need to think of what I'm going to say.

Prepare what I want to say. Write it down. Make sure I cover everything I want to discuss. What is my idea or concern. Why is it important. Maybe some potential solutions

Rehearse it.

Does my idea or concern seem valid? Practice saying it.

Say it.

Book 1:1, coffee chat or similar private discussion if that is what you're comfortable with. Let them help you with your change.

Steps. Literally.

Small Steps to Progress.

It might take some time. You may have to experiment. You may have to try different things. You may fail. It's not gonna be easy. Nothing worth achieving ever is.

So what happened Kris?

It's been a while now. I can share my ideas and concerns now. I feel more confident now to share my mind. I still have to go through the process and steps but I can do it. It’s not perfect but it’s good enough for now. I can build on it. I can build on it to achieve my goal of driving change and leading people. In this way, I’m growing to be a better leader.

Am I still afraid? Yes.
Am I going to let that stop me? No.

Just be a FRAUD.

  • Find a Reason
  • Acknowledge Your Fears
  • Understand Yourself
  • Develop a plan

Secret Guide to Conquering Fear

In the last part of my presentation, I gave a take home form. Comically called Secret Guide to Conquering Fear, it's a form that I hope can help people conquer their fears.

Below are the questions in that form.

  1. My name is:
  2. My goal is to:
  3. I don’t like to:
  4. I’m afraid to do it because:
  5. What’s the best thing that could happen if you do this?
  6. What’s the worst that could happen?
  7. I like to solve problems by:
  8. I will conquer my fear by doing:

Send me a note (the author name at gmail) if this managed to help you.


Resources:
Articles - HBR, Wikipedia - Fear, School of Life
Images - Unsplash


Additional Reading: