Last week, a select group of seniors at our school competed for the chance to deliver original speeches during graduation, and I was asked to sit in as one of the judges. I sat and watched these seven or eight honors students shakily read through speeches they had written themselves, each hoping for the chance to share his or her speech with an even larger, more intimidating audience. I couldn’t help but feel awed by their bravery. Could I have done the same thing at their age? Not likely. Hell, I doubt I could do the same thing now.
Just a few hours after judging the speech contest, I was asked to take part in a presentation to honor a retiring teacher. I had to read one line of the presentation in front of a large crowd, and I spent a significant amount of time obsessing over even that. When it was time to actually read my line, I rushed it, flubbed it a little, and walked away wishing I could have a second take. It’s not easy to admit that there are at least seven teenagers in New Jersey who are more comfortable than me when it comes to public speaking, but admit it, I must.
Don’t be so hard on yourself, you might argue. You read the line, didn’t you? When push came to shove, you faced your fear.
I appreciate that you’re trying to make me feel better–but honestly, I might not have agreed to read my one line in the first place had I not been asked (and on some level, required) to do so.
If I think back to many of the times when I’ve faced my fears, in fact, I almost always had someone pushing me from behind. There was that time my husband and I went zip-lining in Jamaica, for example, and I broke down and cried as they strapped me into the harness. While I did eventually push through my crippling fear of heights, I would have been just happy to sit on the beach had my husband not set the whole zip-lining excursion in motion.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” This is the sort of advice that can make a person better than he is–but even so, the idea of such a thing exhausts me. Don’t I have enough going on already? Can’t I take a day off once in a while and just look forward to a day when there are no scary things on the horizon?
Cowardly people don’t change the world or write novels with any regularity, so it may be time for me to make a few substantial life changes. Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice still seems a bit overly ambitious, but I wonder if I could take on one scary thing every other day, thereby still allowing myself a little downtime. It shouldn’t be hard for me to actually find that many scary things to do, as most things scare me on some level. If I have to drive through congested roads to some place I’ve never been before, or teach an untested lesson plan to a particularly boisterous class of ninth graders, I can likely consider my obligation met for day.
If you are having trouble facing your writing fears, you might also consider taking on your real life fears with a little more gusto. Like me, you don’t need to do anything as extreme as bungee jumping or running with the bulls in Spain (although don’t let me stop you, if that’s what floats your boat). The important thing is that you step outside your comfort zone on your own, without someone to push: If mice scare you, a few minutes in the rodent section of a pet shop. If you find yourself feeling anxious and uncomfortable at big parties, make it a point to introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met. If you have it in you to do these things every day, great. If not, go for every other day, or even once a week. One scary thing a week isn’t too much to ask of anyone, is it?
As for me, I’d really like to give the public speaking another try. Does anyone have maybe two lines of a retirement speech for me to deliver?
Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.