Fear of looking stupid is holding you back

I love driving. A few years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to drive properly. Like, in a sporty way. You know, learn how to accelerate properly, take corners, and push my car to her limits. So fast! So furious! The point is, I wanted to make good use of my vehicle and have a little fun. But I kept putting it off. What was stopping me? There is a reputable track not too far from where I live. They offer quality training and specials of all kinds. It would be a minimal investment of my time and resources and relatively low risk. I came up with all the reasons not to do it. It will be at an hour of driving, each way, assuming there is no traffic. Ugh! Traffic is awful in that area. That will ruin all the fun. And it’s a little pricey. Plus, the cost of gas and the wear and tear on my vehicle. What if I don’t even like it? I could get hurt. I was going back and forth for months, hemming and hawing over this really minor decision. Then one day, it showed up in my inbox. Women’s Only Day at the Track. Sponsored by my dealership. 50% off a full day of instruction, including dedicated track time with a personal instructor to push myself and my car to the limit. And lunch. And a commemorative t-shirt. This was exactly what I had been looking for. It sounded really fun. Plus it was a good deal, and as a whole day adventure, well worth the commute. Yet I still hesitated. And in that hesitation, I came face-to-face with reality. It was never about the cost or the commute. It was about me. I was scared of looking like an idiot. I was afraid that I would be the worst driver there. I was afraid that I would mess up and look completely stupid in front of other people. I was afraid everyone would watch me and think, “Wow, why does she even have that car? This is a waste of time.” I was afraid I would drive home feeling like a real loser.

Well, that settled it. I am a lot of things, but I am not the kind of person who avoids what I want because I don’t want people to think I am a loser. I am a grown adult, not some pre-teen worried about what the cool kids think. So, I did it. I signed up. I paid the fee. I made the commute. I participated in the whole damn thing. And you know what? I LOVED IT. Sure, I was a bit nervous. Practicing deliberate over and understeering? Braking thresholds? Really opening her up on the track? It was way out of my comfort zone. And no surprise, I was not the best at everything. But I was not the worst, either. And you know what? There was someone who was pretty bad. She was the worst at everything. And nobody cared! It was a fun, engaging, supportive day for everyone. I learned a ton and had an absolute blast. And at the end, there was a bunch of traffic so I took myself out for a drink and some nachos to wait it out and send excited texts to my friends.

I know what you’re thinking. “Nice job overcoming your fears and trying a cool hobby. What’s that got to do with me? I’m not afraid to do the stuff I want to do. I’ve gone paint balling. I build stuff.” Good! I’m glad hobbies aren’t a triggering experience for you. But what about at work? What about high stakes situations? Are there any conversations you’ve been putting off because “it’s just not the right time?” Have you ever found yourself on a committee, disagreeing with the entire approach, but saying nothing because “if everyone else agrees with it, then maybe I’m missing something”? Or maybe you’ve been wanting to change up your wardrobe but don’t have the slightest idea if you could pull that look off. I bet if you stop and think about it, there are several things you have been avoiding because you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re afraid of looking stupid. Stop holding yourself back. Here are some tips to overcome the fear of looking stupid:

  • Own it. Say to yourself, “I am avoiding ___ because I am afraid I will look stupid.” This is powerful because it forces you to confront reality and make a choice: Is “not looking stupid” really one of your top concerns in the world? It is okay if it is, but please don’t default to that position by accident. If it is important to you, say it loud and proud, “I avoid looking stupid at all costs!” Probably not your best look, but at least you’re honest.
  • Recalibrate the risk.
    • Imagine the worst-case scenario. Really dig in to how stupid you could possibly look. You speak up during the committee meeting and everyone goes silent. There is a long pause and finally your boss stands up and says, “That was really stupid. You’re fired.” Everyone cheers. You are escorted out by security. It turns out your colleagues recorded the whole incident and posted it on social media. It goes viral. A gif of you ends up in a BuzzFeed list titled, “The Stupidest People.”
    • Now take a few minutes to think about how it might turn out really well. You speak up during the committee meeting and everyone goes silent. There is a long pause and one of your colleagues chimes in, “I think that is a really good point.” Other people murmur and nod in agreement. Your boss smiles and puts you in charge of the project. After the meeting, your colleagues thank you for speaking up. Morale improves. You get a promotion. High fives all around.
    • Now evaluate. What is the likelihood of either those scenarios actually happening? The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. But now you have a more balanced perspective and can determine how to proceed with more logical decision-making.
  • Build your muscles. What is a tiny step you could take to see how it turns out? After yet another useless meeting, you ask your colleague what he thinks of the committee’s progress. He admits that he thinks the approach seems backwards but doesn’t have a better idea. Okay. Now you know you are not alone in your thinking. Maybe saying something would be appreciated by your peers.
  • Acknowledge other people for taking risks. I like your bold shirt!  I appreciated that comment you made back there. Creating an environment where people can be themselves and try new things is contagious. If you commit to admiring other people, after a while it becomes hypocritical not to admire it in yourself. Don’t you want to be what you admire?

Don’t be a hypocrite! Support yourself, as well as others, in giving up the fear of looking stupid. Who knows, you might just discover that you are a better-than-expected driver. And isn’t that the dream?

Leave a Comment