Friday, August 17, 2012

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

August 17, 2012

It's said that the biggest fear of 95% of Americans is public speaking.  That's over fear of death, fear of snakes, and fear of flying, among other things.  And yes, I am the 95%.

I've been afraid of speaking in public for as long as I can remember.  As a matter of fact, I used to be scared to talk to anyone at all--my teachers, salespeople, the pizza delivery guy.  Everybody was a potential source of anxiety for me when I was growing up.  I've gotten much better, though, as I've grown older.  I can carry on with the best of them in a one-on-one situation, even with random strangers.  But speaking in front of large audiences?  And with a microphone, no less?  No, thank you!  Not for me.

So when I got an email from my principal a few days before school started, it immediately got the anxiety flowing.  "Hey there," the email read, "we are going to have a joint meeting with the staffs of both the high school and the junior high on Friday.  For the few of you who have been at our school since we opened, I thought it would be nice to share some of our memories with the whole group of our first few years here."  No big deal, the email intimated.  Easy--just a little anecdote or memory.  Out loud.  In front of not just our whole staff, but the junior high's staff as well.  WITH A MICROPHONE.

I thought about responding, but ultimately did what I usually do when these things come up.  I practice avoidance.  I deleted the email.  I pretended I had never read it, and I went on with my day.  I was sure she'd get enough volunteers from the other teachers and she wouldn't need me.

The next day at the meeting, however, my principal found me.  She sidled up and asked if I'd seen her email, and with a sweet smile asked if I was going to be able to 'help her out.'  For a brief second, the terrified-of-public-speaking me argued with the overwhelming-people-pleaser me.  In that tiny stretch of time, I couldn't think of a plausible reason to beg off and I heard myself say, "Sure I will."  Terrified-of-public-speaking me couldn't believe her ears.  This is what she looked like on the inside:

When the time came, five of my colleagues and myself were called to the front of the room to share.  I got to the end of the line, thinking if we were lucky, we'd run out of time before we got to me--or there would be an earthquake and we'd have to evacuate.  No such luck.  It looked like there were this many people in the audience:

But really, it was more like this:
And you know what?  I did it!  I shared my little story.  It wasn't earth-shattering or even particularly interesting, but I did it, and I didn't faint.  I didn't even hear my voice quaver, which has always a tendancy when I get really nervous.  It wasn't even until I sat down that my hands started shaking.  I think the only people who realized how nervous I was were the people who are close to me and who know what great lengths I usually go to in order to avoid situations like that.  I was very proud of myself.  Not proud enough to jump in line to do it again, but proud of myself just the same.

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