When Your Why is Bigger than Your Fear

by Laura Highcove
published in Community

At the end of April I found myself in a place I never would have thought possible. I had not been forced or coerced in any way, I was there of my own free will. This past weekend I was at a retreat for public speaking.

Back in January, Gabriela sent out an email telling her word nerds about a webinar hosted by Alexia Vernon for her Spotlight MasterTreat. I was ready to dismiss the whole thing out of hand as soon as my social anxiety (ie: my fear) saw the words ‘public speaking’. That was until I read the line from Gabriela: “Like it or not, writers must practice public speaking.” In that moment I sat down to honestly ask myself how I was planning on getting better at public speaking if not something like this.

So I entered the contest, went to the webinar, and, long story short, ended up winning one of two free tickets for the MasterTreat in Las Vegas. I gathered my courage and told Gabriela I accepted. In my excitement I told everyone who would listen that I had won.


Alexia recommended completing the Your Spotlight Talk course (which was included with the ticket to the MasterTreat) so I started on that immediately. I am nothing if not a dedicated student, after all. The first piece of work was creating a vision board. Being familiar with vision boards I got a piece of poster board, wrote ‘My Vision Board’ across the top, and proceeded to draw the picture you see to the right. As soon as I finished that picture I started crying. I didn’t add anything else to my vision board because being able to pitch my (eventual) book to total strangers is what I really wanted out of this experience. That was my Why.

Over the next two months I gradually completed the other Your Spotlight Talk modules. Alexia’s videos were wonderful, giving the right amount of instruction and reassurance in an open and understanding way that I’ve never experienced from another person. The course still brought on my fear in a big way. More than one video left me curled up in a blanket on the floor behind my couch. And I won’t lie, I would’ve given up on the whole thing several times if I hadn’t told everyone that I had won and was going to Vegas for the retreat.

Whenever the fear got to be too much, I would go to my safe place, under my blanket, behind the couch until I was able to calm down enough to remind myself Why I was putting myself through this. I completed the coursework to the best of my ability and on top of everything I learned from the modules themselves, I also gained a lot of experience in managing my fear.

Facing My Fear

When the time came for the retreat, I decided that my intention for the weekend was ‘confidence’. The Spotlight MasterTreat itself was a whirlwind of powerful women and insightful lessons. But the most important thing that happened for me was on the second day. Alexia called for volunteers for some exercises in front of the group and one woman from our table volunteered another woman from the table and she went up and did great with the exercise.

And I felt terror, true terror bloom in my chest. The idea that someone else could volunteer me and that I would have to go in front of the room broke through my confidence and reduced me to tears. When the exercises ended and I hadn’t been called on, I felt myself begin to relax. But instead of letting myself fall back into my comfort, I began to examine what had happened. At some point it was my express goal to get up in front of people, so I needed to face this fear so I could learn to work though it. In that moment, I consciously chose to let my Why be bigger than my fear, and I went to my table leader.

While crying, I talked through the experience with her until I was able to realize that the thing that really terrified me was not necessarily being in front of the group, but being expected to improvise what I needed to say. Alexia came over while I was talking, listened for a while, and then asked if it was okay for her to come up with an exercise for me to do the next day. I told her that it was.

Overcoming My Fear

The exercise ended up being reading from the menu of the restaurant in the hotel we were in. Alexia had me read items off the menu with different inflections and intentions to members of the group. When I had relaxed a bit she had me stand up and tell the group about my favorite book. I stumbled a little, but not even fear could make me forget why I love Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. And then she asked me to share what I hope for people to get out of my books. And even though I was nervous and tight, I was able to do it. And with that experience came the knowledge that I could do it again. It might not be beautiful or easy, but I knew then that I could stare into my fear and choose that my Why was more important.

There will be fear in your life. There is no getting around it. And it might send you to curl up under a blanket on the floor behind your couch. But while you’re there, and safe, take a look at your Why. Look at that goal that you want to accomplish and ask if you’re willing to give it up because of the fear. My sincere hope for you in those moments is that your Why is bigger than your fear.

I’d love to hear about your own Whys.

Laura Highcove has been writing her entire life and enjoys creating fantasy worlds and discovering the people who live there. She has been influenced by anime, table-top gaming, and Norse mythology, in no particular order. Her current obsessions include gryffins, anything Brandon Sanderson writes, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Visit her website or follow her on facebook to get to know her better.

  • I can relate. The thought of public speaking can be frightening. The best thing to do is practice. Record yourself numerous times so that you feel more comfortable in front of the camera and then look for some of the things you can improve on.

    I’ve also been against doing public readings just because I don’t think I read well out loud.

    In April/May I had my first solo author talk (and spoke for over an hour!), a public reading, and was on some panels at a local sci-fi convention. These were on three consecutive weekends, so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I definitely got to face all of the fears at once.

    • Laura Highcove

      I still get the jitters when I think about reading my work out loud. It sounds like you hit the ground running with all those events in a row, and you’re still standing, so it must have gone well. Congratulations.

  • Sara Letourneau

    Wow. Great job on the post and at the retreat, Laura. Like Jason, I can relate to your fear / anxiety of public speaking. The first time I had to confront that fear was in college. During my final semester, I had to do a presentation on my Honors thesis paper. Not necessarily for a big audience, but the mere thought of it terrified me. The only way I knew I was going to work through that terror was by taking a public speaking course that same semester – and it helped tremendously.

    I still have echoes of that fear when I face similar situations now. Readings, the DIY MFA podcast interview I did with Gabriela a couple years ago, and even asking questions at events – they might still cause some apprehension, but every time I do it, I feel a little more confident in myself. It sounds like the MasterTreat did just that for you, and I hope it gives you both focus and courage for when you’re ready to pitch your novel. 🙂

    • Laura Highcove

      Thanks Sara! The biggest thing really does seem to be getting out there and doing it. It can be scary, but somehow it usually turns out okay.

  • Lisa_Brouwer

    Hey Laura ~ I was at the MasterTreat and it was inspirational to me to watch you work your way through your fear AND the menu. I could see your confidence increase as Lex coached you through each line… she offered a new perspective on how you were reading something as simple as the fried chicken dinner. When it came time for you to share your WHY, you used your full voice which made me love where you took us as you explained the impact you wanted to make on the world! It was much more real and authentic when you worked through the scary part and could share your message from a place of power and confidence! Way to go, girl!

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