That child was me!
My favorite high school English teacher – who is part in my life today — still mentions affectionately how he used to ask me questions just to see me blush.
Since I’m a fair-skinned red-head, this was really no mean feat.
My family still teases me about the time I flew to Ontario to visit my newly government-employed older brother for Christmas. At 15, it was the first time I’d traveled by myself.
So when the very nice man seated beside me attempted to make friendly conversation and asked me: Where are you going?
The only word that made it past my lips — and the only one I spoke in the entire 6 hour flight — was “Ottawa.”
Flash forward 10 years.
As a painfully shy and introverted person, life experiences had nudged me slightly out of my shell. I worked for a small commuter float-plane service and really had a great time with my co-workers which made work fun. I was writing novels and had joined a wonderful writers’ group that allowed me to carve out a place for myself where I felt both understood and accepted.
It was around that time I decided to take a gigantic leap into the fear abyss.
I signed up for an 8-week Public Speaking course at my local community college. I can’t tell you exactly what made me take that brave and uncharacteristic leap but something in me – something I have no real concrete evidence to back up – told me I needed to overcome this handicap if I wanted to do the things in life that were waiting for me.
I wasn’t really clear what those things were yet but it was enough to give me that burst of courage to sign up and even stay for the entire 8 weeks!
I still remember how clenched my throat felt, how clammy my palms were and how absurdly shaky my voice sounded reverberating inside my head the night we all had to do our first 2-minute speech.
As you might imagine, the 8 weeks slunk by at a snail’s pace and the presentations lengthened from 2 to 3 to 5 and more minutes, expanding each week until, by the final class, I found myself standing up to give a mind-blowingly long 15 minute presentation complete with teaching aids and audience interaction.
It was quite an accomplishment. But, I didn’t really feel hugely more confident about the whole thing after it was done. I’d survived it, sure. But where was the newfound confidence coursing through my veins? Where was the indomitable spirit I’d hoped would infuse my 5’2” frame?
So, since I’m not one to give up easily, I made a new pact to commit to practicing my fledgling new skill.
I didn’t do it every day, but I did seek out and create opportunities (small at first, then building to longer and more complex attempts).
Over the next 15 years, I put my hand up for teaching a 90-minute writing workshop and MC’ing our 3-day conference. I took another presentation skills workshop. I sang in public — first at my Mom’s memorial service and then again a few years later, at my Dad’s, also taking on the MC roles there, too.
So, that when I – by a fluke, really – was offered a government contract job requiring me to teach workshops regularly, a one-third portion of the job, I gulped deeply, shuddered a bit and then resolutely signed on the dotted line!
Forced adherence to the bigger goal?
Yeah right! What was I thinking?
This was a huge stretch and I really didn’t know if I could do it – teach multi-day job skills workshops 12-15 times a year to military members transitioning to civilian work. I was the first civilian chosen to do this in the entire Canadian Forces. No pressure there!
I was going all in!
Time to vanquish this fear once and for all!
Or die trying…
And because I was so unsure of my ability to actually do this, I stalled. For almost 3 months, while I was doing other parts of the threesome, I studied and researched and wrote a 3-day workshop from scratch. I designed handouts, created samples and anything else I could distract myself with to put off actually “doing” the darn thing!
But all good things must come to an end and, too soon, there came a day when I – with my twisty tummy – found myself standing in front of 20 not terribly friendly looking, mid-40’s military folks, staring back at me expectantly.
Okay, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t a walk in the park either but all my practicing helped immensely. I made it through the 3 days (though I was foolish to make it so long – and quickly adjusted it to two 1.5 day workshops), but I was physically spent.
As with all practice, there’s only one way to go – UP! So it got better in leaps and bounds from there. And I’ve learned since then — after 18 years of running and creating and delivering even more workshops — that the first 2-3 times I teach one, I’ll be building the muscle on that one and getting more comfortable. And after that, I’ll be able to relax and start enjoying myself.
Yes, I actually enjoy teaching now. And I can even wing it and be spontaneous, so long as I know my subject.
My next challenge is to move my training programs and ideas online. To teach groups through webinars. And now it’s the tech piece that’s my learning focus. And my anxiety spot.
But, I know I can fix that. I know I’ll get better at it every time I do it.
And that’s a really great thing to know about yourself!
The habit I learned?
Do stuff you’re afraid of … regularly!
Don’t let avoiding it be what defines you.
It’s the sole thing that builds deep-seated, feel-it-in-your bones confidence. There are no magic shortcuts to developing this much-desired quality.
It’s one of the main requests I get from my career coaching clients every week. “I want to be more confident!”
Luckily, my own experience helps me help them to start taking those all-important first, second and third steps to facing down their fears so they can recognize themselves growing incrementally, getting stronger and braver — and more resilient – with every step they take outside their comfort zone.
Though I didn’t realize it all those years ago on that Ontario-bound plane, my muttered “Ottawa” ultimately inspired me to embrace and “leap in” to my very own “Geronimo” moments in life!
And to rise above them to bigger and better things!