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Finding my voice onstage: working through public speaking paralysis

I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Think of a time when you didn’t think you were capable of doing something, but then surprised yourself.  How will you surprise yourself this week? (Author: Ashley Ambirge)

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I’m sitting among my fellow soon-to-be graduates, listening to our mentors address the assembled crowd of several hundred. Our coach training mentors are animated and lovely, relaxed and real.  I marvel at  the fact that they could be talking one on one to me, across the table at a cafe.  I wonder if the public speaking gene is real.  I’m pretty sure it is, and equally sure I wasn’t born with it.  Just the thought of speaking in front of a crowd makes me break out in a sweat.

And suddenly, I’m aware that the room has gone quiet.  Was that MY name I heard?  She repeats it, and I realize I am being called to the podium.  I am to say something to this crowd of people, something wise and witty and profound for the coaches I have come to know and for their families.  I have prepared nothing.  I had no idea this was in the cards, and silently curse my miserable luck at having been named Amy in a class of graduates whose names begin with letters after A.

I consider my options and seeing no viable choice but to rise, I swallow the nausea and begin to walk toward the front of the ampitheater.  I’m in shock, I think, because the people around me blend into one moving mass of color and shape and I can’t hear words, just sounds.  As I take the microphone and look out across the sea of expectant faces, I think “No way”.  Ain’t no way.  I’m blank.

And then.

I happen to glance over at my eight year old son, who is beaming radiantly at me from his chair.  He holds my gaze for a moment and I suddenly realize that yes, I can do this.  For him.  For me.

I miraculously come up with a few words, and then a few more.  I make a joke, and people laugh.  I come back into my body and into the room and into my heart.  This is an important moment for me.  I tap into the gratitude I feel for what has happened during my two-year program, and from that place I speak easily, comfortably, without effort.

As I return to my seat, I realize I am beaming like my son was.  I’m amazed that I busted through and found my strength. I bask in the grace that clearly powered my performance.  My surprise turns to a deeper appreciation for what I now know I’m able to do.

How will I surprise myself this week?  How will I invite this appreciation for a return visit?  I’ll look for opportunities to speak out in crowds.  There will be several.  I will welcome the chance to show my strength, and give it a chance to get out of the closet where it has been hanging out.  I can do this.  I know I can.

What about you?  How will YOU surprise yourself this week?

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This post was catalzyed by the Trust30 Challenge, an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages you to look within and trust yourself.  The Challenge was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings on self-reliance.  Join me, and use this as an opportunity to reflect on your now, and to create direction for your future.

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