Never Be Afraid of Anything Again (Including Shark Attacks). Really?

used to be relatively confident. I distinctly remember giving a speech at my daughter’s wedding which – sweaty palms and cotton mouth aside – I managed to plough through without having to resort to Winston Churchill’s technique of imagining the audience naked. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I wowed the guests with my wit and repartee, but I tickled a few rib cages and ticked all of the usual father-of-the-bride wedding speech boxes. Anecdotes about the bride and groom, tick. Cheeky mother-in-law joke, tick. Heartfelt hopes for the couple’s future, making clear wife-winning reference to my own ‘wonderful marriage’, tick. Making sure you don’t miss anyone important out of the thanks yous, tick. All in all, a solid seven out of 10 performance, if I do say so myself.

Fast forward 20 years or so and the mere thought of standing in front of 250 guests makes my blood run cold. A can’t-quite-catch-my-breath, somersaulting-stomach, panic-attack-kind-of-scared. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather not do, to be honest.

Everyone hates public speaking. It ranked one place below being buried alive in a recent survey, so perhaps this is too obvious an example, but it does highlight an important personal point. As I grow older, my confidence seems to be receding as fast as my hairline.

In response I looked for help online, but I was overwhelmed by over exuberant Confidence Coaches who bombarded me with fortune cookie platitudes and self-help courses. My personal favourite being the imaginatively titled “Never Be Afraid of Anything Again (Including Shark Attacks)”. Apparently, by the end of this particular course I’ll be able to bungee jump, throw myself out of a plane (preferably with a parachute attached) and eat tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches in a shark-infested tank.

That’s all very well and good, but my days as an international man of danger are well and truly behind me. What I’m really trying to overcome is that nagging doubt that makes me stop at my front door, take my coat off and think of an excuse not to do something. The twinge of anxiety about all things “new” or out of the ordinary that allows me to fall back on my familiar routine where I feel safe.

And isn’t that the biggest confidence trick of all? Allowing irrational fear and lack of confidence to rob us of opportunities to play a new instrument, campaign for a cause, learn a new language or make a new friend. Or wrestle with bears and jump canyons on motorcycles (I’m getting carried away here, but you get the idea).

So, this winter I’ve decided to try and unshackle myself from my apprehension and try something new. It won’t involve public speaking and I certainly won’t need to imagine everyone naked before I can do it. I’ve always been interested in volunteering, so I was thinking of helping out at Age UK Camden’s Leather Lane charity shop. I’ve also always fancied myself as a bit of a wordsmith, so I think I’ll be signing up for the poetry sessions at Henderson Court. I’m actually really looking forward to trying these new things and meeting new people.

Why not build a new experience into your life? Poetry may not be your cup of tea, but there are loads of different activities and outings you can get involved with.

Just don’t let confidence trick you out of living your later life to its fullest.

At Age UK Camden, we’re here to help you connect with  new and exciting experiences. If you’d like to attend a Get Together or volunteer, but feel a little nervous, start by calling us on 020 7837 3777. We’ll tell you exactly what to expect and support you in overcoming your anxieties.

You can also call Camden Community Connectors on 0800 161 5716. They can help you to develop the confidence to take part in local social activities.

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