I’ve always liked that Susan Jeffers quote “feel the fear…and do it anyway.” Mind over matter, and all that. Despite having a crippling fear of public speaking, I have been volunteering to do more of it at work. Public speaking is not something that has ever come naturally to me – my stomach tangles in knots, I sweat, I stumble over my words, I can’t catch my breath. I have always been envious of people who can give a speech or get up in front of a big group without a second thought. John is totally like this, which is why he’s such a good improviser (read: no fear). But I have always had the fear.
Knowing that though, I understand that not giving presentations, leading workshops, speaking on a panel, etc will limit me professionally. So, like I said, I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and volunteer to do the very thing that has crippled me most of my life.
This week I did a huge presentation in front of about 50 people at work and didn’t puke. In fact, I actually think that I did pretty well! It may seem like small beans to someone who is comfortable with public speaking, but for me it was a huge deal. I prepared and planned for it very academically, as my Type A self is want to do. I started from scratch, made an outline, spent weeks meticulously filling in the outline, spent a weekend building a slide deck, rehearsing my slides over and over, memorizing my entire presentation, making sure the whole thing would come off naturally. Before my presentation I was nervous, but not oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-die nervous like usual. The second I got up in front of the room I felt ok. I began my presentation and was surprised at how good I felt. This non-nervousness gave me confidence: I knew what I was talking about and the flow was good. Afterward I did an internal fist pump. I was super prepared and I crushed it! Yes!
But then I got to thinking. Yes, I was prepared. More prepared than I have ever been for a presentation probably. But something else was there too, something bigger, something less obvious. And I slowly realized what it was. 2014 was a self-care journey for me. I have actively started to practice more self compassion. Telling myself that I am enough just as I am, knowing deeply that I am exactly who I am meant to be – and that anyone or anything telling me otherwise is wrong. I have taken all the bad things that people have said about me or negative thoughts I have told myself, challenged them, contradicted them, and let them fall away.
I realized that part of my fears, in public speaking but also in life, are of actually being seen. That someone will take one look at me and see my size and then choose not to see anything else. That I would be just a blobby person, jiggling along, horrifying and offending with my weight or the way I look. I know, it’s crazy talk. But it’s basically a crime to be an overweight American these days, specifically for women. Fat shaming is a form of discrimination and bullying that is still, somehow, very socially acceptable.
Sidenote: I am so obsessed and thrilled with people like Whitney Thore, Tess Munster, Jes Baker. They are taking the body-positive, #effyourbeautystandards movement to a new level. They make me feel ok to be who I am. Proud even. They inspire me. I look at them and I see women, and bodies, I can actually relate to. I wish these types of role models existed when I was a kid. Anyway…
I never once considered that if I spoke in front of a room of people that they would see anything other than my body. And judge it. Not thinking for a second that if I actually was ever giving a presentation to a packed house, that it might mean I’m a subject matter expert in something. That I have knowledge and expertise that other people want to learn more about. That I have value and worth exclusive to my career and my intellect, rather than my body or my looks. I honestly have never given this pause before. Until now.
I gave a great presentation because I was prepared. For sure. But I also did well because I believe more, now than ever, in the worth of the person giving the presentation. That despite being afraid, I will not be confined by a body or a number on a scale. That I have the power to chose what I’m afraid of. And this is not one of those things anymore. And that, as I let deeply ingrained fears fall away, the future seems impossibly open and all mine.
So, here’s me, sometimes being terrified…but doing it anyway…in my imperfect body…and feeling really proud.