As we’re accepting applications for our Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident programme (Yay!), we’ve been reflecting on the decision-making process -and what happens AFTER we’ve committed, so we can support our Quieteers when and how they need it. But it’s not only our Quieteers starting a new course -I’m going back to school too!
Some of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life have been around education and training. As the quiet girl blushing at the back of the class who would freeze up when called upon to speak; having to practice saying “here” when my name was called in registration; and being physically sick knowing I had a presentation to do… I had little hope for getting a Degree, let alone studying for a Masters! How could a girl like me get through higher education?
In my early 20s, when I’d long since chickened out of going to university, my NHS Ward Manager had put me forwards for a Foundation Degree in Healthcare Practice at my local college, along with other healthcare assistants from my ward and across the hospital.
You know when you really WANT to do something BUT you’re so afraid that you can’t, you feel like you’re not good enough and worry you won’t cope? That’s the Ping Pong stage. We’re considering the opportunity, assessing our ability and weighing up the risks. We’re back and forth from “I really want this and I think I can succeed if I try” to “It’s too hard and I don’t want to fail or be rejected”. (You might feel the same in dating, joining a new social club or starting a new hobby!)
But if it’s important enough, your heart wins (eventually).
You press the ‘go’ button.
I was anxious about having to speak up in class and present but I knew I could sail through written course work with my head in a book. And I wanted to open up my career path. So I focused on the positives and I got onto the course. Cue: the ‘Freak Out’…
Now ALL I could see was presentations and public speaking. And what would the other students think of me? The Panic Monster had arrived. But I’d already committed, how could I back out now? My inner Porky Pig was on the case figuring out the best excuses for quitting but let’s face it, I wasn’t going to have that conversation with the College AND my workplace, I’d feel too ashamed. The build up of anxiety culminated in a tearful outburst with a colleague on a nightshift. Helpfully, a trainee counsellor. I’d never really spoken about how afraid I was before, and it helped to get it out there and to feel understood. Perhaps for the very first time.
I came away with questions which shifted me out of feeling absolutely certain that I was going to fail and be harshly criticised, and into a more curious space… What if I’m not the same person I was at school? What if I CAN do it now? And even IF I am rubbish at presentations, could I still pass? What’s more important to me: getting the qualification or being seen as ‘perfect’?
Avoiding presentations was no longer an option (naturally, I checked; it’d lead to failing my degree), so I had no choice but to face the challenge. Almost immediately, there was a presentation to do -and then the Aftermath hits! You know, the part where your brain tells you that your performance was the worst and really zooms in on all the times you umm’d and forgot what you were saying, fell over your words, went red in the face, or said something ‘stupid’ (never mind that gigantic spot on your face!)
But the feedback that I received didn’t match what my inner critic was telling me. Other people weren’t zooming in on my perceived flaws and f**k ups. In fact, my efforts AND my performance were being praised, and I didn’t fail a single Presentation. I got low marks for some them of course, but even my Presentation grades raised as I showed up and practiced and got a little more comfortable and trusting in myself.
Sure, I was still one of the quietest students in the class, preferring to listen and reflect and process each lesson silently, rather than speak up, but I could do it when I was called to. And as for the presentations? It turns out I could be pretty good at them. There were even people on the course who felt more anxious than I did about them and I could (quietly) cheer them on!
The stories that we tell about ourselves and what we can achieve are often outdated at best or completely untrue, missing huge pieces of information! Who knows what we are capable of until we try (and try again)?
When I took that first leap of faith, I couldn’t have imagined that public speaking and presenting to 100s of people at a time would be part of my work now -or that I’d be going on to study for a Masters! And who knows where our Quieteers will be after their leap of faith in joining Socially Anxious to Quietly Confident. Perhaps the most exciting part is creating space for who we could become!