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Taking chances and seizing opportunities is better than living with the feeling of helplessness or failure that we are stuck with if we do nothing. Many situations require us to “push through our fear”: running for office, teaching a class, taking the opportunity to be in a relationship, signing up for a golf tournament or bowling league, traveling, joining a book club, taking an evening class, and doing all of those things we say we’ll do. Even opening the first chapter to an Independent Study course takes courage. You are faced with the question, “Will I succeed or will I fail?” At this point you get to make a choice: you decide whether to succeed or fail.

Let me describe to you my first day of teaching at the start of a new semester. The classroom is empty. The students appear. I feel anxious as to whether or not I will fulfill their needs as an instructor. Will the course be interesting? Will I have continuity in my dialogue? I know that the students feel anxious. They sit far apart and they don’t talk to one another. They sit nervously with their eyes looking straight ahead. But the fact that they are in my class signifies that they want to do something about experiencing the unknown and facing their fear. I ask them, “Why do you want to take public speaking?” These are their responses:

Melinda wants to overcome her fear of standing in front of an audience. She is self-conscious and feels that she doesn’t have anything important to say.

Vance is in an electric wheelchair. He wants to learn public speaking because he wants his audience to know that he is not handicapped. He wonders whether people will listen to him because he is Vance or because he is in a wheelchair.

Julie has had many experiences in public speaking in high school and has competed in many speech contests, but she wants to learn how to connect with her audience.

Paul is the second-string quarterback on the football team. He is worried about being labeled a “dumb jock” and is taking public speaking to enhance his communication skills in small groups or in front of a large audience.

Daniel is in engineering. He is taking the class to learn how to give presentations with visual aids and encourage audience participation.

After discussing why they want to take public speaking, the students seem to understand that everyone has fear and that they are not totally alone in their thinking. When students start opening up and sharing their feelings, they suddenly become “real people.” They become attractive and have a name that goes with each face—they are no longer strangers to each other.

In her book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Dr. Jeffers also describes the levels of fear that we all experience:

Along with public speaking, some level-one fears are changing careers, going back to school, entering retirement, being interviewed, ending or beginning a relationship, making mistakes, etc.

Level-two fears have to do with inner states of mind rather than exterior situations. They are things like rejection, fear of success or failure, vulnerability, helplessness, disapproval, and loss of image.

The level-three fear is simply the one big fear that “I can’t handle it.” Dr. Jeffers explains, “At the bottom of every one of your fears is simply the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring you.” I can’t handle losing my job; I can’t handle making a mistake; I can’t handle losing him or her; I can’t handle being rejected; I just can’t handle it. Of this fear, Dr. Jeffers says:

The truth is: if you knew you could handle anything that came your way, what would you possibly have to fear?. . . All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way! 8

This is all important to learn because of the fact that fear causes pain, and ultimately we want to change the pain to power. Having power instead of pain means being in control of your life and taking the kind of risks that build your sense of self-worth and, in turn, enhance your ability to handle fear. Dr. Jeffers suggests you begin on the pain-to-power path by developing a Pain-to-Power 9 vocabulary. She notes that “the way you use words has a tremendous impact on the quality of your life. Certain words are destructive; others are empowering.”

A chart listing pain vocabulary on the left side and power vocabulary on the other.
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