How I Got Lost…and Found 6 Fear-Busting Writer Tips

Carol Tice

Lost in the Freelance Writing WorldI got lost on the way to SOBCon Northwest to hear famed inspirational business leader Jonathan Fields speak a few weeks ago…and learned a lot about how writers can overcome fear and embarrassment.

It was a really humiliating experience, especially because the conference was right across the street from our hotel.

Have I mentioned that I bawl like a baby when I get lost?

I thought the conference center would be across from the front door, but that turned out to be wrong. I didn’t get the greatest directions since it sounded so easy to find.

To make things worse, I went down the street to the drugstore to get a couple things first, and then got hopelessly disoriented. I was hauling the new laptop we bought our teen for college, which weighs a ton.

Soon, my nice professional outfit was completely bedraggled, I was covered in sweat, and emitting occasional pathetic sobs as I trudged up and down the streets of downtown Portland.

I was in no shape to network and meet anyone. I thought seriously about going back to my hotel and driving home.

Most of the buildings were the security type where you need a badge to get buzzed inside.

I wanted to get on a megaphone and tell all of downtown Portland, “Don’t you understand? I’ve driven for 3 hours and paid hundreds of dollars to attend SOBCon in large part because I really want to see Jonathan Fields! And he’s speaking right now. I’ve got to find this place right away.”

It seemed like hours were passing. Jonathan Fields was the kickoff speaker, first on the program. I didn’t have a watch handy, but it seemed increasingly certain that I was going to miss his talk.

I was just so super-disappointed in myself. I started a lot of negative what-if type conversations with myself.

Why didn’t I leave with a group of other SOBCon attendees? Why didn’t I have the conference center phone number handy?

After asking directions a half-dozen times, from hotel concierges, office managers, people I accosted on the street, I hit one who actually knew where I was going, got back on track, and found the conference center.

I just cried harder when I saw how it was right out the door of the parking lot behind my hotel.

Finally, I stumbled into the conference center. I could see everyone was already seated and listening to a speaker.

I wanted to curl up in a corner and hide.

But that’s when the magic started

I staggered into a back room in hopes there would still be some breakfast. The buffet was still there, and so was Heidi Thorne, SOBCon co-founder Liz Strauss’s right-hand woman.

“It’s OK,” she said when I told her what happened. “You’re here now. You made it. Can I help you carry all that?”

I took a minute to inhale a donut, mopped off my forehead, and tried to pull myself together. I slunk into the hall and flopped down at the first table, which was mostly empty.

Business expert Carol Roth, who I know from a previous SOBCon and who was also a scheduled speaker, signaled to me — come over to my table. She walked over and helped carry my things too.

I started to feel hopeful — like somehow, I was going to be able to let go of the ordeal I’d just been through and have a productive day at SOBCon.

Finally, I looked up. And Jonathan Fields was just walking up to the front to begin his talk.

I hadn’t missed anything.

6 Fear-Busting Tips I Learned

  1. You’re not failing as bad as you think you are. Everything gets exaggerated when we think we’re screwing up. Realize that other people may not be thinking you’re such a failure. That could just be you.
  2. Don’t despair — help is on the way. When we despair, we start to make assumptions about what will happen. We think everything is going to continue to suck just as bad as this moment. But you never know how the people around you will stop to help you out when they see you’re in trouble.
  3. You won’t miss the important stuff. Have you noticed that we always seem to be there for the moments in our life that are really important? I learned later the whole conference was being recorded and streamed on the computer — so I could have watched Jonathan Fields’ talk later if absolutely necessary.
  4. Stop beating yourself up. If I could have stayed positive, I no doubt would have been able to find where I was going a lot faster. Instead, my I-get-lost-a-lot panic set in and then I became a hopeless mental mess.
  5. Learn to bounce back. If I couldn’t get over wandering lost for an hour, I would have missed the opportunity to learn from everyone at SOBCon that day, speakers and attendees alike. We all mess up — the key is to recover and keep going.
  6. Keep a perspective. In the great scheme of life, whether or not I got to hear this one talk was probably not that important. I let it become super-critical in my head, which created a panic when I couldn’t get there right away.

What have you learned from your screwups? Leave a comment and tell us about it.


  1. Mandy Harris

    Great post, Carol! We all tend to be super-hard on ourselves. I totally relate to “it’s not as bad as you think.” But I would also say that even if it is BAAAAAD, it’s never as hopeless as you think. No matter what we do or what happens to us, time keeps ticking and moving us forward.

    I also always think of the Rocky Balboa movie where Rocky has this great monologue in which he says to his son something to the effect that life knocks you down but you’ll win if you just always get back up.

    That “getting back up” part is in my mission statement and in my planner in true Franklin Covey style. It represents my best, most positive thinking, like a letter from my confident self to my messed up, neurotic self. I read it to remind myself that getting there mentally is three-quarters of the journey. The rest is just patience.

  2. Ali

    That’s typical Carol we know… finding something special for writer outta something weird πŸ™‚ Still remember your ‘Bodysurfing’ article… I think every aspect of life has to offer something for the writers to learn.

  3. amy parmenter

    Carol! I am so sorry you had to go through that! It’s amazing how desperate we can feel, even when we’re not really at great risk. I can really really relate …and I am so sorry for your anxiety! Ugh.

    Do you not find it somewhat ironic that this was your experience as you were rushing to hear Jonathan speak about…….uncertainty!!!

    No surprise that other women reached out to help you. Kind of also underscores the importance of community.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, pretty classic, huh? I told Jonathan about it later.

  4. Debbie Kane

    Boy, this is timely. I’ve been feeling guilty for telling a client that I needed extra time to finish an assignment. I discovered that telling him the truth — that family issues required me to take some time from work but that I’m back on track now — wasn’t as bad as I thought. I gave him the option of hiring another writer to complete the job but he declined and has done his best to help me keep the project going. Guess it’s OK to admit we’re human sometimes!

    • Carol Tice

      I used to be a big deadline stresser. At the time, I also was going to a massage therapist pretty regularly. I was always venting to her about how terrified I was, I was so overloaded, I would never make my deadlines! After a while, she said, “So…do you ever actually miss your deadlines?” I had to admit that mostly the answer was no.

      And as you found, when we really DO need to blow out a deadline, often, it’s just not the end of the world. Or as I like to say when we’re stressing around here, “No lives are at risk.”

      One reason I have stayed in freelancing is that most freelance deadlines are fairly fungible. Happy to no longer be in the world of “if it’s not here by 4 pm it won’t run”…the edict of my last editor at a staff job.

      • Debbie Kane

        Amen to fungible deadlines!

  5. Marianne Smith

    Man, can I relate! Next time I start to lose it when I’m lost, I’m going to think of this post. Going into a wig-out spiral doesn’t help a bit, but it sure is easy to do. And when you’re in business for yourself, the tendency is to be harder on yourself than any employer would ever be!
    By the way, Carol, my nickname is Wrong Way πŸ™‚

  6. Lisa Williams

    Thanks so much for this post. I lead a fairly hectic life and sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed. I tend to put myself down and think about what I haven’t gotten done instead of focusing on the positives and things that I HAVE accomplished. Your post is wonderful and very encouraging! Thanks!!! πŸ™‚

  7. Madeleine Kolb

    Carol, I too can relate. My sense of direction is not good, so I compensate with detailed planning and GPS. This past Saturday, I drove up to Georgetown University in D.C. and did fine until I got on campus. I had a really hard time finding the parking garage, and by the time I did I had to pee like crazy. Then I had to get to the building where the conference was being held. I missed the start, but it turned out that the conference had started late, and I’d only missed a little.

    P.S. It was a conference on writing by fabulous journalists, mostly from the Washington Post. One of them was Gene Weingarten-whom you mentioned in a recent post. He mentioned his writing about young children being accidentally left in a car by a parent. He said that he was inspired to write about it because he had almost done that one time.

    • Edna

      Great post….thanks for letting us know how human you are πŸ™‚ Makes me feel more human too. I also have issues with “getting lost” especially when I’m running late. I was a couple hours late for a guy I’d only been dating a couple months. I had a writing deadline I was also late for and chose to finish the article first. I then drove to the 3-day eventing farm that I’d been to before, and got lost trying to take a short cut. Amazingly the guy was still there, waiting and angry. We sort of talked it through and watched the remainder of the event.
      I was pretty sure he’d break up with me right there, but we’re still together 5 years later.

      • Katherine Swarts

        If I had a dollar for every time I’ve convinced myself I could put off leaving for a meeting because I had “just this one thing to finish” (on the assumption that everything would go smoothly once I was out the door), then arrived frantic at the last second or later, I could retire right now. One lesson the average person never learns is that there just isn’t time for *everything*!

  8. Marjorie

    I thought I was the only one who cried when I got lost! Lol. I have had the exact same experience with myself that really, I could write a book . . . maybe I should. After the berating voice SHUTS UP, I invariably realize I learned something significant (sometimes, I do actually turn around and go home, but I learn something in the giving up as well). Thank you for sharing this and allowing me to feel not quite so alone–and neurotic–in the world.

    • Carol Tice

      For me the getting-lost panic goes back to the first time I got really bad-lost…I was 16 and going to the airport to pick up my parents.

      Took a wrong L.A. freeway interchange and I was about in Burbank instead of at LAX. I was in such hysterics by the time I finally got there that I ended up parking my car in a red zone, leaping out and frantically panhandling money to pay for the airport parking! I about died when I went to the gate and saw that in fact, you pay on the way OUT. I could have just gotten the money from my parents. Duh.

      Guess it’s something I’ve never totally shaken. I just feel so…LOST, when I ‘m lost. But all the commiseration on here has really made me feel better that I’m not the only one, so thanks all.

  9. karlabrag

    Next time if panic attack occur, take a deep breath then exhale and tell yourself it is only a small setback and everything will turn out fine. By the way before anything else when you are not familiar with the place. hours before the conference always ask question on where and how to go to the appointed site or venue of the conference, which means familiarize the place first. So you won’t be in a mess next time.

  10. Michael Wilson

    Wow. I think we’ve all done this at some point. It is easy for us to think that everyone in the room will be just as hard on us as we are on ourselves when the simple fact of the matter is that everyone else is probably focused on THEMSELVES while you are feeling self-conscious about the “horrible, stupid mistake” you made. In my experience, most people don’t notice, and those that do typically flash a knowing smile because we’ve all been there before.

    All of these tips are great and should be committed to memory next time you are kicking the crap out of yourself for something that you think you are doing wrong. Thanks for the article.

  11. Hillary

    Advice I give to those hiking in the wilderness if you get confused STOP, Breathe,Listen often your inner voice (the one you use to write with) will tel you what to do next. This works in cities as well. Try it in a part of your home town that you are unfamiliar with,don’t panic just stop and breathe. Getting around in a large unfamiliar city can be intimidating. Be nice to yourself, as you would to a stranger that you might meet when they were having a challenging moment. You have no reason not to. Smile Life is and adventure.Everyday you do something many people are terrified of, you Write.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, that’s a good perspective for me! For me, writing is almost like breathing. I’ve been doing it so long, it just seems normal to me. But I’ve talked to writers who said they burst into tears at just the IDEA of pressing send on a blog post, so I know what you mean!

  12. Katherine Swarts

    Practically the same thing happened to me last Thursday morning, when I got off a bus at the wrong stop, had to walk 40 minutes to my business breakfast, and was positive I’d miss everything important on the program (I didn’t; I arrived while the preliminary networking was still going on). And the near-identical emotions ran through my head as well!

    • Carol Tice

      You know, I’m really glad I shared this — had no idea all the other people who have this get-lost panic! Thought it was just me. I feel certain I’ll be less pathetic and sobbing next time, remembering all the support I got from this post.

  13. Charlotte Rains Dixon

    And this is why “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is such a great quote. Because its so, so true. Thanks for being willing to share! I wrote a post about my fear of eating alone in restaurants and how I finally conquered it, and it turned out to be one of my reader’s favorite posts. The thing about fear is that when I put it in the light of day, it tends to dissipate.

  14. Sheryl

    Progress in character is one of those things that we don’t necessarily see in ourselves. Sometimes I feel hamstringed by life, by my attitudes, by my inability to be the person I want to be. I so want to get closer to being that person, but then something comes along and I react like a jerk, or I handle it badly, or I say something completely stupid. But, from that, I learn many things and adding color in my life. Thanks for the tips Carol πŸ™‚

  15. Jane

    It’s so great to see that writers can related every experience to some useful perspective and can write it down. I strongly think that writing makes us to be optimistic and see beyond what we see. It changes our perspectives and help us learn from everything we face (and yes, write that out and make it useful for others too)! Kudos.


  1. How I Got Lost…and Found 6 Fear-Busting Writer Tips - [...] How I Got Lost…and Found 6 Fear-Busting Writer Tips I got lost on the way to SOBCon Northwest to…
  2. How Writers Can Conquer Uncertainty - [...] hump and get out there? Fields has some ideas for you.As regular readers know, I learned a lot when…

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