According to the cue cards held up by that guy from The Walking Dead, who is completely and creepily in love with his best friend’s wife in the movie Love Actually, ‘At Christmas, you tell the truth’. Well, it’s Christmas time, and I suppose it’s time for me to tell the truth. Some say it might even set me free.
I have been avoiding this conversation with all of you for quite some time now, and with myself for that matter. There have been a couple of moments when I got really close to typing up this post, but at each opportunity, I chose a different topic because I pretended it was more important. I mean does anyone seek out the Revitalize, or Die. blog to read about my personal struggles? No- you come here for the parking memes, of course.
Well, this week’s blog will not be the usual litany of things we need to improve upon in the community development world, sorry to disappoint, though I guarantee some idiot will still comment that ‘this is a long read’. No, this week is a confession of sorts. I have something I need to get off my chest because I believe it might be the only way to deal with it. I have come around to the fact that in hiding our problems, we only give them more power over us and I am tired of this problem having power over me. Dear readers, (inhale sharply) I have been struggling with public speaking anxiety for the last 18 months.
So the story of my public speaking anxiety begins in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the spring of 2021 when I was blindsided by a panic attack. It was my very first experience with such a thing and it happened while I was in the middle of a presentation to 150 strangers. Not ideal. My vision narrowed, my heart pounded, my voice quavered and I thought my knees were going to give out. One of my hosts was kind enough to recognize my soul attempting to leave my body and gave me a glass of water and a moment to recover.
Fortunately, after a very awkward period, where the crowd and I stared at each other trying to sort out what weird thing would happen next, I was able to get back on track. After leaving the stage, two EMT’s approached me and asked me if I was okay. You know you seriously screwed up your presentation if EMT’s have to check on you afterwards. I mean, I appreciate them doing their jobs and all, but geez guys.
It is the cruelest twist of irony that after working for years to create a dream job for myself, some self-loathing part of my subconscious wants to destroy it. I am not afraid of talking to people, not concerned with embarrassing myself, and not worried about being perfect, the thing that is truly terrifying is that if I can’t do this one thing, then my career is a smoldering dumpster fire. If I can’t present in public then there goes my career- and just like that, I have to go back to selling feet pics online.
It feels pretty messed up, but I started this blog with the intention of being honest even when it made people uncomfortable, and now I realize that I must do the same for myself. I built this business up by being truthful, and now here I am, scared of wrecking it all by being truthful. I don’t deserve any shelter from my own insistence that we have to face our problems. I literally told someone on a Zoom call yesterday that if their community is not willing to admit their issues, they will never be able to address them. Who is this hypocrite laughing at me in the mirror- and when did his beard get so gray?
On top of that, I started reading the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck this week, and it become readily apparent that shit wasn’t going away so I have to accept it and find a way to deal with it. The elephant in the room is sitting on my lap and staring at me, so it is time to come clean. The author Mark Manson makes the point that it’s okay to be fucked up, that’s life, and it’s a process. If nothing is wrong, your mind will create something wrong so you have a struggle to overcome. If that’s the case, then my mind has succeeded. Thanks so much, stupid brain.
So for the past 18 months, I shit my pants a little when I realize I have to speak in public, worried that next time will be the time that the EMT’s actually have to haul me away and I have to start getting pedicures again. But so far I have managed. I’ve been meditating, I took an improv class, I gave up drinking for an evening. So far, so good. A few times I have been on the verge of vomiting on the front row and have had to picture all of you in your unders, but mostly, it’s fine.
It’s been a real struggle to admit I’m struggling. It’s scary as shit to be honest about something I want to hide, but I suppose growth isn’t possible without pushing past one’s fears. It seems like a bad idea to tell the people that might hire me that I might just tip over when I come to their town, but this is what I have to do. This is a public problem and I won’t resolve a damn thing by telling a few friends or opening up to family, I have to face you, the public. If coming clean is what I must do to face this struggle head-on, I can’t think of a place more head-on than right here. This is the thing I built so I guess I must be willing to break it too. It’s my blog and I can do what I want!
So there it is. I am not going to stop consulting, I am not going to stop public speaking. I am not giving up on this idea for one damn second. This is my dream job and I fucking love it. I love traveling to communities and helping them with their problems. There is nothing more rewarding than making a difference and seeing communities start to give a damn again. I just have to accept that it won’t be easy. I realize now that parts of this work will take some work, and that’s okay.
Because what is life if not overcoming obstacles? How do we grow if we don’t face our fears? How can I preach about pride if I am not willing to be honest about my shame? At least I don’t love my best friend’s wife, I am not that type of creep.