I’m terrified of public speaking. And a few weeks ago, I had to face my fear.
When I say I’m terrified, it’s not like I kill spiders with the biggest shoes I own or I hurl myself onto chairs when I see mice, although both of those things are true.
When I say I’m terrified, I mean it. For me, it’s a deeply visceral unease – I feel nauseous like I’ve got morning sickness or the 24-hour flu, with an added dose of heart-pounding anxiety thrown in for good measure.
But, also like the flu, sometimes public speaking is unavoidable. A few weeks ago, I presented my final paper to a committee who will then determine if I get my graduate degree in English. It’s a goal I’ve been pursuing for the last five years, and this was the final step.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to combat my fears. Deep breathing. Relentless prayers. Digging my nails into my hand so the small bite of pain distracts me. Nothing works. I’ve thought about imagining the crowd in their underwear, but that actually seems ridiculous and infinitely more disturbing – I usually try to forget that people have bodies under their clothes entirely; it’s kind of like willfully telling myself that my sisters and I were three immaculate conceptions because really, who wants to go down that road?
I can’t wish my fears away. And I may not ever be comfortable speaking in public. But I can look forward to what will happen afterward (graduation!).
And I can take pride in facing my fear, even when everything within me rebels against it. I know it’s not a life-or-death situation, the end of the world or anything, but it’s a big deal to me.
I once heard a speaker say, “Don’t disdain the small steps. Something that might not be a big deal to you can be a big deal for someone else.”
And I thought, Exactly. Thank you. Because every time someone else minimizes my terror of public speaking, I think, Sure.That’s easy for you to say. You don’t feel the overwhelming urge to break into tears every time you step on a stage (which I have actually done). You don’t worry that however you act within the span of 90 minutes will determine how someone views you for the rest of your life.
It might be small to you, but it’s big to me. And there may be something else in life that’s small to me, but is big to you.
But here’s what I do know, despite my fears: A life without risks is a life without rewards. And that’s not the kind of life I want to live.
Is facing my fear worth it? Absolutely. Let’s face it — what have we gained in life without first encountering fear?
Love. Without risking heartbreak and emotional pain, we would never know the reward of loving relationships.
Children. Without risking the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, the rollercoaster of adoption, or the emotional fortitude necessary to be a mentor, we would never know the joy of children.
Calling. Be it career or otherwise, without taking risks, we would never know the thrill of being or doing exactly what we were created to do.
Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the moment. But when we’re brave, it’s worth it.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela