The “Wisdom” in Facing Your Communications Fears Head On in 2015

Just 23 days into the new year and I feel like a brave, strong, new woman.

Why? Because I faced and overcame one of my biggest fears—anesthesia—with flying colors.

Today, I share my story with you as a point of inspiration and proof that with a little help from Grey’s Anatomy and a milestone birthday, you, too, can overcome your fears in life—especially as they relate to your work in social change communications—and come out stronger and healthier on the other end.

Fear Implants Itself

When I turned 18, my dentist told me to get my wisdom teeth out. “You only have three,” he said. “It won’t be so bad.”  I was 18. “Going under anesthesia sounds horrible!” I thought, and ignored him.

Fear Permeates

When I turned 22, my dental hygienist told me to get my wisdom teeth out—they would inevitably start squishing my other, healthy teeth and wreak havoc in my mouth. I went for a consult with the oral surgeon. He showed me a video about the risks of anesthesia (including death) and I burst into tears. I reluctantly scheduled an appointment…that I promptly canceled, rationalizing that “some people live with their wisdom teeth their whole lives! I can do that too! I’m not dying in the name of wisdom teeth!” (I can be stubborn)

Fear Persists

Shortly after I moved to Portland, my (former) dental hygienist and now friend emailed me with a reminder to get my wisdom teeth out. “I’m watching you,” she threatened from my hometown of Kansas City. I scheduled an appointment with an oral surgeon friend of the family here in Oregon. “He’s the best!” my aunt told me. I believed her. But anesthesia still sounded like the worst—even worse, perhaps, than it sounded years earlier. I canceled the appointment.

A Revelation Occurs

Three years ago, I was pregnant and couldn’t do a whole lot of moving. I watched A LOT of Grey’s Anatomy. A LOT. They do a lot of surgery on Grey’s Anatomy—BIG surgeries like heart transplants and brain things—emergency surgeries that require the highest levels of anesthesia (if there are different levels?). Surgeries that require people (okay, actors) to put on their bravest faces. “These people must feel terrified!” I thought, “but they’re still following through with these surgeries…because the benefits outweigh the costs of waiting or ignoring their doctor’s advice.”

It’s a simple and obvious revelation but one that made me braver. (Yes, I’m admitting to the whole world one of my many vulnerabilities—Grey’s Anatomy made me braver. Teasing can now commence. You’re welcome.)

I called and scheduled my “simple” oral surgery with a surgeon here in Portland.

Fear Wins Again

As that looming date grew nearer, I began to feel a familiar panic…. that anesthesia panic… the fear of the unknown. My inner 18-year-old echoed in my brain, “…not dying in the name of wisdom teeth!”

You guessed it.

I canceled.

A Strategy for Success Comes to Light

And then I turned 35. And 35 made me feel strong. And 35 made me feel wise. And 35 made me feel… really, really silly for not yet confronting this fear. “I’M A MOTHER FOR GOD’S SAKE! I HAVE AN EXAMPLE TO SET!” I thought irritably.

To the couch, I went! I watched A LOT more Grey’s Anatomy—two seasons had passed since my last binge!

And, feeling Grey’s Anatomy brave and feeling 35-year old brave, I scheduled the damn surgery (again).

Wait for it….

Fear Fails (Finally!)

And I did it!

It took four or five false starts, but last week, I finally faced my fear of anesthesia and had all three of those monsters pulled from my head.

Success is Found

I had no sickness from anesthesia, nothing bad happened to me while I was under.. everything worked out okay. Despite the pain of two dry sockets, I woke up today, one week later, feeling like a human again and, possibly most importantly, I OVERCAME MY FEAR. It’s liberating.

I Impress Myself

And, I’m IMPRESSED with myself for following through. I’m not going to lie. I truly thought I might go to my grave with my wisdom teeth fully intact.

Overcoming Fear in Life (and Communications) is Possible

I see so much fear of the unknown in social change communications:

— fear of trying new things (social media)

— fear of rejection (reaching out to media or policymakers)

— fear of failing

I get it. You work for amazing causes, nonprofits and foundations—there is a lot on the line. A LOT. If you mess up, you might lose funding. You might lose a partner. You might could even lose credibility.

But, the only thing that will release you from your fear is facing it head on with a strategy, be it a Grey’s Anatomy bender, the glory of another birthday—or whatever your strategy is to overcome it.

An Industry Leader Faces its Fear

I can only assume that when Copyblogger killed its Facebook page in late 2014, it did so with some trepidation.

But, like my wisdom teeth, Copyblogger’s Facebook page had been somewhat of a festering wound for them for some time. They’d been making all these efforts to keep it healthy… but “it still…won’t… freaking work!”


But, it no longer worked for them so they sat down, put strategy to the idea and executed (pun intended). I can’t attest to how happy they are about this move today, but I can tell you that the industry sees them as a leader and, no doubt, their credibility increased among target audiences. They took a stand and people respect that. I know I do.

Overcoming Fear Can Lead to Success

Case in point that when you overcome your fear, you might find out that it was never as bad as you’d imagined (anesthesia only kills SOME people—not you!)…. that, even if you end up falling just short of your goal (dry sockets are not a “perfect” procedure, needless to say), you’ll gain credibility for trying… you’ll attract media attention because you put yourself out there… you’ll find new donors using the hot new social media platform.

Make 2015 Your Bravest Year Yet

Before this first month of 2015 ends, schedule an appointment with yourself—one that you won’t cancel—to plan out your strategy for facing your communications fear this year.

False starts are okay. But avoiding the inevitable is not. Your problem will only fester and get worse.

There’s a lot of “wisdom” in recognizing that and acting accordingly.


Let me know what communications risks you’re considering taking on in 2015 in the comments!

Jennie Day-Burget

Former Vice President and Managing Director Jennie Day-Burget is a lover of surprises, wine and chevron (the pattern, not the oil company). Jennie has worked in communications and public relations for more than a decade and cites the hashtag (#) as her favorite communications innovation.
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