How to get good at stuff that scares you

The working title for this essay was “How to get good at stuff that you totally fucking suck at and hate so much you want to cry.”  Why?  Because one of my greatest strengths is knowing my strengths.  The flip side is that I also know my weaknesses, and knowing those weaknesses is, if ironically, one of my strengths.

A weakness of mine is getting so frustrated by things that frustrate me,  I cry.  Shocker.  You might have noticed that it is (the very tail end of) tax season, and despite being a person who took calculus at university, numbers – and the organization thereof – are not one of my strengths.  I can do it, but I don’t “love” it.  It doesn’t come naturally to me.  Handling things (with grace) that don’t come naturally to me, is something I would like to “get good at.”

So here I am, getting my taxes ready, and again, despite being a kinda clever, fairly organized gal, I can’t deal.  My stomach is tightening, my chest is getting rashy, my breath is shortening, my forehead is furrowing, my eyes are welling, oh gawd I’m crying.  And this is just gathering receipts.  Why the anxiety?

Because this is new.  And sometimes things that are new feel scary.

I am not a stranger to doing scary things.  Hell, if you take stock of the shit I’ve tried, failed, tried, and succeeded, you might even use the word brave or strong in relation to a few.  But nonetheless, in spite of consistently facing hard things head on, time and time again, I still get this physical response to doing new tough stuff.  This time however, was a little different: not wanting to feel this gross level of fear and panic, I started to write down the process I’ve used before.  As I drew from previous experience, and mapped it out on paper, the fear went away.

And voila, this post was born.  Use this as a cheat sheet to get through hard things if you, like me, want to learn how to get good at stuff that scares you.

Take a breath, sister. You only feel panicky because it is new, and when it is new it feels scary.  It isn’t actually scary, it just feels that way.  So take a breath, and let’s examine this more closely, shall we?  (Takes breath, feels a little better.)

What are you actually afraid of? Is it the actual task at hand, or is it something bigger?  When you were afraid of learning to use a saw for the first time, it wasn’t fear of the saw, it was fear of being weak.  When you learned about the oil and washer fluid filling functions in your car, it was fear of the machinery, it was fear of not being independent.  So what’s at stake here?  Narrow it down, name it, then see note above re: breathing.  (In this case, the fear wasn’t about taxes – I started doing my own taxes at age 16 and was completely fine.  This fear was centred around next level responsibility, self employment, and single parenthood, all wrapped into one pretty little set of file folders.  Once I named that – which was huge – I could clear the fog of fear out of my brain and get a grip on what was actually bothering me.)  Now carry on.

Who can you ask for help? Now that you know what’s actually bothering you, let’s take a look through your life and see who you know who already has experience in the task at hand; who can you call and ask for help or guidance?  (Easy.  A quick text to my beyond-words-best-friend who understands this stuff intimately, and kablam: a sample of her own tax stuff from a previous year arrives via email, and just like that, I have a template to follow.  Suddenly this is not scary at all.)

Ok now focus and actually do it: Now that the fear is gone, I usually get so inspired, I sit down to write about how we can do hard things!  Woooo!  Love champions fear again!!  (Case in point…this post was born.) But now actually sit down and focus on getting shit done.  Is there a way to make this task more fun or enjoyable?  Do it.  Lean into it.  (In this case, throw rose gold and pink pineapples at it.)  Girl, you’re going to feel so good when this is done.

Take another breath.  You’ve got this.  Sit back and marvel at what you just accomplished:

  • Learning a new skill?  Yes. 
  • Facing a fear and pushing through it?  Yes. 
  • Accomplishing a task that you didn’t know you didn’t know?  Yes. 
  • Growth?  Yes.
  • Eating an entire (vintage and pink glass) bowl of M & M peanuts?  Ah crap; yes.  

File this away for the next time.  You know very well this isn’t the first or last time you’re going to face something scary.  Consider this a little trophy souvenir that you get to put on your imaginary shelf of other hard things you never thought were possible to accomplish…and then you accomplished them.  Each time gets a little bit easier, a little bit smoother, even a little bit braver and stronger.


The secret to getting good at stuff that scares you?  Honey, you just have to do it.  

Stay tuned as I learn how to use my charcoal grill…

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