I always make New Years' resolutions. They're usually along the lines of "lose weight" or "eat healthier" and "make more money" or "travel to a different country" and "read a book a month." Yeah, they're pretty standard. Most people can relate to these sort of self-improvement goals, and even more of us can relate to not achieving them. I used to think this was because I was lazy (or some other negative thing) (which could be true - who knows), but I'm not so sure anymore. Why? Because this year, I actually did improve myself but in a way that was so shocking and unexpected that I barely realized it was happening.
If you found my site, you probably know that I 1) stutter and 2) am a public speaker. Let me explain that a bit more: I'm a stutterer that willingly and happily gets in front of a crowd of people to talk about shit while displaying the thing that gives me the most anxiety (my disjointed speech). If you're wondering - yes, I do see the humor in it. I have a speech impediment, and I speak. In public. For, like, other people to hear. Whoa.
A year ago, if you would have told me that in twelve short months I would be actively pursuing speaking gigs around the world I'm pretty sure I would have looked at you like you just said "I do crack recreationally and my job randomly drug tests."
Are you fucking kidding me? That's asinine and you're crazy.
Yet, here I am. Talking about not just stuttering, but also marketing, entrepreneurship, communications and - my personal favorites - fear and vulnerability. I was lucky enough to grab a spot at Ignite Chicago's April event this year where I spoke on patience. After the event was over, a guy walked up to me, introduced himself (his name is Jim and he's fantastic), and invited me to speak at his conference.
Before I go on with this story, let me pause here for a second and talk about fear. My speech - and my resulting anxiety about it - turned me into someone that was afraid to talk. To anyone. In any situation. Ever. I was terrified to go on job interviews. I was terrified to talk to guys I was dating about anything that might trip me up. I was terrified to order food at restaurants. I was terrified to talk to my friends about anything that might cause me to stutter. I just had a general fear of speaking in most situations which dictated, well, everything.
I chose not to speak instead of speaking and stuttering. I'll definitely get more into the psychology behind stuttering in future posts, but the short version is this: many stutterers struggle their whole lives with not wanting to speak for fear of their words not coming out, so they choose instead to be silent.
I was - and, occasionally, still am - one of those people. Just a few hours ago, I ordered a coffee and contemplated not saying my first name - using my middle name instead - because it would be easier to get out. I did end up saying my first name, and it took forever to get out. Embarrassing? Yes. But it just goes to show that it's a constant anxiety, even fear, hanging over your head knowing that your biggest vulnerability is always on display.
This year, though, something changed. I knew that I wanted to improve my life and not in the superficial ways that I usual aim to do so (lose 20 pounds, read more, etc.). And I knew that to do that, I had to make a major change. You should know something about me: I'm either all in or I'm not at all in. So when I really set my mind to something, I pretty much pursue every possibility relentlessly until I have achieved whatever goal it is I set out for. That has materialized itself as my committing to something upfront and being scared about it later.
So when Jim asked me to speak at his conference, I immediately said yes. I didn't ask any questions about where it was, how long the talk had to be, what was the audience - I literally threw caution to the wind, said yes on the spot, and two hours later was full-on fetal in the corner of my bathroom shaking from the holy-shit-what-I-have-done fear that had pretty much taken over every ounce of my being.
Seeing that there is a video of myself speaking at said conference, you know how this story ends. I womaned up, wrote a speech about the only thing I knew - using vulnerability to your advantage - and presented it to the most amazing group of human beings ever congregated at a conference. It was one of the highlights of my year and I could not have been happier to be there.
So what happened between that "I'm going to pee my pants" bathroom moment and speaking at Madison+ Ruby? Nothing spectacular, but I had a bit of an a-ha moment along the way.
Side not: I know some of you smart asses out there are all "Well I'm afraid to jump off a building so you're saying I should do that?" No, you idiot, and you know what I mean. God.
I had always enjoyed speaking - when I wasn't stuttering, that is - but the idea of speaking at conferences in front of professional people terrified me so much that it just wasn't an option. After speaking at Madison Plus Ruby, I realized something. This thing that has made me different in what I considered to be a bad way is actually something that I can use to my advantage. Stutter, oddly enough, helps me get my point accross and it motivates people. Stuttering levels the playing field for sure, but it - in combination with my message - shows people what they are capable of if they just allow themselves to embrace what they fear the most.
So what are you afraid of, and how has that shaped your actions, your thoughts and your goals? We all have gifts, and as comfortable as it is to pursue the ones that we're the most proud of or are the easiest or most convienent, it might be worth your time to tap into the gifts you've hid beneath your fears. You truly have no idea the number of doors that can open and the opportunities that will arise if you just tap into the scary space.