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

I 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 imagine everyone else in the room 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 (on the right side of “blue”), 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 ten performance, if I do say so myself.

Fast forward 20 years or so and the mere thought of standing in front of 250 guests making a speech is enough to render me as scared as a rabbit that’s heard the howl of a hungry wolf. 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. Jerry Seinfeld said he’d “rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” 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 receeding 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 kookie courses. My personal favourite being the imaginitively titled “Never Be Afraid of Anything Again (Including Shark Attacks)”. Apparently, by the end of this self-help 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 (a fish tank obviously – a military tank would be cheating somewhat).

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, learn a new language or make a new friend. To run naked through the hills, wrestle with bears and jump canyons on motorcycles (OK, I’m getting a bit carried away here, but you get the idea).

So, this New Year I’ve decided to unshackle myself from my apprehension and try something new. It won’t involve public speaking and I won’t have to imagine everyone naked before I can do it (which is probably a blessing if you’ve been down to the Drovers Centre recently – sorry guys). I’ve always been a bit of a history buff, so I was thinking of giving the reminiscence group a whirl. I’m actually really looking forward to trying new things and meeting new people.

Why not build a new experience into your New Year? History 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 Islington, we’re here to help you connect with  new and exciting Get Togethers. If you’d like to attend, but feel a little nervous, start by calling us on 020 7281 6018. You can talk to the staff at an existing Get Together who will tell you exactly what to expect, and support you in overcoming your anxieties.

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