Stepping Into the Fear

And becoming a leader

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

—-Nelson Mandela

Are you afraid to take the next step to becoming a leader?

When I was first contemplated becoming an organizer, I was afraid. I had no experience, no training and did not think of myself as a leader of any kind. I believed I couldn’t do anything other than work in a textile mill (which is where I started.) But my commitment to making change in the world was stronger than my fear.

Fear and Consequences

Linda Stout

I’ve seen many people not take that next step, even though they would make an incredible leader. You often see this fear among disenfranchised people who have always been told they can’t be a leader, whether it’s to their face or through oppressive systems.

So how do you step into the fear that holds you back from stepping into this work? You have to manage the fear and do it anyway. I know, that sounds so easy and so dismissive, but believe me it isn’t. Even today, that fear still rears its ugly head for me. But being with others in the movement for change, and receiving constant reinforcement through praise, thanks and recognition, is the most effective way to help yourself and your volunteers deal with their fear.

When I was facing this, I spent a lot of time meditating about it. I knew I had a calling to step into this work and had been told I didn’t belong. I had nagging questions in my head such as, “Who am I to think I could do this? Why do I think I can be a leader? I’m afraid to deal with conflict and now I have this issue among members!”

Managing Your Fears

When I first started organizing, I said, “I will do anything except fundraise, speak in public or write.” I didn’t believe I could do any of those things. Of course, to run an organization you have to do all of that. You don’t have to write a book, but you do have to write about your work for funders, speak at various functions, and I don’t know any organizer who has not had to do fundraising.

When I began to speak in public, I used index cards. I practiced my speech over and over. Before I spoke, I went into the bathroom and usually cried. Sometimes I was sick. When I spoke, I was hesitant and my hands shook terribly. But each time I did it, I became more confident.

This is my secret: doing it, despite the fear. Over and over! Here is what I do:

  • Always go back to your vision – your dream. This is what you’re working toward. The only thing that will make it a failure is giving into the fear of failure. When you are fundraising, you are encouraging people to invest in a vision and dream of the future. Keep the vision front and center.
  • Look at the negative messages you have received, and even believed, and get rid of them! I always imagine mine as old recording tapes on reels, and then picture myself pulling the tapes off the reels and destroying them. Remember these are messages that you’ve heard to pull you down and keep you in your place. That only benefits those in power! Whether it was a parent or a case of systemic oppression, school, television and social media, work on destroying the negative messages. Not only did I do this with exercises again and again, but I did a lot of therapy to help me. Create your own exercises to let those negative messages go.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Know you cannot stay in your comfort zone. When you step into your fear, amazing opportunities will open up for you.
  • Take small steps, until you are able to “jump off the cliff.” Sometimes, I imagine myself jumping off a cliff without a parachute. I imagine growing huge wings that keep me soaring. It really helps me, but again, come up with images that work for you. This helps shift your brain neurologically and you begin to think differently.

I believe it’s impossible to not be afraid. You will be frightened, but you learn to keep stepping in anyway to do what scares you. Now, many years later, I don’t even prepare ahead of time for speeches. I sometimes still feel fear, but I easily get over it when I start to talk. The more you do it, the less afraid you are.

The braver you become.