Recently, I heard that the number one thing that people fear in life is having to stand up and speak in front of a group of people. Frankly, this has never been an issue for me. My nickname is a child was “Sam the Ham”. When we had family gatherings, I was usually the one who stood up and told a joke, or the one who acted out a short one-act play I had concocted.
I didn’t have a problem speaking in front of people. Through high school and college,I enjoyed being the “frontman,” and it came naturally for me. I think the reason that many people fear speaking in public is not because of the mechanics, (most of us can talk), but because they are afraid they might fail to meet the listeners or their own expectations. By speaking, they might open themselves up to ridicule, or people might laugh at them, or they might say something dumb.
While I didn’t have a fear of speaking to a group, it does not mean I never had a fear of failure. A short time after taking my first assignment as Senior Pastor in a small church in Upstate New York, I realized that we had no one in the church who was willing or able to lead worship for us. I got the bright idea that if I took a few singing lessons, this was Certainly something that I could handle along with all of my other responsibilities.
There was a voice teacher in our town and after a short audition with him, I started to think that this was something I could learn to do.
My teacher recommended that we set a date for my first public appearance. With Easter almost three months away, I was confident that I would be prepared to do something by then. It seemed like Easter was a long way off.
So, with very little confidence, I began a series of ten singing lessons. At first, things seemed pretty straightforward. I learned how to sing the scales and a bunch of other vocal exercises designed to give me some confidence. Then we began to rehearse a few different Easter-appropriate songs.
As I got closer to the date. I became more and more nervous. I knew that singing in an empty studio with no one there, other than my teacher, would be a lot different than actually singing for an audience. I was extremely frustrated because it didn’t seem like I could ever remember the lines of the songs we were working on in practice. But I was diligent in my practice and thought I made progress.
For me, the morning of the great event began At 4 am after a night of tossing and turning. I couldn’t eat breakfast because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to keep it down. And when the moment came, and the pre-recorded music started, I was in a cold sweat. My knees were shaking. My heart was pounding. I wondered it one point if I was going to pass out.
I sang the old spiritual, “Were You There?” But quite frankly. I didn’t want to be anywhere except in hiding. I could not sing with any kind of volume because of the fear of failure gripping me. Most of the song was a barely audible whisper. I knew that at any moment, people would begin to laugh at me or walkout.
Yet, I survived. People were nice and complimented me. But it was the beginning and the end of my singing career. The reason was that I couldn’t get over my fear.Over time I came to realize that my lack of singing prowess has not been a limitation. But it has caused me to understand how our fears can hold us back. Are there limitations in your life because of your fear of what others will think? Or, are you holding yourself back because of what you have told yourself all these years?
Let me encourage you to throw off those fears. I learned that while I may never be a vocal virtuoso, I overcame my anxiety at the moment. I stood up and did the thing that I feared the most. Remember when it comes to the event that you fear; You can do this.