Recently my Facebook page started popping up with notices that I’d been tagged in photos. Turns out one of the kids I went to elementary school with had scanned in something like 500 photos. Very cool. And sure got me thinking back to childhood.
Here’s one of me in a play in 1st or 2nd grade. I was a pilgrim, in case you aren’t sure from the… interesting… costume. I also played the scared little rabbit in a play around the same time and remember being absolutely petrified even though it was only in front of my classroom of about 25 kids.
My strongest memory of early elementary school is the color of the carpet because I spent so much time looking at the floor, afraid to engage with the other kids or speak up. My only memories from preschool are of hiding under a table and of reading while hiding under a table.
But I had a teacher in 8th grade that took time to care about me enough to push me (while I alternated between crying, pouting, and insisting I would NOT give a speech) into the spotlight. I was forced (really, she did not give me a choice – and Judy Wasierski if you happen to be reading this by some strange twist, I want you know that I blame you and thank you for forcing me to grow as a person) to participate in a speech competition. I was 13. It was horrible.
I wrote a speech about the gymnastics camp I had attended the summer before (oh yes, this post is full of strange facts I bet you didn’t know about me, including the fact that while scared of heights I loved gymnastics – go figure). It was a typical kid speech. Nothing remarkable, except that I survived it. And somehow I ended up in the top several for my grade. It was a small school. But that meant that I then had to give the speech in front of the entire Jr & Sr High School. I thought I was going to die… heart pounding so loud I couldn’t hear anything except the pounding… and I was shaking.
It did not go well. I’d love to say I did fabulously and thus began my time in the spotlight. But nothing of the sort happened. Instead I was so nervous, that people kept reminding me to speak slowly (when I get excited I’m one of those really fast talkers). So I did. I… spoke… so… slowly… that I got to the 4 minute limit and wasn’t 2/3 of the way through my 3 1/2 minute speech. Yeah… I didn’t win.
But I made it. I got teased afterwards. I made it through that, too.
And the experience taught me that I could live through those feelings of anxiety and that failure really wasn’t the end of the world.
Following that experience, I went into high school and I voluntarily began competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate, extemporaneous speaking, impromptu speaking, dramatic and humerous interpretation, and other events. I also got into drama and performed in several plays. The shaky feeling never went away, but I also never had more fun.
Another time I’ll have to share what happened in my first debate competition. I froze. And conceded. But that story can come later because it’s got a different lesson in it.
Why am I sharing this? It’s the icing, remember? No, actually for two reasons. First, I want to encourage you to be that person in someone else’s life who supports and maybe even pushes them into what’s possible if they can get beyond their fears. Second, as a reminder that whatever our fears are we can push past them and we might find that the thing we were most afraid of turns out to be something we love. I needed this reminder and thought someone else out there might, too.