It’s a slow process, and often painfully uncomfortable. Yet, when it comes to overcoming fears, even the miserable failings feel like huge strides forward.
Three months ago, I signed up for Toastmasters. Public speaking is hands down my biggest fear. Both big presentations and casual conversations send me into an anxious panic. I don’t trust my mouth to keep up with my mind, or perhaps even their ability to properly communicate. I have worthwhile ideas and I know how to articulate those thoughts, yet there exists a gaping chasm between my written and verbal skills. Perhaps other shy introverts can relate.
I have written and practiced my Icebreaker speech. It’s honest, funny, relatable, and (should be) easy for me to remember, but I am still terrified to present. My local Toastmaster group is fantastic. They’re welcoming, supportive, and clap at my responses even when I rack in a record 13 “ums” in under 2 minutes. There is truly no safer place to practice crawling out of my shell and speaking my mind.
Despite my discomfort and fears, I have attended each meeting since signing up. I have served different roles, such a Timer, Um-Counter, and Grammarian. I have participated in Table Topics, answering impromptu questions in front of the group. For all these things, I am proud of myself.
My mindset is always “go, go, go,” and I’ve realized lately that I rarely stop to acknowledge my achievements. Instead of patting myself on the back for speaking in front of a group (despite my every other word being another humiliating “um”), I contemplate ways to improve. What’s next? What can I do better? What am I doing poorly? Never: Whew, awesome effort, girlfriend!
I recently read that Susan Cain, bestselling introvert author, was awarded the Toastmasters Golden Gavel award.
“Susan Cain is a perfect example of how people can step outside of their comfort zone to realize their potential. She did that by extending herself as a leader, communicator and public speaker.”
– John Lau, Toastmasters International President
Since seeing her incredible TEDtalk, reading her insightful book, and seeing her speak at WDS2012, I’ve been a huge fan of Susan Cain’s inspiring story. I can relate to her personality and perspective in so many regards, and seeing her progress helps me push my own limits. Seeing another reserved yet ambitious woman find the courage to share her message with the world offers me hope of one day doing the same.
I’m not yet slaying dragons, but I’m sharpening my sword each day. I am collecting the tools necessary to ultimately succeed. When the right opportunities present themselves, I will be ready.
Isn’t that what accomplishment is all about: directing your arrow toward some distant dream that your heart is set upon, and then working relentlessly until you can fire away, transforming that wild dream in to a wonderful reality you can’t help but acknowledge? Isn’t it said that the journey is more important than the destination?
My biggest fear is public speaking and my limited experience has yet to allay my anxiety. My Toastmasters mentor, a fellow writer, says that the butterflies never go away. With time, however, the anxiety shifts to resemble giddiness. The shy and reserved prove to be assertive and competitive. The quiet thinkers tend to be the strongest leaders.
I’m looking forward to undergoing that transformation. I can’t help but anticipate the day when I am just as comfortable, confident, and competent speaking in front of a group as I am writing to you here. I sense the time is not as far off as I’ve led myself to believe, nor the journey as treacherous.
One year from now, I hope to look back and laugh: “Public speaking? Ha! Piece of cake. My real biggest fear is losing my scrip at the airport en route to speak at an event about my next big idea!”
And when the moment arrives I pray I’ll recognize it. I hope that I will recall my choosing to face the fear and lean into extreme discomfort, with my sights set beyond the daunting first steps. I want to remember the racing heart and sweaty palms; I never want to forget the extensive efforts put into sharpening my sword, nor the indescribable satisfaction of slaying my first real fire-breathing dragon.