Yes! Got out of that again!
I have spent my entire working life, in it’s various guises, successfully avoiding public speaking. Often the time the opportunity has come up for me to take my place in the spot light, and every time I have very deftly deferred to a colleague, had someone important to go and speak to, someone else to enable into the hot seat that I could not bear to climb into. The relief when I had yet again managed to get out of doing it caused me untold mini-highs over the years, ‘Yes! Got out of that again!’ and many internal high-fives.
So imagine my surprise (and yet not!), in the current phase of my career coaching small groups and individuals (notice the small groups – still just short of public speaking!), I was one day the rabbit caught in the headlamps. I was offered some exciting group work that was completely in my discomfort zone. I knew it would provide me with some wonderful learning and I also knew that it was something I had to step over, once and for all, in order to move into the next phase of my work.
The gremlins in my head had a field day. I spent the intervening weeks not sleeping, feeling sick, imagining all the worst-case scenarios possible; arriving at the session half-dressed, my hair-dryer breaking down the morning before, getting lost on the way, losing my voice, being hounded out of the room by the group. There was no awful version of it I did not cover in my imagination.
Preparing for the sky-dive
All this time avoiding it and now, in service of the work I am currently doing, I am put in a position that I cannot turn down. ‘Don’t worry’, the office soothed me on confirming a group of 18, ‘probably only half the group will turn up.’ 18!! On my own!! The stress was unbelievable. To my own coach I described it as how I would imagine preparing for a sky-dive would feel. Absolutely terrifying. I have always admired people who could prepare and train, raise money for charity, then go through this most daring of feats. Ridiculously, the challenge I now faced, held the same, leaden, weight for me.
I did it!
Well – I did it. And they did all turn up. And I am still here to tell the tale! It was terrifying but as soon as I had any terrifying thoughts or feelings, I turned them around, if for no other reason, than to give my overactive brain something to do! ‘Now what do I do?’ Became ‘ I know what to do now!’ The group were lovely, there were shaky moments but I kept going and trusted that my love of what I do and what I wanted for everyone else in the room, would be enough to get me through and out the door safely.
And it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I have had in a long time. The sheer terror in the period leading up to it, was totally cancelled out by the relief afterwards of achieving something I have avoided for so long. It felt amazing. I felt amazing. And time and again this comes up for coaching clients; the thing that you fear most, avoid most, think you hate the most, will keep showing up in your life, one way or another, until you face it and deal with it.
The biggest buzz
I am not sure I would ever try real sky-diving, and I won’t be seeking out any more public-speaking, but I now understand that often the situation that terrifies us the most, that thing that keeps hanging around in the fringes of our lives, is usually the one that will give the biggest buzz, the most powerful learning and the biggest sense of achievement and relief felt after doing it.
by Penny Heater