Episode: The Year of Facing Fear
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt. And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. In this episode, we’re talking about your greatest fears and how to face them. It’s going to be a little bit different than our usual format, as we bring you one of the sessions recorded live from our recent Best Year Ever Live event. Today, we hear from my daughter and our COO, Megan Hyatt Miller. She’s going to talk about one of her greatest fears and how she faced it. As we get started, let me plant this question in your mind…What would be possible for you if you were brave enough to overcome your fear? Here’s Megan.
Megan Hyatt Miller: There was no turning back. It all started at American Airlines at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on June 16, 2018. I couldn’t stop the tears, because I had just pressed “Send” on the most vulnerable text message of my entire life. I admitted a humiliating and debilitating fear to my friend Michele. “Hi, Michele. I’m sitting at the airport in Chicago headed home, and I have something I need to talk to you about, because I’m pretty sure you’re the expert. I need to speak publicly, but I have a secret: I’m scared out of my mind.”
It began in high school when I felt my voice shake in front of the class, and I could feel the wash of anxiety come over me. I learned to dread it. It got worse when I watched one of my friends run out of a presentation during our senior year because she was so afraid. I met her in the bathroom as she sobbed humiliated tears, and I never wanted that to happen to me. In my 20s the fear grew, as I avoided using my voice in front of a group at all costs. I couldn’t even read Bible passages aloud with my small group of six to eight people. Every time I tried, I felt like I was being strangled.
I intentionally shut myself down at every professional opportunity that would have involved any kind of speaking, to my own detriment. But over the last six to eight years, little by little, I’ve had to step up to the mic, literally and figuratively, first in videos and then onstage doing Q&As and panels with my dad and our team, but never alone. And, of course, there’s the podcast. Reading those essays at the beginning of each episode has been the hardest professional thing I’ve ever done. I’m past it now, but 35 episodes ago, it was my version of hell. It was everything I could do not to burst into tears and run out of our recordings.
“But the time has come. I need help to conquer this fear without falling flat on my face and making it even worse. Do you think we could talk sometime? I think you might have some ideas. Thanks for listening. I’ve never told anybody about this fear other than Joel. Honestly, it’s a dam-breaking kind of moment for me.” I had avoided public speaking for years…decades, actually, because I was terrified that if I stepped onstage I would fall apart and be humiliated, and worse, I believed that something was deeply wrong with me.
So, I stayed quiet in meetings. I passed on promotions where speaking was a job requirement. I quit writing professionally when I realized a published book would necessitate public speaking, and I declined to share in groups, even when I knew I was the expert. I strangled my voice to avoid the panic of speaking in front of others. But on June 16, I decided I was tired of living that way. I had no idea how I was going to face my fear, but I knew I had to do it.
It turns out that I wasn’t alone in my fear of public speaking. In fact, it’s one of the most common fears people have. You probably know this. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if [they] go to a funeral, [they’d rather be] in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Well, that was me, for sure.
Now, maybe you’re not afraid of public speaking and standing onstage, like I’m doing now. It’s totally comfortable for you. If that’s true, God bless you. But maybe there’s something else that’s haunting you. Maybe your marriage is broken and you have no idea how to fix it. Maybe there’s a business you’ve dreamed of starting, but you can’t seem to take action. Maybe there’s an addiction you’ve rationalized, and it’s controlling more and more of your life. Maybe you’re single and you’d like to be married, but you think it’s never going to happen. Whatever it is, you can conquer your most terrifying goal with five powerful actions, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
The first action is to voice your fear. In my own story, I told Michele, sitting in that airport lounge with tears streaming down my face. That was my inciting incident, and, boy, was it one. I sat there crying and realized that up until that very point I had hidden my fear, because the truth was I was so ashamed of how much fear I felt. After all, I’m a successful executive running a high-growth company all about leadership, yet in this area I couldn’t lead myself.
Also, in case you haven’t noticed, Michael Hyatt is my dad. He has been speaking publicly since I was in diapers, and I’m sure people just assumed I would be naturally good at it, like it’s some kind of genetic transmission. But deep down, I knew I wasn’t a speaker and eventually I would be exposed as a phony. The longer I hid my fear and the more success I had, the bigger the shame and fear grew.
Now, if you’ve followed our training on goal setting, you know there are three emotions we talk about when people step out of their Discomfort Zone toward an important goal. Those are fear, uncertainty, and doubt. These are actually indicators that you’re on the right track if you’re pursuing something that really matters. That doesn’t mean they’re fun or comfortable, and without a strategy, they can sideline you instead of propel you toward a goal.
You know what it feels like: that need to hide, the desperation, the way that sometimes you just make yourself smaller, the endless procrastination, denial, and avoidance of something you really care about, and above all, the shame. It’s natural to want to avoid these feelings, but here’s the problem: fear that isn’t conquered conquers you. That’s why, eventually, I decided to tell my friend Michele about this secret fear, because voicing your fear minimizes its power.
This is really, really important, because as long as that monster stays locked in the closet, we assume that it’s terrifying, but when we face it and name it out loud, it’s usually so much smaller than we thought. As Brené Brown says, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up…”
So, today, I want us to be brave together. This is going to be interactive. My team is going to pass out some cards right now. I don’t want this to just be another inspirational talk for you. I want this to be something that’s tangible that’s going to impact your life. So we’re going to pass these cards out right now, and together we’re going to engage with the five powerful actions we’re talking about today. What fear have you avoided facing? I want to challenge you, as I said yesterday during the Q&A, to play full out with me during this session. Be really honest. What is it for you?
Maybe it’s a fear of public speaking, like it was for me. Apparently, a lot of us have that fear. Or maybe it’s the fear of fixing a broken relationship or the fear of pursuing a promotion or launching a new business or maybe it’s the fear of quitting a business or a job you don’t really want to be in. Maybe it’s the fear of dating again. Maybe it’s the fear of starting the adoption or fertility process for you. Whatever it is, right now, I want you to answer this question in writing on your card…What fear have you avoided facing? You may not be all the way done with that, and that’s okay. You can kind of think on it while I continue to talk, but this is really important.
Now that you have some idea of what that fear is, the next action is to make a commitment. In my own story, I made a commitment to conquer my fear when, after that conversation with my friend Michele in the airport lounge, later at about the end of July, my team said, “We were wondering if you would deliver a keynote at our Achieve conference to nearly 1,000 people.” Okay. I was terrified. I said, “Yes,” but I thought to myself (this was my word bubble), “I might die, but I can’t not do it.” So I said, “Yes.” As Tony Robbins says, “If you can’t, you must.”
I knew this was one of those moments that my life turned on, so I said “Yes.” I was sick and tired of letting fear decide, because it had driven the bus for too long. There were so many “noes” for me that had been motivated by fear, so I needed to finally say “yes” so the fear would lose its power. The speech was really just a mechanism for me. The real goal was to battle that fear, even if it killed me. It all started with my team asking me to give the keynote and me saying, “Yes.”
So here’s my question for you…What do you need to say yes to? First, where does your mind automatically say “No”? This is a great clue. “No, I can’t write a book.” “No, I can’t run a marathon.” “No, there’s no way I can fix this marriage.” “No, I can’t have a good relationship with my son.” “No, now is not the time to launch that product or business.” This is a clue. Secondly, what would you do if you weren’t afraid? If you were already brave and if you knew you couldn’t fail, what win would you go after today? That’s also a clue.
Now I want you to grab your card again. I told you this is going to be interactive. I want you to answer this question…What scary goal will you commit to in 2019, and what’s your deadline? What scary goal (just one for right now) will you commit to in 2019, and what is your deadline? Maybe it’s going away to a marriage retreat by June 30 or sending out invitations to your book launch party by November 1. Create a deadline for yourself. That’s critical. You have to have a point when you’re committed to making this happen. I want you to write it down now. What scary goal will you commit to in 2019 and by when?
Now that you’ve voiced your fear and you’ve made a commitment, the next action is to use outside resources. Back to my own story. Guys, I asked for help, because I committed to something I had no idea how I was going to accomplish. Like, literally no idea. Once I committed, I started looking for every kind of help I could think of. What I found taught me a really important lesson. There are more resources available than you can possibly imagine.
As part of my research, I contacted a therapist who specialized in anxiety for speaking and all kinds of other wild things. I talked to my doctor about anxiety medicine, which I have in my purse back in my greenroom, just in case I need it. I didn’t end up using it, but I was really glad I had it. I had my content team help me write my speech, because I’d never done that before.
My sister Mary, who’s a coach, helped me with my mindset, confronting my limiting beliefs and replacing them with liberating truths. This was key. You guys talked about this yesterday. And I hired my friend and the very best speech coach I know, Michele Cushatt (who happened to be the one I texted), to shepherd me through the entire process of developing my first keynote.
Here is the good news: someone somewhere has the solution to your specific problem. No matter how complicated it is or how unique you feel like it is, someone somewhere has the solution to your problem. This is one of the most empowering beliefs you can ever adopt, because you don’t have to be the expert to succeed. You just need to look for somebody who has been where you want to go. Whatever resources you tap, don’t let financial resources or a lack of time be a hindrance. My dad often says (and I believe this is true) that resources only show up after you make the commitment.
I want to call BS, by the way, on the idea that I can’t afford outside resources. You might be thinking, if you’re thinking about a marriage issue, for example, “I can’t afford to go to counseling.” But let me ask you this: Can you afford to lose your marriage? What’s that worth to you? Fear is going to try to convince you that resources are in the way, but really, it’s an excuse to avoid taking action. It’s a limiting belief, and fear is still driving the bus.
I want you to grab your card again and write down the answer to this question…What outside resources could you use to help achieve your goal? Now, there are a lot of options. For example, a friend who holds you accountable, a great book with expert advice, a coaching program for business owners, a business colleague with a fresh perspective, a couple with a great marriage who can give you advice, a hiking group or a running club or maybe a therapist who specializes in the unique challenge you’re facing. But I want you to take a couple of moments right now and answer this question…What outside resources could you use to help you achieve your goal?
Now that you’ve identified some possible resources, we’re ready to go on to the fourth action: own your mindset. As part of my process, I took ownership of my thoughts. In fact, I wrote affirmations down on a sheet of yellow paper (in fact, a couple of sheets) describing in vivid detail what I wanted to achieve. These are wrinkled because they have been well used. I described how I wanted to feel when I walked onstage, when I walked off the stage, why it mattered to me to face this fear and when, what was really at stake.
I read this every single day while I was drying my hair aloud in the mirror, over and over again for weeks. I was reprogramming my brain. It may sound silly, but I did this set to music from the Gladiator soundtrack, because this was a fight. I wanted it to feel epic. I needed to win, and I needed music that inspired me to win. Plus, speaking of inspiration, there was Russell Crowe in the background. Right, ladies? The battle, though, is won or lost in your head. As Henry Ford famously said, whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you’re right.
Fear has been building an identity for you for years. For example, “I’m not good at relationships.” “I’m not good with money.” “I’m not good at business.” “I’m not a good writer.” It’s time for you to build a new identity, and language is a powerful tool here. I told myself countless times, “I’m not a speaker. I’m not a speaker. I’m not a speaker. I’m not a speaker.” But how in the world is a non-speaker ever going to stand on a stage and survive, much less deliver a message? The answer is she isn’t.
I had to change my identity to step into my destiny. I had to start saying, “I am a speaker. I am a speaker. I am a speaker.” I was struck by this scene in the movie The King’s Speech. If you’re not familiar with this movie, this is your homework. I put that on my Insta Story last night. It’s a movie about King George VI, who’s played by Colin Firth. He needs to take the throne after his older brother has abdicated.
This happens simultaneously with the advent of radio, where speaking publicly is essential. However, he has a debilitating stutter that causes him to be unable at times to even get words out. His wife hires a very unorthodox speech coach, played by Geoffrey Rush, who works to help him overcome his speech impediment and speak confidently by dealing specifically at the level of identity and belief. Let’s watch as the soon-to-be king prepares for his coronation speech.
King George: You give a very noble account of yourself.
Lionel Logue: Make inquiries. It’s all true.
King George: Inquiries have been made. You have no idea who I have breathing down my neck. I vouched for you and you have no c-c-credentials.
Lionel: But lots of success. I can’t show you a certificate. There was no training then. Everything I know I know from experience, and that war was some experience. My plaque says “L. Logue, Speech Defects.” Not doctor. There are no letters after my name. Lock me in the Tower.
King George: I would if I could.
Lionel: On what charge?
King George: Fraud. With war looming, you’ve saddled this nation with a voiceless king. You’ve destroyed the happiness of my family, all for the sake of ensnaring a star patient you couldn’t possibly hope to assist. It’ll be like Mad King George III. I’ll be “Mad King George the Stammerer” who let his people down so badly in their hour of need… What are you doing? Get up. You can’t sit there! Get up!
Lionel: Why not? It’s a chair.
King George: No, that is not a chair! That is, that, that is Saint Edward’s Chair.
Lionel: People have carved their names on it.
King George: That chair is the seat on which every king and queen…
Lionel: It’s held in place by a large rock.
King George: That is the Stone of Scone you are, are trivializing.
Lionel: How you can believe in all that bunkum…
King George: You trivialize and you… Listen to me.
Lionel: I don’t care how many royal assholes have sat in this chair.
King George: Listen to me. Listen to me!
Lionel: Listen to you by what right?
King George: By divine right if you must. I am your king!
Lionel: No, you’re not. You told me so yourself. You said you didn’t want it. Why should I waste my time listening to you?
King George: Because I have a right to.
Lionel: Because what?
King George: I have a voice!
Lionel: Yes, you do. You have such perseverance, Bertie. You’re the bravest man I know. You’ll make a bloody good king.
[End of video]
Megan: Isn’t that amazing? Seriously. If you haven’t watched that movie, it is so inspiring. Here’s what’s so interesting, though. The king thought Rush was trivializing the throne, but really, he’d been trivializing himself. I’d been doing the same thing, and you probably have too in some area of your life. But we don’t have to continue to play small. The amazing thing about this story, by the way, is that the king never fully loses his stutter. By all accounts, it’s something he dealt with, to some degree, all his life, but it didn’t control him anymore. He was able to overcome that fear, and his identity became more than his limitations. It became his destiny.
I want you to grab your card and pen again, and I want you to answer this question. This is so important. What new identity will you own? Maybe it’s not, “I am a speaker.” Based on statistics, for some of you it probably is, but for those of you for whom it’s not, it might be, “I am an author.” “I am a successful business owner.” “I’m physically strong and getting stronger.” “I am good at relationships.” “I’m ready to love, and I have something valuable to offer a future partner.” Take a minute and write down your answer. Starting today, what new identity will you own?
Now that you have identified a new identity to own, it’s time for the fifth action: take the next step and repeat until you’ve won. In my own story, I took one small step after the other, over and over again. I didn’t just name my fear and then step on the stage the next day, thank God. That would have been terrifying. I got there one step at a time, little by little by little. Now, I have to tell you the truth, though. My progress was not all up and to the right. There were setbacks. In fact, I had a full-on breakdown (when I say full-on, I mean full-on) the day before my last speech after sound check.
I felt great during sound check, got in my car to drive home, and I had a full-on panic attack…ugly crying, planning my escape from the country. I was a complete mess. I called my sister Mary on the phone. She kind of talked me down from the ledge, thank goodness. I was afraid of disgracing my team, my family name. I mean, it was full-blown. I didn’t want to let everybody down. There was never a moment that came where I felt so confident and just thought, “I’ve got this.” I think that’s kind of the dirty little secret of success. That’s true for most people.
I wish I could tell you it was easy along the way, but the goal is not ridding ourselves of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The key to success is learning to tolerate the discomfort and to keep moving, to just take the next step. As Anne Lamott says, “It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.” For most of us, the things we want most are on the other side of discomfort, and the good news is that we conquer fear one step at a time, not in a single bound.
As E.L. Doctorow said, writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. Life is like that too. You just tackle one mildly scary step at a time, and you keep repeating until you get there. Fortunately, courage is not a prerequisite. It comes after you’ve done the brave thing, not before. Courage is not a prerequisite. Bravery looks like taking action in spite of your fear, and courage is your reward for having done it. It’s incredibly freeing to realize you don’t have to be free of fear before you can take action.
Speaking at least for myself, there were so many times that I thought, “Man, once I get over this fear, then maybe I could speak.” It’s never going to happen, and it doesn’t have to. This is the secret to achievement. If you wait for your fear to dissipate before you act, that day will never come. For me, though, doing it scared looked like taking baby steps of bravery, telling Michele, saying yes to giving the keynote, putting together a terrible first draft of my speech with my writer, practicing in front of Michele before the big day. They were all a little bit unsettling, a little out of my comfort zone, but not terrifying.
One last time, I want you to grab your card and your pen, and I want you to write down now…When you leave here tomorrow, what is your next step, and when will you take it? That might be scheduling coffee with someone who can tell you about the process. It might be booking a retreat to outline your book. It might be planning a date for you and your spouse or ordering a book from Amazon to give you some clarity. It might be buying a pair of new walking shoes or scheduling a therapy session. Whatever it is, when you leave here, what is your next step, and when will you take it?
Next steps have a big, unexpected perk: you practically trip over the finish line if you do enough of them. My last small step was when I stepped onstage at the Achieve conference, and my name was announced. Some of you guys were there and you cheered. The lights hit my face, and everything was totally fine. I didn’t fall on my face. I didn’t hyperventilate or run away humiliated, which was my big fear. I wasn’t even nervous. Onstage it went by in a minute, and just like today, it was actually fun.
This may not have been what everybody else saw, but this is how I felt. Eat your heart out, Russell Crowe. I think I’m going to wallpaper something in that. I’m not sure how my husband will feel about that, but we’ll deal with that later. Best of all, though, I was able to make an impact on the people in the audience. People still approach me and thank me for my speech that day. They say they felt seen and understood because I opened up about my challenges. They got some practical guidance to overcome their own struggle.
That’s the thing about facing your fear: it matters, not just to you but to the people you love and maybe to the world. There are people right now waiting on the other side of your terrifying goal, people who need what you have to offer. People are counting on your contribution. There are people you will never be able to help until you stop playing small. You can achieve your most terrifying goal and make that kind of an impact with the five powerful actions we’ve talked about today.
Action 1: Voice your fear.
Action 2: Make a commitment.
Action 3: Use outside resources.
Action 4: Own your mindset.
Action 5: Take the next step.
Look back at your card and at that goal you jotted down. I want you to imagine what it would be like to actually achieve that goal, to reach the end of 2019 and celebrate that win. Guys, it’s time to get after it. This fear has held you hostage for far too long, and it’s time to conquer it. Thank you.
Michael: Wow. What a powerful session and an important question. I want to bring you back to where we started. What would be possible for you if you were brave enough to overcome your fear? If Megan can do it, you can do it. Thanks for joining us on Lead to Win, and be sure to come back next week when we’re going to give you an inside scoop on one of my very favorite topics: my favorite tech tools. Until then, lead to win.