Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rachel Van Dyken on Overcoming Fear

The other week I attended the awesome PennedCon conference in St. Louis.  It was headlined by two amazing keynoters, Rachel Van Dyken and Jamie McGuire, both #1 New York Times bestsellers, and both fellow Smashwords authors.

Their talks were raw, deep and personal, at times humorous and gut wrenching. A common thread between the two was how to find the strength to power on.  Jamie focused on finding the courage to believe in yourself when others don't, and Rachel focused on overcoming fear.  Together, they formed two perfect bookends.  I wish you could have been there in person.

Rachel mentioned during her presentation that she had written out her speech beforehand.  She kindly agreed to share it with me for publication here on the Smashwords blog.

If you know anyone who's ever suffered from fear, anxiety or depression, you'll want to share this transcript with them.  It might change their life.


As Presented by Rachel Van Dyken
September 29, 2017
PennedCon.  St. Louis, Mo

I LOVE public speaking, I really do, when it’s in front of my grandma’s bridge group and I can tell them that I want to be a unicorn and they’ll go, “oh how sweet, you do that” and then hand me a chocolate chip cookie.

In fact, anxiety is washing OVER me right now and I would do anything to be at my grandma’s stuffing my face with cookies, because the simple fact is this:

You guys are my peers.

I’m fully aware that any one of you guys could be up here, that I in no way deserve to be at this podium more than you, so the fact that I get to stand here and address you is such a privilege that I’m having a hard time believing it. 

I honestly think the worst part about saying yes to Rick [Miles, conference co-organizer with Amy Miles] in being the keynote speaker was the fact that I had months of anxiety leading up to it, months of wondering if I was going to totally ruin everything and make everyone boo, or if I was going to stand up here and just pass out.

THE POINT— I’m honored I’m up here, but please be gentle with me, especially since…

Ugh I hate to drop a bomb but—especially since I’m gonna get real with you.

You see the other unfortunate part about having six months to think about this, maybe longer is the fact that I typically push things from my mind until the day before, then just speak on a topic and go on my merry way.

This was different. It was immediately different, especially after seeing a lot of the hate, fear, and insecurity swarming our lovely book community—it didn’t force me into procrastination, it forced me into action. This topic plagued me for months, even after I wrote it down, it had me waking up at night, it had me constantly going back to my speech—guys I wrote this down!  I don’t ever write things down. I knew it was important, and I think because of the heaviness and responsibility of it, I knew that it had to be said, it had to be spoken about.

I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, and while my greatest wish is for you guys to be like YES Rachel van Dyken nailed this, so FUNNY! I’m like uh oh, this may not be funny at all, it may be painful, but at least you’ll get a few truth bombs out of it. 

Here’s the thing. I want you to walk out of here different than the way you walked in, I want you changed from the inside out, I want to alter your perspective about yourself, about the way you think about yourself, the way you think about others, and the way you think about your role in this community. I refuse to let you leave the same way you came in.


Words are powerful, they hold power over our emotions, over our speech, behavior, over the way we react to those around us. WORDS TRULY DECIDE THE PATH OF OUR LIVES.

Think about it, when someone encourages you, when you get fed the words you so desperately need what does that do to your attitude, your demeanor? It’s life changing. Literally as if you’ve been stumbling all day in search of water only to have someone hold a hose to your face and command you to drink.


And they have power to emotionally harm us.

We live in a world where words have the power to create. I mean that’s what authors do right? We create worlds that you live in, that you can escape to, but what happens when that world ends? What happens when you hit the last page?

When you’re having a bad day and someone puts you down, you don’t remember the good words from your friend a week ago.  All you can focus on is the fact that someone saw you, measured you, and found you wanting.

YOU aren’t enough.
You aren’t good enough.
Pretty enough.
Skinny enough.
Serious enough.
Funny enough.
Smart enough.

YOU, there’s something wrong with YOU and no matter how many compliments you get in your lifetime, those negative words WILL ALWAYS feel like they hold more weight when you look at yourself in the mirror and try to decide what kind of person you are, what kind of purpose you have in this world, and what your purpose is in this book world.

SEE -  I told you I was going all dark side on you.

You totally should have picked another keynote, oh good, you’ve got Jamie [McGuire] tomorrow, she’ll be funny I swear. ;)

So here we go, here are the words, here’s the serious, here’s the transparent, buckle up.

Nine years ago I had my first panic attack; it was devastating. I was with one of my clients (I was a PSR [Psychosocial Rehabilitation] worker and counselor at the time), in my car, driving them to the library where I often had them check out books so they could have the escape I KNEW they needed in their own homes, and the world just….shifted beneath my feet. I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt tight like I was having a heart attack and the world felt like it was spinning into chaos. It was like a giant bear was chasing after me and I had to run, I had to escape.

We all know that anxiety is a manifestation of a true physical threat that doesn’t exist.  Your amygdala, the funny little almond shaped part of your brain goes BEAR! BEAR! BEAR! And your eyes search for the bear but since they see no bear and since you’re actually pretty safe, your brain manifests something internal that’s wrong, you start having physical reactions to something that doesn’t actually exist in your external environment.

It’s a very real experience, and a real thing.  No matter what people say, anxiety, depression, they attack relentlessly and the battle all takes place up here, in the head, and it is horrifying. How do you fight back something you can’t see? How do you fight back a feeling? How do you explain to someone that there’s a threat when rationally you don’t see one?

You doubt yourself.
You give into fear.
You give into defeat.
And the process repeats itself.

It’s a vicious cycle, one that I literally could not pull myself out of. I think the worst part was that I was a school counselor at the time so I’m like, "oh awesome, I have around 15 kids from the ages 4 to sixteen all dealing with this and I can’t even get a handle on my own emotions?"

I questioned God.

Why would this happen to me? Why? This makes no sense. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m helping little kids and I’m literally mentally disabled, this is how I feel. I shut my friends out, I was afraid to be in public, I was afraid people would notice. I wanted to move home. I wanted to hide away from the world that betrayed me.

And I tried. I tried to do all those things. I wanted to quit my job, move to my parents house at twenty-two, and just…hide.

I remember the day my mom looked at me after countless interviews in my hometown and said, you need to go back.

And I was like NOOOO you don’t understand, YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Loneliness, fear, so debilitating. I couldn’t understand how this person who loved me so much would tell me that I wasn’t welcome. I felt betrayed. Rejected.

And a bit ashamed. Because I knew she was right.

I was going backwards, I was reverting to what was safe, because I was afraid.

Fear has a way of latching onto us, it tells us that we can’t do things, it makes us believe lies about our sense of worth, where we are in life, and what our purpose is.

Fear kicks us off the path we were born to walk.
And it’s so ridiculously sneaky about it.

Fear comes in like your friend, it offers comfort, tells you, hey this is how you’re going to be safe.
Shut the world out, go into your little corner, I’ll hold your hand. That path you were on? Too scary. Too lonely. NO, no, do this, this is what’s going to make it better. That big book convention? Nope, no thank you. I mean I know I paid for it, but wow there’s so many people, eh why don’t you just stay in your room where its warm and safe? Why not just write? I mean you are on deadline….it would be so much easier to just, isolate.

So you believe the voice.
You believe the lie that you can’t do it, and you start digging.
You dig a safe little hold to live your life in.
You decorate it.
You buy a TV.

You hang out in your hole and keep digging as fear keeps encouraging you that you need to go deeper, people can see you, don’t let them see, don’t let them in, just put your head in the sand and close your eyes, everything’s going to be okay.

Fear has its arm wrapped around your body while its talons dig into your arm keeping you immobile.

Fear is not friend. It’s foe.

But we embrace it because for a few brief seconds it makes us feel safe.

But the thing about feelings - they don’t and CAN’T define our current state. Feelings are feelings, just because you FEEL afraid doesn’t mean you have a reason to be. Just because you feel alone doesn’t mean you are. But we put so much WORTH in feelings that we believe them as truth when they’re just natural reactions to our terrifying environment.

I moved back to Idaho that year.

I burst into tears on the first day of school in front of my boss.  I’m sure she was absolutely thrilled that I was getting put in charge of eight hundred kids haha.

Nate and I were dating. He was working a scary job that did nearly kill him numerous times. And I was like this can’t be it, this can’t be my life, where I wrap fear around my body and hold on tight and close my eyes waiting for it to lessen, to get better.

I did the only thing I knew how, to pull myself out of the cycle.
I started to inform myself.
I started to read.

I read book after book about anxiety about how to fight it, I went to my old college professor and asked her to teach me how to do desensitization therapy for my kiddos. I did it to myself.

I went through countless hours studying relaxation therapy. I studied tapping, and nutrition, and different stretches that released happy chemicals into your body, I studied hypnotism.

And I read.
And something happened.

Through those books, I found an escape, this beautiful escape that told me that I wasn’t alone, even if I really as all by myself in my house, I had friends, even if they weren’t real, they were real in my head, real to me. I poured myself into Julia Quinn books, and Eloisa James and for a few brief hours I had this…peace.

And one day, after having a few girls come into my office crying over the fact that the boys called them ugly.

I wrote The Ugly Duckling Debutante.
And it clicked.
After the first chapter, I sat back in my chair.
It was horrible but it was mine.

It’s still the worst reviewed book I’ve ever written (back in 2011), and to this day whenever I talk about it I’m like nooo don’t go buy it, don’t do it! But the point is, I wrote it, it wasn’t pretty, it was damaged, it was my damage, it was my words, my insecurities, their insecurities…it was an ugly masterpiece.

I always think back on that moment, because doing that was terrifying for me, moving back was crippling, but had I stayed in my fake safe spot, in my fear hole, I would not be where I am today.

Every single road that life takes you on has a purpose, no matter how rocky, how scary, how treacherous, THERE IS A PURPOSE.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that my mom is the reason that I am an author today, her tough love, sending me back into the pit of chaos, is what saved my life, and gave me this amazing career.
Because here’s the thing about your path. It’s normal to get thrown off of it, or even step off of it by accident, but the point is this, those accidents should propel you onward towards your main goal, they shouldn’t deter you and cause you to stop walking altogether.


WHEN YOU ARE PARALYZED you are IMMOBILE. You are living a life of stillness, when you were meant to live a life of action.

No longer are you doing what you were created to do, what you were BORN to do in this life, because you’re still, motionless.

IF YOU TAKE AWAY NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS CONFERENCE, TAKE AWAY THIS— Here’s the thing about stillness, you end up turning into an observer of life, rather than a participant…


It’s so easy to get on social media and judge, throw shade—to rant, to type hurtful words out. But how often does that make you feel better? Maybe for a second? A minute? When someone agrees with you? So thirty people agree and another four thousand are watching the train wreck going uhhh…  You aren’t changing the world by your words when you use your own fear to bring others down. Guys, the reason you see authors posting about craziness, and book sales, and negativity—it’s not because they’re suddenly bad people, or they’ve lost their minds, or they’re angry at Amazon, or angry at readers—It’s because they are petrified it’s all going to go away.

Fear leads us to anger, it causes us to lash out, it causes us to jump off our path, and live a life of observing others, and running our mouths, when we should be marching towards the purpose God has for us.

Stillness—is the devil. It really is. It gets you caught, it causes idle hands, self doubt. It causes us to look at ONLY ourselves, and not at the bigger picture. It’s kind of like the whole social media thing where you’re like ugh she would be in Bermuda right now while I’m sitting here SUFFERING in this stupid office! Meanwhile, she’s in Bermuda because it’s her last trip because she just found out she has cancer….WHAT? It’s so easy to judge, it’s so easy to isolate and only look at what we can see.

Each of you has a purpose. A calling. Something that’s bursting inside of you to get free. You know you have it because about half of you started squirming and getting that sick feeling in your chest where you’re afraid to get called out, palms sweaty, and are afraid I’m going to suddenly call for volunteers. Your sitting there trying to suck the tears back in as you pray nobody watches you sink into your chair as you go, that’s me, she’s talking about me. 

You’re right, I am.

Ready for another truth bomb—Only you can accomplish what you were born to do. Because there is only ONE you, in the world.  If you don’t do it. WHO will?

The answer? Nobody. Because nobody has what you HAVE been given. Nobody.

When we live in a constant state of defeat, we allow fear to be our guide, but fear never really takes us anywhere, does it?

Fear makes you comfortable when you’re supposed to be living a life of...

A life of terror.


IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN that FEAR IS LEARNED! You are BORN with exactly TWO fears, loud noises, and the fear of falling. That’s it.

By the time a child reaches the age of 3, they have so many fears that when I last looked it up for one of my weird psycho studies it was in the thousands.

According to Anxioustoddlers.com it shows that, [my son] Thor at this point is fearing ALL of these things, natural, learned fears, and a lot of times I know I’m the one to blame!

Guys, I’m not even allowed on Web MD. Because of my anxious over informed personality, I’ll decide that after a paper cut I only have twenty four hours to live! I wish I was exaggerating. I’m like oh, that’s blood poisoning, oh that’s MRSA!

I actually texted my doctor friend (cover model Brian Byrne) and asked him if Thor was going to be okay because he swallowed toothpaste.  No joke he was like... "well he’s going to have really minty breath?"

A lot of fears are ingrained into us because of our surroundings or the people around us, here’s a list of some of the fears Thor has right now, but I guarantee you have some too, feel free to raise your hand:

  • Worried it will hurt to poop—guys it’s totally natural to be afraid of this, just let it go. Like Frozen.
  • Worried they will fall into the potty. Understandable, potty’s are big!
  • Worried about the sound of the toilet flushing, again with the loud noises.
  • Worried about bugs coming out of toilet. Time out, I had a reader post about a huntsman spider being under the toilet seat and to this day I still flip up that sucker every time I go to a rest stop just to be safe. Worried about getting poop on their hands, as a toddler parent. I worry about this, because it happens.
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of closets
  • Fear of sleeping alone
  • Fear of thunder
  • Fear of shadows
  • Fear of loud noises (vacuum, garbage disposal, garbage truck, fireworks etc.)
  • Fear of sudden, loud noises
  • Fear of being separated from a parent
  • Fear of slides, bounce houses, and rope ladders
  • Fear of people in costumes or wearing masks
  • Fear of bugs, dogs, birds and other animals
  • Fear of strangers
  • Fear of TV shows – even kid’s TV shows with scary themes
  • Fear of escalators
  • Fear of getting lost
  • Fear of water, the bath and/or pools
Ahem, I am afraid of at least 12 of those exact same things, that I KNOW if I was like OOOO a vacuum, he’d go OOOH a vacuum RUN!

My point? Natural fear is learned.

Look at a little kid and tell me how terrified they are of jumping off that couch, no they just stupidly trust the universe is somehow going to catch them before they break an arm!

There is no fear.

It’s astonishing that children, mere children, have more bravery then most adults.

Because they haven’t bought into the lie yet.
They haven’t heard fear’s whispers.

Nate’s always getting after me for screaming when I see a bee.
Thor used to pick them up.

And this is me, “baby you’re going to get stung.”
The next day he screamed and ran.
I did that to him.
I taught him to fear a fuzzy bee.

Why? Because I was afraid. And I wanted him to be afraid too. Why? Why would I do that?

We project our own insecurities on others, our own fears, and it just adds to the already sickening baggage we carry. It’s been so hard to retrain myself not to panic when he tries to pick up a spider and kiss it. Guys, for real, we have wolf spiders at my house and he’s like ohhhh spider, pretty! And I’m like die spider die ready to torch my house down meanwhile he’s having the time of his life—why would I ruin his fun? Why?

A few years ago I wrote a book for my uncle, called Ruin. I knew his cancer was terminal, I knew he was dying, but I wanted to give him hope. I wanted to give my family hope. And as I was mourning the loss of this beautiful man, watching him waste away, I knew that the only power I had, the only thing I could do…

Was give him my words.
Not just any words.
Words that held power.
Not fear.
Real. Power.

I wrote the book in two weeks, a complete crying mess, and the main theme is “Do it afraid.”

Do. It. Afraid.

Don’t let fear define your actions, being afraid is one thing, letting it paralyze you is completely different.

We weren’t made to be lazy humans of inaction.

We were created to be brilliant.



We were created for greatness, not defeat.

I want you to walk out of here with your head high, I want you to walk out of here knowing that before you even walked in that door, I was praying for you, thinking of you, thinking about every seat that would be filled, and all the potential in this room.

Guys get this in your heads, what if every single one of you walked out of here, not with defeat, but with victory? You want to change the world? You hold the power. You were born to be world changers. You were born to make a difference, and you cannot, and will not do that, holing up in your room, or playing it safe.

You are here because you need to hear this message.

You’re here because you need to break that trap of fear and anxiety.

The world is a scary place, I’m not going to lie to you, but you don’t have to let it force you into inaction just because you’re afraid of what will happen if you take a leap of faith.

You have to jump. 

Writing a book is scary, revising a book is scary, starting a new business is scary, going to a conference is scary.

Life is scary.

Whenever I write a book I want to puke, I put my soul into those books and yes, people rip them apart, they rip me apart, you get threats, you get angry irate readers, you even get peers who whisper behind your back. You will get it all.

But I’m telling you right now—you have a choice whether or not you let it cause victory or defeat in your life. Will it define you? Or will you let it define you?

The world needs you. That’s a fact.

Whether you’re an author, blogger, publicist, reader, reviewer, you need to know that what you do is important, what you do matters. You matter. And you are meant for greatness, whatever that means in your life.

Today we have over five hundred people in attendance.

What if every last one of you, got back on your path, and walked?
Can you imagine?

Look around you, look at all the faces, the people, the talent, you want to know a secret?
The reason fear keeps us down—is because it’s afraid of itself.

It’s afraid of what will happen when you know the truth, when you get up, when you walk.

That’s how much power you hold with your words, with your life, with what you do.

See, heavy, I never promised it wouldn’t be heavy, but so needed, in the world we live in, in the community we are a part of.  In closing all I have to say is this….

Be THE CHANGE you want to see in the book community—and in our world.

Do it afraid.


Thank you Rachel Van Dyken for sharing this with your fellow writers!


Kristin Van Dyken said...

Beautiful words that need to be shared!

Smile said...

Wow! I needed that.
Thank you Rachel for letting Mark use your beautiful talk as a guest blog.
And thanks, Mark, for posting it here.

HStanbrough said...

I guess you had to be there.

When my young son (several years ago) came home from school crying and I asked why, he said some kids had called him a very mean name that means "male child born out of wedlock."

I wiped a tear from his cheek, smiled and said, "So are you?"

He grinned too. "No."

"So what they think doesn't change what's real, right?"

The point is, everybody has an opinion. Some people enjoy using their opinion to attempt to belittle others, probably to make themselves feel superior. But what matters is not what someone else thinks or says; it's what you individually know to be true about yourself.

Once you know who You are, you won't have to keep convincing yourself, and others' comments won't matter in the slightest.

Just my two cents.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your journey — the real and unglamorous day-to-day struggle that others rarely see. Your words have HUGELY inspired me this morning. And another enormous thank you to Mark for posting it here for those of us who couldn't make it to the convention.

P. H. Solomon said...

Wow, excellent thoughts that change my perspective about what I'm doing these days. My day job quit me and a replacement has been slow going. I fell back on my writing but it's been a slog most days for this very reason. I needed to hear this today.

LFGabel said...

Fear of failing. Fear of writing shit. Fear of not writing fast enough. Fear of being left behind. Every day. And yet I am "doing it afraid" and didn't quite realize it. Every word I write destroys one more link in those chains that bind me.

Thank you for sharing your fears, Rachel. Today, I'm feeling invincible.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It encourages us not only to write more but also to do more out of life without fear as Rachel Van Dyken said, "Don’t let fear define your actions, being afraid is one thing, letting it paralyze you is completely different." Thanks to Rachel for sharing those insightful words (and the 'truth bombs') and Mark for posting these valuable inspiration. Keep it up both.