Tonight, I will prove that I looked fear in the face and conquered it. It tried to back me down, but I overcame it. I will be playing my first tennis league match. You might read that sentence and think it’s not a big deal, but let me assure you, it is to me. I’ve only been serious about playing tennis for a few months now. I’m not close to being ready to be truly competitive. I have played one match in a tournament and while I am happy with my performance, I lost. The positive people in my life tell me to not worry about it because everyone had to start somewhere. As much as I know that is true, it doesn’t sit well with my ambitious persona. I am the type of person that avoids things if I feel like I am not good. I’m the type of person that would wait until I’d had many tennis lessons and I felt certain I could be more competitive before going “public”. So, why am I doing this? I am doing this because I vowed to take control of the bad habits in my life. Taking control in this scenario means facing and conquering fears.
Last fall, a good friend of mine, Amanda, asked me if I’d like to play on a tennis team. I had been asked this before several times in the past and had said no every time. I enjoy being athletic, so I believe people assume I’d be a good team member to have. But I have zero tennis skills or knowledge. Zero! However, last year when my friend asked me to play, I decided to say yes. I said yes for many reasons but mostly I wanted to face my fears.
As a certified professional coach, I have been formally trained to help my clients overcome fear and obstacles that prevent them from reaching their full potential. I love every minute of being a coach and helping others to grow and blossom as they overcome their roadblocks to reach success. However, being the coach is a very safe place to sit. I do a lot of listening and ask a ton of questions, none of which pertain to me. It is easy to set my life and fears aside to constantly help others work on theirs. I decided to join the tennis team so I could remember how it feels to be 100% uncomfortable while traveling the path to success. I push my clients to do this and remind them of all the benefits associated with pushing outside of their comfort zone. I knew I would enjoy tennis, but I also knew I needed to practice what I preach: “Face your fears. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Tune out the noise associated with individuals that are judging you. Stop holding yourself back.” I know I will be a better coach if I continue to overcome my own fears. So here I am, excited and anxious to be attempting to play in my first tennis league match (in front of others, really keeping score, scores that are recorded, oh my word!!!!!!!!!! Did I mention I haven’t been playing very long?!?!?!).
When coaching my clients through fears and obstacles, I have a large toolbox to pull from to get them past what is holding them back. This time I have pulled tools to use to coach myself. It has been a very empowering experience that I want to share with you in hopes that you can use some of the tools in your own life when facing fear. If there are things in your life that you would like to attempt or accomplish but haven’t found the courage to go for it yet, it is time to find out why. I’ve found that most goals are attainable when we stop making excuses and face the fear holding us back.
Fear is a natural response to new and uncertain situations. Our body reacts with the fight or flight response and the level of stress we perceive is increased. Further, our fear and stress levels are heightened when we place a high value on the outcome. We decide to run or put up our fists. When we run, we are allowing fear to win. Obviously, there are some things we should run from, but for the most part we run when we shouldn’t. In deciding whether to run or fight we must first clearly articulate what it is we truly fear.
Facing fear becomes easier when we have a process in place for identifying and evaluating it. Below, I have outlined 5 steps that I have used successfully with clients and myself for identifying, evaluating, and ultimately conquering fear.
1. List the excuses you have given for “running”. Can the excuse be overcome easily? If so, it’s not your real fear. Keep going.
As I tried to pinpoint why I ran from playing tennis for so long, I began to explore what I was afraid of by making a list of the excuses I had given for saying no. I had a long list of them, such as “I haven’t played before. I don’t know anything about tennis. I don’t have time. I don’t have a racket.” Then I took the time to evaluate each excuse to see if it could be overcome. In every instance, there was a simple solution. This told me that the excuses weren’t my real fears and I needed to dive a bit deeper to find out what I truly feared.
2. Ask yourself, “If I went for it, what is the worst thing that could happen?” Evaluate the list and identify your true fear.
We can identify our true fears by asking the question, “If I go for it, what is the worst thing that could happen?” Make a list of the answers. In my case, the list was “I could get hurt. People will laugh at me. Others might find out that I am not a good athlete. People might see the real me. I want others to have a high opinion of me. If I show them my weakness, they might not respect me as much.” As I look back at my list, it is easy to see that my real fear revolves around other’s opinion of me, which I want to be very high. I am afraid that if others see me struggle on the tennis court, this will lessen their respect for me.
3. After identifying your true fear(s), ask yourself, “How true is that?”
How true is it that people I know will have a lesser opinion of me if they see I am a terrible tennis player? I took quite a bit of time to answer this question.
· First, I know that the people who really love me are proud of me for starting a new sport at 46. They don’t care how I play. For them, it’s a resounding not true.
· If I’m truly honest with myself, I know that most people will not think anything about the way I play tennis. In fact, they won’t think about it all! As important as it is to me to play well, it doesn’t even show up as a blip on most people’s radar. For them, the answer is another resounding not true.
· However, there might be a group of people that do look down on me for not playing well. If they do, what does that mean? I can best answer this by thinking of something I try to teach my daughter – she should never try to feel better about herself by putting others down. This rang in my head as I thought about the people that might think less of me. Are they are seeking ways to feel better about themselves? If so, that’s about them and their insecurity, not about me. Wow. Or perhaps they are the type of people that look at outcomes without taking the process into consideration. While outcomes are important, they are far less valuable than the lessons learned, and the effort put into the process. If you don’t believe me, just ask Nick Saban. A person with an outcome only focus is missing so many great things in life. That makes me sad to think about.
What a revelation! Most won’t care how well I play tennis. But there might be a handful of people that think less of me. A funny thing happened as I thought about the type of people that would judge me if I’m not good at tennis. I put myself in their shoes and felt myself wanting to help them to overcome their insecurities and to enjoy the parts of life they are missing. Suddenly, I’m not afraid of what others think about my tennis game. Turns out my fear was self-imposed. I had been holding myself back for no reason. How often do you think this happens to you?
4. Visualize what you’d like to accomplish, set goals, and make a plan.
Now that I realize I have nothing to truly fear, I am free to dream about how my success might look. I can visualize what I would like to accomplish. This allows me to set goals and make a plan. Set both long-term and short-term goals. Take the time to celebrate every win in your life. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as you proceed through the process. The best laid plans often go awry. Most importantly, never stop dreaming.
5. Surround yourself with a stellar support system and GO FOR IT!
After you have set your goals and made a plan, it is imperative to surround yourself with a great support system. Someone once said, “If you look into your inner circle and it does not inspire you, you are in a cage not a circle.” We become the average of the people closest to us. If you surround yourself with people that are positive and uplifting, you will be lifted.
I have a fantastic tennis circle. My tennis coach, Angel Hernandez, lifts me to a higher level. He is a talented tennis player and he is also a great person. He is teaching me to play tennis but more importantly, he helps me to believe in my abilities and myself. If I get discouraged, he reminds me of how far I have come. He is an outstanding coach! True story – as I finalize this blog, Angel just sent me a text telling me, “YOU GOT THIS!” Be sure to have an Angel in your life!! My team, the Serve-Aces (say it quickly, tehehehe!) is stellar too. Most of us are true beginners and have vowed to build each other up. It makes no sense to do anything else. Also, we have tried to stop apologizing to each other for the tennis skills we have yet to master. Apologies imply we have done something wrong, but we haven’t. We are in the midst of our process and having a great time together.
I’m so excited for tonight, the first matches of the winter tennis league. I’m proud and happy that I practiced what I preach and finally faced my false fears and decided to begin playing. I’m still nervous and anxious, but now it is not because I’m afraid of what others will think. It is because I want to do well, for myself, my coach, and my team. I’m going to work for the best outcome while taking pride of where I am in the process!
-Gina Simpson is a certified professional coach and founder of Soluna Strategies. If you are interested in working with Gina to reach your full potential, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her passion is your serene success!