He was terrified of speaking in public, but he stuck it out and learned how to find his way to ease and flow.
I was petrified. I wanted to run. It was more than 25 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I was teaching my first class.
I want to run, but I didn’t. It might be the best decision I have ever made.
I was working as a computer programmer at an insurance company. At that point in life, I was embarrassingly shy. One morning I was enjoying a donut in the cafeteria with the other programmers. Brent, from the Claims Department stopped at our table. Brent asked me if I wanted to teach a class on computers through the local community college.
I heard a voice say “Sure.” Soon after, I realized that voice was mine.
Brent said “Great, I’ll work out the details with you later,” and he was on his way.
As soon as he left, my co-workers burst into laughter. I said, “What’s so funny?” They said, “You can barely even talk to us and you know us. How are you going to get up in front of a roomful of strangers and teach a class?”
They had a valid point.
But, deep down I knew I had to do this for four reasons:
- I believe in keeping my word
- If I avoided it, I would always wonder what would have happened had I done it
- I wanted prove my co-workers wrong
- I wanted to prove to myself I could do it
I recall the first evening of class very clearly. There were roughly ten people in the class.
My heart was thumping, my voice and hands were shaking and my palms were sweating. I was a wreck, terrified, totally engulfed in fear. I’m not sure what kept me moving forward, other than maybe the thought that bolting out of room might make me feel worse. After about ten minutes a strange thing happened. I relaxed a little and noticed some of the fear was fading, like a fog lifting. A few minutes later, I sat down on the corner of the desk and the fear faded even more. After five more minutes I was cracking jokes and laughing. The fear was gone and I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.
The class and I were completely engaged. Time seemed to stand still. I was in the state that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow.
Even today, I am still amazed by the events of that day. In less than thirty minutes I went from feeling petrified to being in a state of flow. I went from being horribly uncomfortable to experiencing one of best moments of my life.
This all happened simply because I was willing to be uncomfortable longer than usual. Back then I didn’t realize what a turning point in my life this would become. By staying with my fear, I learned three valuable lessons:
1) I learned to believe in myself. I took an activity I had never done before and saw that I could do it and do it well. By staying with my fear I boosted my confidence significantly. This, in turn, made me more willing to try new things.
2) I discovered something I love to do. I absolutely love to be in front of a group, sharing my experiences, knowledge and insights. If I had let my fear win, I most likely would never have discovered how much I love being in front of a group. Speaking, teaching and presenting are a major part of my life and career now.
Every time since then that I have stayed with my fear, I’ve discovered something I love. It isn’t just some of the time, it is every time.
3) I learned how to stay with my fear. By staying with my discomfort, I proved to myself that I could deal effectively with fear. Each successive time I have done that it has become easier than the time before. By learning this valuable skill and repeatedly using it, I have experienced significant personal and spiritual growth. Had I not learned to stay with my fear, I would have stayed “small” instead of continuing to grow.
Many years ago I stood next to my fear and was willing to feel the discomfort. It was a huge turning point in my life that taught me three valuable life lessons.
How about you, are you willing to give it a try? Are you willing feel the discomfort of fear a bit longer than you normally do? If you are, wonderful blessings await you.