I have this terrific fear of karaoke.

It is unfounded, ungrounded, and unreasonable. “No one cares what you sound like”, they tell me. “Have a few drinks and you’ll be fine”, they reason. “No one is listening anyway”, they say in a most convincing tone.  I get it and I hear it and I agree with it – but I’m still scared, to the point of getting sick to my stomach and weak in the knees when I see the red neon “Karaoke” sign on the side of a building my friends are leading me toward.

It’s one thing if I got up on stage, belted out a few notes, and it went really poorly. Picking a song I thought I knew (but didn’t), the entire audience pointing at me and laughing because I looked funny, or choking on the remnants of the hot sauce from that last bite of wings…these would be solid grounds for fear. But I’ve never gotten up there and tried it–in fact, I usually flee the scene before the strains of the first tune begin. My fear is completely and wholeheartedly a fear of the great unknown.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Karaoke is a silly topic, I know. But I’m finding that fears in one area of life are all too quick to spill over into other areas of life, more important ones like work and personal relationships. Fear is a shape shifter. It can take on many forms which can deceive us into not recognizing it for what it is. And because it doesn’t always show itself blatantly in the telltale sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat, it can lurk unknowingly in the shadows, causing us to behave in ways we don’t exactly want to.  Procrastination, worry, nagging, complaining, arrogance, using humor at the wrong time, poor treatment of coworkers and/or employees — all can be the damaging results of unchecked fear.

Fear has a direct impact on our personal power, that inner knowing that we can meet life’s challenges head-on, and a vital component of emotional intelligence. And who doesn’t have a few challenges that they could use a little personal power toward these days?!  I can’t name one friend or colleague who isn’t battling something rather difficult at the moment. You? Personal power is so vital because without it, we begin to think that we have no control over our situation. When it’s not present, we lose confidence in our own judgment begin to avoid change, allowing ourselves to feel powerless. We become risk-adverse and do what we can to stay safe instead of stretching into what could be new, positive opportunities.

Part of tackling a fear of the unknown is learning to be present in the moment, which is what’s referred to as mindfulness. Human nature in and of itself has a tendency to either ruminate on the past or worry about the future, but the ability to be in the moment can be arduous. Our fears often revolve around things that could happen, not what actually is happening. I’m afraid I’ll have an all-out coughing fit when I get up to sing in front of everyone. Sure, that could happen, but what are the chances? Think about the times when you had a solid career but worried about getting fired…when you were in a relationship but worried about them leaving…when you had financial security yet worried about losing it. Instead of relishing the present, we tend to fear what is not known.

If you’re one of those people who is unabashedly brave, going boldly where no man has gone before, kudos to you. I admire you. And I ask that you use your gift, not only to promote your own successes, but to reach out to someone beside you who could use a hand. And if you lean more toward being a scaredy-cat, regularly giving your fears permission to dictate your day-to-day affairs…how’s that working for you? Are you ready to make a shift?

Here are some ways you can begin to develop your personal power and push past the fears that may be holding you down:

  • Let the past be past. So you’ve failed at a few things. Sure, the thought of failing again can be terrifying. But you’ve got to let them go and move on. I love the words of Thomas Edison when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Stop being the controller. There are some situations that you cannot fix, and worrying about them isn’t helping either. Learn which things you can change (your behavior) and which you cannot (others’ behavior).
  • Learn your enemy. Often our fears arise from a lack of knowledge. Take a class, seek out a mentor, study up on that thing you’re avoiding.
  • Revel in your successes. Jot down a list of accomplishments, the things you’ve done well, and remember how good they felt. Isn’t that feeling worth working toward again?
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Pick one unknown thing you’re intimidated by this week and give it the ole’ college try. Start small – little successes lead to bigger successes. For example, if you dread giving that upcoming presentation to a tough client, practice first with a group of forgiving friends.

A lack of personal power can be crippling and a huge waste of time. When we succumb to our fears, they devour our confidence, bind our wings and blur our vision. Fear is a powerful, controlling force that imprisons us, keeping us behind the bars of doubt and worry, locking us away from living our lives to our fullest potential.

Maybe it’s time to grab the microphone and start to sing.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt