On being scared

I came across some career advice from my Re:Generations co-conspirator Meghan Ecclestone that I would like to share with you. You can (and should) read her whole post, but her key point is this:

Stop being scared

Now, I see exactly what she means: as students, especially around graduation time, we spend a lot of time being scared unnecessarily, and nobody like being scared. However, I’m going to disagree slightly. I don’t think it’s necessary (and perhaps not even desirable) to stop being scared. Instead, I would suggest the following:

Don’t let being scared stand in your way

Allow me to preface this by saying that I only speak from my own experience as a new librarian, and for all I know, perhaps highly experienced librarians can and should stop being scared. But I have my doubts.

First of all, we’re all scared when we graduate, and even (sorry to be the bearer of bad news) once we’re bona fide librarians. So don’t feel bad about being scared. And frankly, I feel that if you’re not scared, you’re not taking your career seriously enough. If you stop to consider the number of other qualified people who will be applying for your dream job, you should be scared indeed. The only people who aren’t at least a little scared when applying for a job either (a) haven’t put much thought into the reality of what they’re doing, and for this reason will probably fail, or (b) are applying for a job they are certain they will get, which means either they are overconfident and will probably fail, or else they have sold themselves short by applying for a job that will not challenge them.

The way I see it, being scared can work in your favour if you can harness your fear. For example, take giving a presentation. Depending on the content and the audience, sometimes giving a presentation scares me and sometimes it doesn’t (of course, when I first started presenting on a regular basis, I was always scared, so don’t feel bad if you’re in that boat). What’s interesting is that my best presentations are the ones that have scared me the most beforehand. The reason for this is that my fear drives me to work harder. Harnessing my fear leads me to spend more time rehearsing, even when I think I know the material already, and it makes me improve the content because I’m afraid of standing up and looking like an uninformed fool. And when I’m actually standing in front of the audience, being scared gives me the shot of adrenaline I need to be animated and engage the audience (I’m assuming this is why a particularly scary presentation is so exhausting!).

How about for a job application? Being scared makes me polish my CV more carefully and it makes me put in more hours researching the library I’m applying to, so that I’ll have the best shot at impressing my interviewers.

I like to present to students about blogging – I started my blog as a student, and I think it’s a great way to get a taste of the professional community. I always point out that although it’s terrifying at first, it’s completely worth it. At the end of one of these presentations, after pointing this out I threw in the following line on a whim, completely unrehearsed:

Some of the best things in life are terrifying, like riding rollercoasters and falling in love, and these things are still entirely worth doing.

I may have exaggerated about rollercoasters being one of the best things in life, but they’re a good example of something we do *because* they scare us. Don’t stop being scared; embrace your fear, and use it to your advantage.


2 thoughts on “On being scared

  1. Graham thanks so much for picking up on this — I completely agree with how you’ve refined my original point, and indeed — fear can be good! Just not paralyzing. And life-shortening. That’s bad. But a very good point, and I appreciate you picking up on it.

    • I’m glad you agree! And yes, the kind of fear that makes you curl up in a ball on the floor is bad. Harness your fear; don’t let your fear harness you!

      Forget librarianship, I’m going to become a self help author. ;)

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