“What are you afraid of?”

I had an opportunity last week. Instead of embracing it, though, my first reaction was fear. So I held back.

The Icarus Sessions

A reminder to keep shipping

The opportunity was to speak at an event hosted by Seth Godin. He offered the chance to people who'd registered for his upcoming Icarus Session in NY. Since I value his daily blog, his talks, and his philosophy - yes, I even own a Seth Godin action figure - I was thrilled to have at a chance to finally meet him and share my ideas.

A presentation at an Icarus Session is 140 seconds long. You can go shorter, but not a second longer. You can use slides, or handouts, or even better, just bring your enthusiasm. The assignment: Tell the group about your art. What have you created? What frightened you? What matters?

Not a pitch. An act of brave vulnerability.

Holding back

Icarus application

All I had to do was write 100 words in a simple form. Since I’ve written 150,000 words worth of blog posts over the last 3 years (I write an internal corporate blog, too), this should have been easy. Yet the blinking cursor in that text box filled me with dread.

Why would 100 words phase me? Or a 2 1/2 minute talk?

This is just one small example of a recurring problem. The same fear grips me whenever I aim to do something bigger or bolder, whenever I think of doing something I really care about. And each time, I ask myself the same question:

“What are you afraid of?”

My 100 words

That question used to be a taunt. A self-criticism. Over time, though, I’ve come to understand that fear is a natural defense mechanism to something new and potentially threatening. So instead of trying to make it go away, I see it as a signal that I’m doing something interesting and important.

A week after he invited people to apply, I finally submitted my 100 words:

I needed a new job, either at the large bank where I worked or somewhere else.

So I started writing. Every week, I'd write about how social tools and practices could make work more effective and more fulfilling.

That was 3 years ago. Those weekly posts led to a role I love (at the same firm), a social platform used by 50,000 people, and the start of a cultural shift.

My art - my calling? - is helping people shape their reputation, control their career, and make work better.

I’ve started with a few thousand people. I want to help millions more.

I may not have a chance to give my 2 1/2 minute talk, but I’ll be damned if I won’t take my shot. I’d rather be Icarus and fail in the attempt than stand safely on the ground, looking up at what might have been.

Is there something you want to do but you're holding back? What are you afraid of?