My mouth was so dry that my tongue couldn’t move, so I drank a glass of water. My speech was coming up and I was terrified at the prospect of getting up behind the lectern and addressing the audience. I could feel my mouth drying out again so I poured another glass of water, and then another, and then another, until I had drained the whole pitcher – now I had another problem on my hands. I really should take a bathroom break, but now I didn’t have time – my turn in front of the audience had come.
As terrifying as that experience was, I wouldn’t go back and trade it for anything – even if I could. I didn’t know it at the time, but that required public speaking class was preparing me for opportunities that I couldn’t yet imagine. This was so far outside of my comfort zone that the only reason that I did it was that this class was a requirement for all incoming freshman.
According to a Gallup pole, 45% of Americans are afraid of public speaking. In fact, it is the second most common fear in the USA – snakes are number one.
I didn’t master my fear of public speaking during that class, but it did get a little easier. I realized that unless I told them about it, everyone else would never know how hard my heart was pounding when I walked up to the stage. My big breakthrough came the following year when I was asked to speak to an audience of 1200! That event and the preparation surrounding it represented a turning point for me. I was no longer filled with fear and trepidation before going on stage. Any many professional opportunities since have come as direct result of that training in public speaking.
Looking back, I can see the tremendous value of that experience, although at the time, I couldn’t see the benefits. I couldn’t see past my own fear and discomfort. However, nothing outstanding ever comes from staying inside of your own comfort zone. Great things come when we stretch ourselves. This means that we have to set our fears (ego) aside, literally getting out of our own way in order to step into our own future.
What fears are holding you back? What would you do, if you knew that you couldn’t fail? Recognizing the fears that are keeping you in your comfort zone is the first step to breaking free of them. Remember – staying in your comfort zone keeps you playing a much smaller game than you’re meant to play.