Ask the Readers: Is Fear Keeping You from Your Best Life?

A couple weeks ago, I asked you about fear. The wife and I had volunteered to give a talk to college students about financial independence. Like most, I don’t enjoy public speaking. (side-note: Mrs. 1500 fears nothing and was completely unfazed.) The big day was last week. Here we are:

Me and Mrs. 1500 (she likes to talk with her hands)

My mind was calm up until the night before the presentation. I had a little anxiety that evening, so I slept like crap. The next day, I had a hard time focusing as I let fear creep in.

The time came to leave for the talk and I was on edge. We arrived at Colorado State University and there was a group of about 25 students waiting for us. I chatted up a couple of them and that made me feel better. They were warm, gracious and generous in their usage of colorful metaphors. And then it was time to begin,

The Talk

I started talking and the fear melted away. Just like that. A couple sentences in, I was having a good time. To lighten the mood, I goofed around. Early in the talk, I opened my wallet to give one of the students $10 (he had the most loan debt). The crowd laughed. We talked for 45 minutes. While I certainly have room to improve, it went better than any of our rehearsals.

I was incredibly relieved and felt stupid that I had any fear at all.

Did we get through?

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I have no clue how if we made any difference. We chatted with some of the students after the talk and they were enthusiastic, but I could tell that at least a couple of them were already in the right mindset. A real win would be pulling someone over from the Dark Side (the shopping mall).


My favorite tips

Thanks Alan!

Alan Donegan: There are some speakers who can make an interesting topic boring. Others can talk about toothpaste and have you on the edge of your seat. Alan Donegan is one of the latter. I observed him in action in Ecuador and he was incredible. He was the first person I sought out to help me with the presentation. Here is what I learned from him:

  • Delivery is everything: Alan’s stage presence is incredible. He prowls the stage like he owns it. I hung on every word.
  • It’s just a chat: Alan encouraged me to act like I was having a chat with the crowd. Ask questions to get folks engaged and pause to let them think and absorb.
  • Be confident: If you’re scared and timid, this will be reflected in the crowd. If you’re fun and confident, you’ll be received much better.

The main thing that I learned from Alan is that I had been giving speeches wrong my whole life. In high school and at university, I’d stand behind a lectern and ramble off a bunch of stuff in a monotone. BORING! It’s much more effective to let your personality and passion shine through. It’s so much more fun to give a speech this way too.

If you’d like to see a master perform, here is Alan in action:


And here are my favorite tips from you, the readers:

Divnomics reinforced something that I’ve thought about often. That is, fear itself is an impediment to success. It’s not easy to not allow fear in, but it’s important to try:

I believe fear has some real damaging power here. And found out that the biggest fear, is the fear to fail. Fear is something that can hold you back, and it makes you say: see, it didn’t work out. And sometimes you don’t even know it when it happens…

Gentleman of Leisure mentioned that I should consider the worst case scenario. I like this a lot:

Usually the worst possible scenario isn’t that terrible, but if it is, then maybe its not a chance that I’m ready for yet.

Reader Brian:

1 – By and large your audience is rooting for your success. As I’m sure you’ve seen from your own experience it’s far more enjoyable to be an audience member when the speaker is at ease. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of people you’re speaking to – everyone in the group is an individual just like you.

2 – You’ve been asked to speak about an aspect of your own experience. You are the world’s foremost expert on your own experience. It is simply impossible for anyone to know the material better than you. Be honest about your own experience and you can not fail.

Dividend Growth Investor was the first to mention how important preparation is. I couldn’t agree more. We practiced at least 10 times and after each round, I felt a little better. We even subjected some local friends to the presentation (Thanks B and L!). We still used notes, but the talk would have gone off 98% as well if we had left them at home:

I can do fine with public speaking if I prepare well (or convince myself I have prepared well). So if you prepare well in advance, and rehearse your speech in front of the mirror, you should do fine.

Mingle with the guests beforehand. Someone on Twitter mentioned this to me and it’s wonderful advice. I felt much better after I made a connection with a couple of the students. I could tell they were enthusiastic and that put my mind at ease,

Finally, Mrs. Montana was super awesome because she took the time to review a very rough draft of my slides. She gave me great feedback which I immediately implemented. Thanks so much for that Mrs. Montana!!



Since the evening of the presentation, I’ve been thinking more about fear. Coincidentally, I listened to a podcast with the Happy Philosopher and the discussion turned to fear. The host mentioned this quote by Jim Carrey:

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.

And then there was this one:

What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?

I started reflecting on my own life. I’ve taken some big chances that many would not:

  • Freelancing: I left my cushy corporate job to become an hourly contractor. These jobs tend to be temporary and lack good benefits, but I received a fat pay increase. This has worked out incredibly well.
  • Flipping houses: I knew little about real estate or home improvement, but dived into the home flipping world with great success.

But I’ve made plenty of poor decisions out of fear too including staying in a relationship far too long and passing on opportunities that would have been profitable.

Safe and secure is OK, but the great ones don’t follow the road commonly traveled. It takes a special person to be a leader and forge new ground.

How about you Readers?

  • Do you regret that some of your decisions were made out of fear?
  • What would you do right now if you weren’t afraid?

Join the 10s who have signed up already!

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47 Responses to Ask the Readers: Is Fear Keeping You from Your Best Life?

  1. I still regret buying a car from a couple of years ago. The car I had been driving, the engine blew up and I was forced to look for a car before I was ready to. The car was all beat up and wasn’t taken care of. But since I didn’t properly save for a car I was forced to buy it because I was afraid nothing better would come up. If I had the patience to wait an extra week I would have been able to buy a dream like car.

    I still kick myself about that from time to time.
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…Do You Have A Secret Bank Account?My Profile

  2. I always have fear before I start an endeavor, often even when it’s somethi I do all the time. Like you the fear melts away for me when I execute. When I am reluctant to go forward I remind myself of that.

    As for public speaking my best advice is to know your material and have a conversation with the audience about it. Have eye contact with them. Ask them questions. Focus on alliteration they might catch on given their demographics. Also keep it simple, small amounts of information per visual and succinctly put. And above all have fun.
    Full Time Finance recently posted…Bad Debt and Gray DebtMy Profile

  3. Team CF says:

    Did you bring your dinosaurs with you to the presentation? As moral support/entertainment? 😉
    Team CF recently posted…Historical Savings RatesMy Profile

  4. Brian says:

    Congrats on a successful presentation and overcoming your own fear of public speaking. Such a great thing to bring these topics to students.

    So many of us with regular 9-5 jobs are working in fear. Listen to the stories are those reaching FIRE and giving their notice, they become unafraid to speak their minds, because of the FU money they have build, or when taking a new position with a new company and your working out your last few weeks, you are much more open to calling someone out.

    We much rather just not rock the boat.
    Brian recently posted…How a Spouse Who Still Works Can Affect Your RetirementMy Profile

  5. I regret not taking more challenging classes in college! I’d describe myself as a perfectionist, and I remember I was devastated to get a B+ in college chemistry. So devastated, in fact, that I dismissed the idea of majoring in anything that required more science classes. I probably could be making a lot more money now by doing something I probably would have enjoyed more had it not been for fear!

  6. Joe says:

    Great job on the presentation. I’d love to do more talk/coaching when I have more time. It sounds very fulfilling. A lot of people need help with money.

    I like this quote – What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?.
    Nice. Truthfully, I’m not afraid of much anymore. I meant public speaking and such… I’m just getting a bit lazy… Terrible, I know.

  7. Jeff from Jersey says:

    Congrats on the presentation. I am sure you made converts out of some of the audience. Did you record it? Perhaps upload to the site as a form of education for the rest of us?

    Not sure if my biggest hold back is fear/anxiety or laziness, but often refer to it as “Syllabus Shock.” Happened all the time in college on the first day of class, and even in my career – get overwhelmed/nervous about the amount of work that has to get done to be successful with the task or project, and forget that I have the entire semester to get it done. Probably have passed up a significant number of opportunities, because I get blinded by the massive amount of tasks and not able to effectively compartmentalize the individual steps quickly to settle my initial fear.

  8. If I wasn’t afraid I would plan and launch a business around helping women (moms specifically) succeed with work and money. BUT I’m the sole earner of a family of five, so that dream needs to wait until I’m FI. One day…

  9. Congrats on the speaking gig! I’m trying to venture into that territory myself, if only to build a few more “get out of my comfort zone” muscles. I think one fear I’ve been avoiding is packing up and just moving somewhere random without a job or knowing anyone. Or even knowing if I’ll like the place. I spend a lot of time thinking of the future place I want to live and going into analysis paralysis. The funny thing is when I was a lot younger I did the very thing I’m afraid of now, and it worked out great. I think as I get older, it’s like I’m hanging on for dear life for what I already have. Funny how that happens. Anyway, working on it…

  10. Congrats on getting through that talk! I remember in college we had someone come speak to us about personal finance. At the time I thought he was nuts, but the ideas I heard seeped into my brain over time. I really do think being exposed to these ideas makes a difference, so thanks for teaching young whippersnappers how to get a handle of their finances. 🙂

    I have really bad anxiety, so unfortunately many of my decisions are based off fear. I’m slowly getting over it. For example, I would quit my job right here, right now if I weren’t afraid. I threw caution to the wind and interviewed at a bakery last week. I found that it wasn’t for me, but I conquered my fear of doing unexpected (and somewhat stupid) things and just did it. I’m really glad I took the chance.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What A Frugal Weekend!My Profile

  11. Sounds like your talk went off great! Congrats!

    What would I do if I wasn’t afraid? Probably invest more aggressively. These days most of my biggest fears are centered around money, as my investments are now my livelihood.

    I see lots of avenues for loss in the current environment. That scares me… and I’m probably holding way too much cash these days.
    Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes recently posted…Easy Shrimp Phad ThaiMy Profile

  12. Kyle says:

    Most of my decisions were not made out of fear, or if they were made out of fear, they were not irrational fears and I may try a different plan that has 90% of the benefit with 50% of the risk. Fear isn’t bad when used constructively. Like the saying “If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail”.

    My friend and I are in serious talks about starting a local brewery, business plans are being drawn up. He’s owned a small business and is a good salesman. There will be a couple test phases for a while to nail down a couple recipes and see how the local market reacts.

  13. I think the thing I’m most afraid of is being in your position at the end of the journey. I’m just starting out and just started recording it online myself, but I think fear of jumping off and letting go of conventional work mentalities is the most challenging thing for me. I’m definitely more aligned with your wife on the public speaking side of things and actually enjoy it, partially because I love teaching and this definitely falls into that category. I just don’t know what I will do next, congrats on teaching young people about money, something that we definitely do not do enough about. You probably just changes someone’s family tree just by this one chat, kudos to you on making a difference in someone’s life!

    • “I think the thing I’m most afraid of is being in your position at the end of the journey.”

      It’s not easy. I think it will be one of those things that once I pass through the other side, I’ll regret not doing it sooner. Stay tuned…

  14. If I was not afraid, I would battle a brown bear. Fortunately, I am afraid.

    Working one more year after one more year is at least partially borne out of fear, and yes, disguised as practicality.

    Glad the talk went well!
    PhysicianOnFIRE recently posted…The Sunday Best (2/19/2017)My Profile

  15. I think what we really need here is the video to your presentation 🙂

  16. Comtnadventure says:

    Congratulations on a successful presentation ! The next one will be even better.

    “I have no clue how if we made any difference. …………. but I could tell that at least a couple of them were already in the right mindset.”

    If you felt that last statement..then you already made a difference.

    Presentations like this isn’t a revival meeting. People seldom stand up and cheer..that only happens to Anthony Robbins. You can only hope to see a glimmer in their eyes of a few people that they get it, and you saw that. So you had a VERY successful presentation.

    • Thanks for the reinforcement. We had good conversation with about 20% of the participants. I was hoping that it would be more, but now I realize it was silly to expect that. I’m not Tony Robbins after all!

      Thanks again, I appreciate your comment!

  17. Mrs. BITA says:

    So glad the talk went well.

    If I was less fearful I could probably retire sooner. I’m probably saving more than I need out of fear.
    There are probably more things too, but they are all carefully wrapped in rationalizations and justifications, and would take too long to unveil.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…Benefits of Credit Card Churning: Airport Lounge AccessMy Profile

  18. Jason says:

    I think fear keeps me at a certain level. For example, I recently decided against becoming our department chair because 1) I am busy with other things; 2) it would impede on my time; 3) I legitimately have fear about screwing things up. It would actually be better for my career to be chair, but at this point I didn’t want to do it. I felt I can do other things, but I might have hamstrung myself a bit.

  19. Roadrunner says:

    Most of the worst decisions I’ve made were made with big confidence. At the same time most of the best ones were made with fear. I think fear makes you stop for a while and force you to think things though. Of course ultimately you have to trust yourself, but a certain level of fear never hurts.

    • “Most of the worst decisions I’ve made were made with big confidence. At the same time most of the best ones were made with fear.”

      Wow, that is humbling insight. I’ve got to do some thinking on my own big decisions now…

  20. The Roamer says:

    Mr. 1500 I’m glad to hear you and Mrs. had a good time and that the speech went well! With your discomfort of public speaking how is it that you even got into that position?

    Also it’s so great how you quote readers I try to read the comments but sometimes there are just to many. But wow thanks for highlighting Brian’s

    “2 – You’ve been asked to speak about an aspect of your own experience. You are the world’s foremost expert on your own experience. It is simply impossible for anyone to know the material better than you. Be honest about your own experience and you can not fail.”

    That is some great insight!
    The Roamer recently posted…Home Tour & 2016 purge reviewMy Profile

  21. Anony-mouse says:

    I’d start working part-time. I’m up to $375k in assets with no debt, early 30s, and single, and more than anything I want to wake up in the morning and go running or fishing or hunting or gardening or even learn how to buy and repair undervalued properties, but I keep rolling out of bed and going to work. I’m afraid I don’t have enough money yet, I’m afraid of the backlash of asking for part-time work if they so no, and I’m afraid I might not do the things I think I would do with the new free-time. Every time I reach a goal-post I just push it back further, my next one is “everything will be great when I hit $400k later this year” but I know I’ll just push it back to $450k! Yikes!

    • You sound a lot like me!

      Are they going to fire you if you ask for part-time and they don’t want to let you have it? What is the worst case scenario?

      • Anony-mouse says:

        No I wouldn’t be fired, I think the worst case scenario would be “you’re not a team player” ostracization and a perhaps smaller annual raise. There are worse things in life but it certainly wouldn’t make my road to FI any easier, so I keep my head down and keep plugging away, which is probably the fastest way anyway I suppose. This might be a case where my fear is actually keeping me on track.

        But MAN would I love to only work 4 hours per day!

  22. Mr. Zero says:

    Ahh, the fear of public speaking. I know the enemy well and the enemy is me!

    I feared and dreaded public speaking my entire life and then 6 years ago I moved into a role in my company that required me to do it frequently (and to large audiences). Thankfully I was able to take a public speaking course prior to starting the new job. One of the exercises involved video taping yourself. That one excercise changed how I felt about public speaking. Much to my surprise, the video showed a guy (me) that didn’t look or sound nervous and was in control.

  23. Christi says:

    If I was not afraid I would sell EVERYTHING and live in an RV. If I didn’t like the view I would move the RV.

  24. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid”. Wow, that’s a penetrating question. You can go deep, or you can go shallow. I love the mental challenge of that question. If you don’t mind, I think I may write a blog post about it (with a backlink to your article, of course!). Too many thoughts to share in a comment……

  25. - N - says:

    Years ago, I won a prize for an essay I’d written on new technology in my field. One thing I had to do was make an oral presentation. The lump in my throat was so big I couldn’t breathe and was made to sit down. I looked like I was going to faint. Since this was a group of medical professionals, it was not a bad place for this to happen!

    Moving ahead some 30 years, and now I stand in front of a group of people, sing and act like an idiot, as well as call out individuals about their phones not being on. Fear kept me off the floor in the 80s, and now it doesn’t bother me in the least. Experience is a great teacher.

    The advice mentioned in your post is all great, and it works. Another thing that has helped me is to clump large audiences into small groups. I find a room of 40 individuals to be overwhelming, but by turning it into 8 groups of 5, the groups become individuals, and then within the group, the individuals begin to emerge. This works with workshops as well as classrooms.

    Acknowledging fear is important, and acting to up your performance by practice gives you an architecture for your presentation. As they say, “Fake it till you make it!” and you will be fine.

  26. I’ve got to say, while fear has a place in my life (I don’t like heights; I’ll probably never bungee jump or go on certain rides in the amusement park), I tend to be the person who makes fearless plans, and then deals with it.

    Back in 2011 I left everything behind in my home country and moved to Canada. I didn’t think much about it, and just got up and left. I faced a lot of difficulty and it could be really scary at times (immigration, settling in a country I’d only visited twice, getting a job without references etc.). In the end I’m here and glad I did it, but I have no idea what I was thinking. I didn’t let fear have a piece of me.

    Now I’m uprooting again, I quit my job to go to Japan for a month and then move to a small town at least 7h away from where I live now. I had no job, at the time of quitting my partner didn’t either, I should have been scared and fear probably would have prevented me from taking this leap, but I went with it and now the puzzle is falling into place. I still don’t have a job when I come back and honestly the move will probably be a huge detriment to my career but we have a place to stay (for free) and my partner ended up getting a job which has us move even earlier. Life is exciting, weird and wonderful when you don’t let yourself be governed by fear.

  27. Mr. SSC says:

    I think staying too long in bad relationships is a decision I regret that was made made out of fear. I also still ruminate about what might have been if I’d gone to the music school in Texas and majored in Bluegrass/banjo music. I totally didn’t do that out of fear. Fear of forever working in restaurants, fear of not making it, lots of fears around that decision.

    What would I do if I wasn’t afraid? I’d probably quit working sooner – well not quit working, but I’d probably start looking for something more meaningful to do with my life than what I’m currently getting paid to do. Like the bluegrass dream though, there’s a lot of fear in walking away from this gig. It just pays so friggin’ well…
    Mr. SSC recently posted…It’s Not Always About the Destination; Except When It IsMy Profile

  28. I have a lot of anxiety before I give a presentation, but once I’m in the flow of it, I actually enjoy it. I give a lot of presentation at work, be it to our other management team members or to the board of directors. Two things that have helped me the most were mentioned in your post. Number one is preparation. I’m not a verbal person. I’d much rather communicate in writing as it takes me some time to translate my thoughts into words. Therefore I can’t just get up there and wing it. I have to know my subject matter inside and out. Also, chatting people up beforehand works wonders for me. It’s almost like a warm up. The more you sit there silent, the more the anxiety creeps in. If I can have a few lighthearted conversations with people before my presentations, they end up going a lot more smoothly.
    Go Finance Yourself! recently posted…Tax Time: Do You Have a Business or an Expensive Hobby?My Profile

  29. Amber tree says:

    A round the world trip is being blocked by fear

    1- will I find a job after that
    2- what will be th eimpact on friends and family
    3-Will I be able to life a regular life after that
    4- How will it be: 24/365 with only the 4 of us

    Short term remedy is 1 month unpaid leave over the summer. That means most of the fears are gone or heavily reduced…

    And great idea to give a speach on FI to students. Reaching out to students is on my mind as well. I guess fear is also holding me back
    1- loosing anonymity
    2- having an audience that knows it better than me
    3- not being FI yet, means I need another story,
    Amber tree recently posted…No more FI for me!My Profile

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