When It’s Good to be Scared

Many years ago, I heard Jerry Seinfeld talk about studies showing that people’s number one fear is public speaking, and number two is death. Death is number two. He then said that to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. Well, that described me until my junior year of high school, preferring the casket to the stage, but then I made one wild decision and found myself in the middle of a frightening group activity.
It was some version of the memory game, “I’m Going on a Trip,” where you formed a circle and the first participant said those words (I’m Going on a Trip), followed by an item of her choosing that began with the letter “A.” The next player came up with something he would bring that began with the letter “B,” but first he had to repeat the letter “A” item. This continued through nearly the entire alphabet, with the final participant attempting to name well over 20 items from memory, before adding an item of her own.
What I remember, more than the game itself, was the fact that I had never been so terrified in my life, simply because I had to speak in front of a group of people who were all staring at me. That sounds impossible now, since I went on to pursue a degree in Education, which as you might know, involves a great deal of speaking in front of groups of people. I then worked as a substitute teacher, coached student-athletes for over 10 years, and served in youth ministry for more than 13 years. Then I took on my current role in which I’ve presented messages to groups nearly every Sunday morning for the past five years. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve delivered over 1,000 public speaking presentations, led numerous small group discussions, and spoken frequently to hundreds of team members in various sports.
I mention all of this not to brag, but to point out the result of one scary decision. None of what I shared would ever have happened unless I survived the “Going on a Trip” game, a game I would have never played unless I did the most frightening thing first, which was to sign up for the introductory-level Drama class in my high school. The aforementioned game was the first activity on the first day. Of course, the class went on to require many on-stage performances (including, yes, public speaking), and also led to auditions and roles in our school plays that were performed before audiences with hundreds of people.
At the time I signed up for Drama as a 16-year old, I had absolutely no idea why I would do such a thing. Looking back more than 30 years later, I understand completely. God was at work and I just didn’t know it. My entire adult life has centered around things that would not have happened, had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for that acting class as a teenager.
If you’re reading this, I wonder about you and your life. Have you made a scary decision that ended up taking you in a whole new, exciting direction? Or did you walk away from the choice because it was just too uncomfortable? I’ve gone both ways, myself. But in any case, maybe another opportunity is just around the corner. Are you somehow drawn to an activity that shakes you to your core, but you believe you should try it anyway? Go for it! God may very well be up to something with you, and it’s always worth following wherever He leads you.
Troy Burns