What was your greatest fear when you were a child? Was it that there was a monster under the bed who would attack you when you went to sleep? Were you afraid that crazed, dark, masked killer who was chasing you in your dream would catch you and you’d never wake up? Did you ever think that when your parent left to go somewhere you’d never see them again?
I know exactly what you mean.
Today we’ll discover that there is nothing to worry about at least 92% of the time.
I Thought the Walls Would Close In On Me
Most people are afraid of giving a speech in front of other people.
The first speech I vividly remember giving was in a college class on philosophy. I was to do a report on something I read. I think it was supposed to be at least five minutes long and reasonably cover the topic.
The walk to the front of the room went well enough.
But it all went downhill from there.
Somehow I able to speak loud enough to be heard. But as I looked at the audience, my body began to convulse. I felt naked. It seemed like they were all out to get me. They all may as well have had cannons and bazookas pointed at me.
So I said as little as possible so I could run to my seat and hope that I’d have a heart attack and die right there.
My whole presentation lasted less than a minute.
I worried that the whole class would think I was the most pathetic moron alive. I could see them laughing at me, putting up poster all over campus announing what a loser I was. I imagined that I would only be able to leave my house under the cover of darkness and have to resign myself to being an overnight janitor for the rest of my life.
Did all that really happen?
No. In fact, I don’t think anyone even cared what happened. If so, I never heard about it. In fact, just a few years later, I made my first successful public speech. Everyone applauded. Many complimented me. And I went on to do it again and again.
And the walls didn’t press in on me and kill me even once.
So you see, most of what you worry about never happens.
You Might Have a Wreck
Atlanta is surrounded by busy interstates. If you want to get from here to way over there, you pretty much have to drive on one.
When you’re surrounded by a lot of traffic, much of which is blazing by you, weaving this way and that, you think you’re going to die. Images of twisted, flaming metal burn in your brain. You clench your hands on the wheel, thinking that will save you from the bumper tap of the racetrack that will drive you into the wall.
Add to that the constant radio reports of accidents across the metro.
I used to worry about this until I had an epiphany one day.
I was driving into Atlanta. My car was filled with my worldly goods as I was moving here from Savannah. I had no passenger side mirror. Fortunately, my wife was behind me. When I needed to move right, I’d have to signal so she could create a space for me to move over.
I got nervous. My hands were sweaty. The seat belt felt like a boa constrictor closing in for the kill.
As I glanced at myself in the mirror, I thought, “Now what are you doing?”
Then the light came on.
“Frank, you’re in traffic now. Worry won’t help you. Your only choice is to deal with it.”
I did. And I arrived at my destination, safe, sound, and a little more confident that I could do it all over again.
My worst fear never happened.
The Worst Ice Storm Ever
It was February. There was seven to nine inches of snow predicted. Where I live, that’s enough to shut down just about everything.
We all bundled up and went to bed. We dreamed of building snowmen, hitting each other with snowballs, and making snowcones to eat after lunch.
The sound of that click that means the furnace just went off made my stomach sink. I flipped the light switch. Nothing. Shrouded by darkness and realizing that soon our house would become a life-sized icebox, we started praying.
But as the minutes ticked by like Chinese water torture, it got colder and colder.
We put on layer after layer of clothing to keep the frost from biting our skins. We looked the Michelen man in the old commercials. We unpacked all the blankets in the house to reduce the shivers we felt even under all that dressing.
One day went by. Then another. On the third day, a glimmer of hope in the form of utility workers appeared. Then we knew we weren’t going to become human slabs in the meat locker our house had become.
Sure, it was hard to go through that. Yes, there was the risk of frostbite. Of course there was the possibility one or more of us could have died.
But none of the things we feared most happened.
Now Quit Worrying
All those things in my life scared me to death.
What I was doing when I was scared was using my imagination to create an experience I didn’t want. While I couldn’t change the fact that a storm was coming, I could have chosen not to worry about it. When you do that, you free yourself to take action that will help you succeed. You’ll be able to make a bad circumstance into a good experience.
And you might even save your life.
92% of what we worry about never happens. You won’t die giving a speech. You probably won’t wreck your car. And if you keep your wits about you, you’ll live through the worst storms in your life.
So why not spend your energy making the most of your life instead?