How I overcame fear
By Steve Carter
Imagination is everything
Imagine the scene, you are sat in a dressing room with the other members of your band. The door is slightly ajar with a security guard stood filling up most of the frame. You can hear the muffled sound of voices as the venue continues to fill up. You are moments away from hitting the stage to play your biggest gig to date, but the majority of the crowd have not come to see you. They are there to watch the chart band that you are supporting, and it is your job to warm them up and win them over. As you look at your band mates you can see a range of emotions from nervousness to fear etched on their faces. You look in bewilderment at each of them in turn, why do they look so nervous or, more to the point, why do you not?
OK, you can stop imagining now, it was a real situation, let me elaborate.
It’s the mid-nineties, I am the drummer in a band. We are doing well, making a bit of a name for ourselves, locally at least. Gigs were coming at us regularly and we are now playing a bit further afield from our hometown of Swindon. We are playing in Bristol, Bath, Gloucester, London and then we get a bit of a break. Would we like to play support to a chart band at a fairly iconic venue, the Oasis Centre in Swindon? It is iconic because it is the venue from where Noel Gallagher took the name for his band, after he was a roadie there for the Inspiral Carpets (kids, go and ask your parents).
This is the kind of break that we had been looking for and working hard to get. Travelling home in the gig van in the early hours of the morning, on many occasions, with four other sweaty blokes and putting up with the other aromas that come after a few beers and a kebab. So here we are accepting the agents offer to support the then well-known chart band, China Black (kids, you know what to do).
The stage is set
The day of the gig has arrived and after spending the Saturday afternoon with the sound engineer, the stage is set and let me tell you, it was one big stage, much bigger than we had been used to. We are now sat in our dressing room and it is as I have described in the opening paragraph. There is security guard on our door, although I am not sure if he was there to keep people out or to keep us in. China Black are in the dressing room next door and we can hear a few raised voices emanating from said room. In our dressing room we have a runner and a rider, sounds more like the 2.30 at Kempton Park. The runner is a person who will run errands, go to the bar etc and the rider is the list of things that you ask to be made available to you in your dressing room. Our rider was easy, beer. That meant we didn’t have too much use for our runner, so we invited her to sit down and help us with our rider; she sat down but declined the offer of a beer. What she was able to tell us was that the full-length mirror that was positioned nicely in our dressing room, which was of no use to us whatsoever, was supposed to be in the dressing room next door and likely to be what the raised voices was about. Never mind hey!!
Time was ticking on and we got word that we would be led down to the back of the stage in the next few minutes. The dressing room went very silent, and this was the point where I looked at the other faces in the room and saw the fear starting to emerge. Comments from the other band members were based around the possibility of sudden, involuntary bowel movements. An enquiry from the bass player as to why I was not looking nervous led to the others staring at me in anticipation of my answer. I think I mumbled something about all of us having played plenty of gigs before and the only difference was that there were more people at this one. The truthful answer was that any fear that I may have had, I had conquered within minutes of being offered the opportunity to play this gig. The way I looked at it was that for the next 50 minutes every person in that crowd wanted to be me. They would love to be sat behind that drum kit entertaining this big crowd of people, but they couldn’t and the reason that they couldn’t was because I was the person who had the privilege of doing that. In short, they wanted to be me and that was the main reason why I had no fear and couldn’t wait to get on that stage.
Just for the record, as we kicked in with the first song you could see all fear go, the sound was booming, the stage lights all over us and we loved it, didn’t want to leave the stage. With hindsight If I had shared my way of dealing with the fear or nerves, those boys may have enjoyed the build-up a little more. I learned from that and took that forward into the workplace, which I will come on to.
Conquering my own fear
So, there we are, I have no fear, I’m not afraid of anything right?
If only that were true. You see, when it comes to anything medical, be it hospitals, dentists, injections, they don’t come any worse than me, I am absolutely dreadful. I can’t even watch Holby City without covering my eyes at regular intervals. I can’t begin to tell you the fear that coursed through my veins when in the autumn of 2020 I was informed that I needed an eye operation that would involve making an incision in my right eyeball. If that wasn’t bad enough which, believe me it was, I was also informed that this would happen while I was awake. Now the boot is on the other foot, as I know that those same boys in the band would have had no fear of this.
I knew I had to have this operation. The sight in my eye was deteriorating badly and this 20 minute operation would cure it, but that didn’t stop me panicking while I mulled it over and over and over again. Then I struck lucky, I was given a book called Live It, Love It, Sell It by Jules White. In this book there is a section that deals with fear and it deals with it in a way in which I hadn’t even thought about before. It was looking at it from a completely different angle. I spoke to Jules soon after reading it and explored it a bit further. I’m not going to go into detail because I won’t do justice to how powerful that section of the book is, but what I will say is that it completely changed my view of my personal fear. In early January 2021, I walked into the hospital, had a joke with the nurses, walked to the operating theatre, jumped up onto the operating table, had the procedure done and walked back out of the hospital a couple of hours later with my eye problem cured. Prior to reading that book, I would never have been able to do that.
I mentioned taking my earlier experience with the band into the workplace. In a previous blog on teamwork, I said that I have been very fortunate to have managed some brilliant teams over the years. In each of those teams, what I have always tried to do at an early stage is to give people the confidence to make decisions. How many times have you seen it in your own teams, indecisive people who would rather that somebody else, possibly more senior, makes decisions for them? Why does that happen? From my experience, it is because people are fearful of making the wrong decision so, rather than do that, they don’t make a decision at all. I once read that the average adult will make 35,000 conscious decisions every day. We can’t be expected to get all of those right, I know I don’t.
I will always encourage people in my team to make their own decisions. When asked a question, it would be very easy for me just to give an answer, which may be the wrong answer by the way, but if I do that then I know that same person will ask the same question again in the future and all we do is repeat the cycle. I much prefer to answer a question with a question, so will probably ask what that person thinks the possible answers or solutions might be. When they tell me the options, I then ask what they think the outcomes to each might be. I then ask their preference and, invariably, they come up with the best solution themselves. I will always say not to be frightened to make a decision, think it through and then make it. If you get it wrong, then you get it wrong. At that point, come and tell me and we will work through it together but, whatever happens, never be afraid to make a decision in the first place.
I have to say, there is nothing better than watching a member of your team have the imagination to come up with an idea, think that idea through and then have the confidence to give it a go.
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