Fear has always been my biggest motivator and my biggest inhibitor. At first I am stunned by the feeling, unable to move, to meet the challenge. Then, as a I look for a way to quell my fear, I turn to action. How can I solve this problem, how can I meet the challenge and get rid of the fear?
But fear can often be debilitating or it can cause people to build a shell around themselves and to avoid situations that make them fearful. If we’re afraid or avoid fearful situations, we’re not living up to our full potential.
I’ve taught English to immigrants in an inner city adult school for the past several years and I’ve seen the effects of fear or humiliation or embarrassment on the learning process. Afraid to experiment, to try out their new found language, students often sit quietly, afraid to participate.
I have made alleviation of this fear my priority as a teacher. I “host” my class like I would a party at my home. I don’t serve cocktails but I try to make sure everyone is happy and respected and heard. I tell self-deprecating, funny stories about myself in an effort to not only humanize the teacher but to break down that huge barrier to learning — fear.
At some I always ask students about their best or worst memories or experiences of school as children. I start it off with tell the story of peeing my pants in first grade. I have since learned to urinate in a stand-up urinal but at the time, it was way to hard a task for a chubby six year old to master so I avoided the bathroom until I got home from school. But one day I just couldn’t hold it so I let it go, forming a large puddle under my chair which I then tried to cover with my feed. But, soon the teacher spotted it and asked me what happened. “I fell into a puddle on the playground,” I lied. The teacher, Miss Borne, was very kind and soon had my mother to come and pick me up with a minimum of embarrassment.
I tell this story because it’s funny and I always get a laugh or two. But I also tell it because I want my students to not be afraid to speak, to talk about themselves and their own personal experiences. I want them to see me as a human being who loves them and wants them to do well. But primarily, I expose myself so they won’t be afraid to expose themselves. The only way to learn a language is to try it and it’s impossible to try it when you’re afraid.
The only way to learn social skills is to try them out. But it’s hard. Geeks have usually found ways to avoid their fear of social situations. They hunker down only with like-minded geeks, or stay quietly in their cubicles, avoiding uncomfortable situations. Of course I understand it. I’m not afraid of social situations but I’m certainly afraid of rejection on many fronts and I’ve found complex ways to avoid those situations.
But how limiting that fear is. The fear of people and social situations is certainly limiting for engineers and other technically trained people. I believe that overcoming that fear can open up a whole new world for geeks. And I think that the techniques that I discuss in this blog and in my book Geeks Guide to People Skills; What Every Nerd Needs to Thrive in Today’s Social Economy will open up a whole new world for geeks.
I want to coach you through these situations, to teach you techniques to more easily negotiate this complicated world of human interaction.