Given the title, the image, and posting date, it would be reasonable to think this is about Halloween. Reasonable, but wrong. It has nothing to do with Halloween. I spotted this sign north of Starke, Florida in mid July and it reminded me that I have spent a lot of my life inside the Forest of Fear.
I unknowingly wandered into there when I was about five. Attending a family reunion, I stumbled into the deep end of a swimming pool and nearly drowned. For the next seven years I couldn’t put my face in water any deeper than the bathtub. If it hadn’t been for peer pressure as a teen I’m not sure I would have ever learned to swim. Even though I had overcome my fear of swimming, I was wandering deeper into the woods.
My folks seemed to be blessed with a lot of self-confidence. They ran a business together, faced adversity regularly and were able to overcome it. My dad did a lot of things well, particularly those of a technical nature, and my mom’s skill set seemed to complement his. Their skills and talents were practical and helped them succeed in life. I knew I wasn’t adopted, but it didn’t seem to me that I inherited many of their talents except for my sense of humor, and I was pretty much lacking in self-confidence. I did well in school, but math and science were not my strong suit. Those seemed to be so easy for dad and he just couldn’t understand why it was a struggle for me. Rather than ask for more help, I just resigned myself to being mediocre at math and science, took the minimum courses needed to stay on the “college track” and went a little deeper into the Forest of Fear, hoping the math portion of the SAT wouldn’t damage my overall score too badly. Wishful thinking.
What drove me into the uncharted regions of the Forest of Fear for 13 years was public speaking. Even though I’m extroverted, very comfortable in small groups, and would regularly contribute to class discussions, I did not enjoy being in the spotlight. Taking speech class as a senior was a sphincter tightening/loosening experience that got worse with every presentation. I absolutely loathed and dreaded it. When I got to college, I changed my major after the first semester from business management to elementary education to avoid taking public speaking. Though I enjoyed being in the classroom and working with the kids, I did everything I could to avoid making presentations to parents and administrators. The one school board meeting where I had to deliver technical information was a disaster. From the profuse sweating and clammy skin, I’m sure my colleagues thought I might be having a heart attack. I would have gladly left this earth that night rather than to have to speak to those board members. In my mind it was that bad.
My discomfort with presentations continued unabated as I moved from public schools into the corporate world. I took jobs that allowed me to contribute from the background and was content doing that until an executive I was working with told me he thought I had significant potential for advancement. At the time, we were training members of our senior management team to improve the quality of their presentations using an outside consulting group and my job was to handle the video and replay of the presentations. This enabled me to see that most of these very successful people were just as uncomfortable at public speaking as I was. I think some of them hated it more than I did. This assignment also gave me access to the two professionals the company had hired and they were very generous with tips on becoming an effective presenter. They taught me a lot about how to overcome my discomfort and it was a real breakthrough. I also learned the ingredients for success were already in me and that I had let fear control things for way too long.
While it would take some time longer to get completely out of the Forest of Fear, that experience put me on the road and provided me with much needed direction. Since that time, I’ve made trips back into the woods, but have never stayed long. Several years ago, a friend said, “You can be fearful and you can be faithful. Just not at the same time.” With help, I have been able to consistently choose faith over fear.
Seeing that sign, it was easy to keep going straight. There is nothing good for me in the Forest of Fear.