When I tell people I was a painfully shy kid, they look at me like I am joking. I am a frequent speaker, mostly internally at my job these days. I learned to present confidently even when I don’t feel it. I forced myself each time I felt the piercing angst to walk into and through the feeling. I didn’t want it to hold me back so I took it on as a personal challenge to defeat it.
I learned to get up in front of an audience even through my stomach was doing backflips. And I am told, I came across as composed and under control. But still there are times with new challenges and experiences, I find myself in fear’s grip and face the familar choice – let it paralyze me or beat it back.
The stage can take many shapes and forms as a working mother of three. I was at a four year old birthday party with my daughter recently. She pulled at my arm to come and go down the slide with her. I laughed and joined her in a maze of stairs. When I saw a slide, I said, “Let’s go honey.” She said, “That’s not THE slide. We need to keep climbing.”
Another couple of her friends joined us. When we reached the top of the stairs, I took in a huge wide, blue expanse, like nothing I have ever seen. I felt my stomach do those backflips and my mind recoil at that thought of plummeting down and down. “I can’t do this!” was playing on a continuous loop in my head.
Three little girls sitting on my lap looked at me expectantly as we just sat there on the ledge. I felt the crushing weight of responsibility. I couldn’t project my fear on them. So I closed my eyes and pushed off and thankfully landed safely at the bottom in a heap of little arms and legs.
When they said, “Let’s go again,” I politely declined. But I felt good that I was able to make myself move forward on this stage and set an example for my daughter who admitted she was too afraid to go by herself.
My second son recently shared a poem that so perfectly captured the range of physical reactions and emotions I have felt when fearful. With his permission, I am sharing it here. I am also proud he is making the choice to face down his fears.
What do I feel when going on a stage?
By Damian Angelidis
Oh no! Stage Fright! Everything just turned white!
I’m scared, I’m shaking, and it feels like I am baking.
Calm down, take deep breaths, don’t stumble while you step.
Look in the crowd for faces you know, let them see your smile grow.
But what to do, what must be done, remember your lines and have some fun.
Go on that stage confident and proud, and make that crowd go wow!
Now go back and cheer with your friends, you did it, now go do it again!
For me at least, my battle with my fear looks to be a life-long endeavor. I wonder what the next stage will be?