In a lot of my professional development and coaching work, there’s a phrase that comes up frequently: Learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. This concept has probably been THE theme of the last several months of my life. In the past, I had always prided myself for doing all kinds of self-help/self-improvement but honestly, these last several months have tested me at a totally different level.
At the end of April, I attended a training in SF on storytelling for nonprofits. The speaker was a very impressive woman with commanding presence. She was a former broadcast journalist who had started her own video production company, crafting video stories to help nonprofits promote their work. I had just busted my ass speed walking from the Caltrain station to arrive at the classroom on time, and within the first two minutes of starting the talk, she gave the audience an assignment. Think of a story you want to tell. Now split up into partners, and tell your story in two minutes.
Hold up!!! Are you fucking serious? Already, I’m being subjected to this socially awkward activity? Shit!! I mean, what story am I gonna tell? She gave us a whiteboard list of suggestions like, a pet story or a travel story or a relationship story or a funny story. Goddamnit, really? I thought of my blog: surely, I’d be able to draw from my recent posts…
Nope. Nada, because ALL of my posts from the last two months have been about Remy, and shit, there is no way I’m going to bring that up to a stranger and lose my marbles in the process. I started panicking. WTF??? Thankfully, the rational, calmer part of my brain started convincing myself: you say you’re interested in communications work. This is what that shit is all about. (In other words, serves you right, dumbass!!) Now, think fast and go!
Luckily, my partner was some old startup exec, who apparently had his startup story all ready to go at the tip of his tongue. So he volunteered to speak first. That bought me some time. He talked about attending a bunch of hackathons, cobbling together an unexpected/unlikely team of developers, and then forming a startup to solve some medical patient education issue. Done. I had wanted to use his talk time to plan my story, but I actually had to pay attention, so that plan totally fell through. Then it was my turn, and the only story I could think of that was NOT about Remy, was my airplane story with L. Ugh. I wasn’t really confident in that story, but I had zero time so I rolled with it. I got through the story and then sat back utterly relieved. Then, the speaker asks, “Who wants to share their story with the class?”
Whaaa?? Jesus Christ. Enough already!! Thankfully, a few extroverts piped up. Then, my partner volunteered to tell his story, which basically came across like a company plug. Then the speaker asked, “Who has a personal story to share? …Does anyone recommend their partner’s story?” OMFG, she’s a freaking insatiable badger!!! So I sit there thinking, whatever. I’m in the front row, but I’m not gonna volunteer, and my partner’s not gonna recommend me. Let’s just get through this and on to the meat of this talk. Well, whatdya fucking know? He recommends my story. Yeah. Are you kidding? So then, she urges me: “Come tell your story.” She senses my hesitation and then says, we won’t force you if you wish to decline. Well great. Give me an out that makes me look like a wuss!!! So fine. I agree to do it. She makes me stand up and turn around to face the room full of like 50 people. I power through. And all during, I get dead stares and bored faces. Shit, shit, shit!!! She rings the silly little bell at the two-minute mark, and I’m not even done! I finally wrap it up in 30 seconds. Fuck. I mean, I’m someone who “Elizabeth Doles” every speaking opportunity possible, so this on-the-fly crap was a complete nightmare. It was awful. I don’t even know if people liked my story, but whatever, I got ‘er done. And as perfectionist as I am (I still think about how I could have told the story better), in retrospect, I’m glad that I stood up and spoke. It didn’t kill me, and surely, as I do more of these uncomfortable exercises, I’m desensitizing myself to the annoying anxiety and awkwardness, right? I’m going to overcome that shit, because I cannot be inconvenienced, you know what I’m saying? :)