Say Yes to the Distress

You know that moment when the “I’m gonna do it; I’m gonna ride that huge roller coaster!” turns into “Crap, how can I escape this lineup?”?

Yeah that. I recently had this experience, though the setting was a little different.

And so was the ending, but I digress.

So here’s the sitch: I recently gave a lecture at a university class.

(Anyone else experiencing nausea, terror and the sweats?)

For those of you who don’t know me, that’s a huge deal, completely on par with the rollercoaster. And this one goes way back, since grades school—I was the shy kid who would have anxiety attacks on cue if the teacher called on me. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. It’s something that I have carried with me pretty much my entire life, and it rears its ugly head when I have to speak in groups, even chatting with a group of friends, and most definitely keeps me from public speaking.

And yet, I regularly sing in front of people without issue.

I’m right there with you: what gives?! and why the bleep did I say yes to this metaphorical roller coaster?!

Both great q’s. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. As a vocal coach, I am reminded daily that singing and speaking are, essentially, the same thing (think of singing like “sustained speech). I mean, they come from the same place and are made by the same instrument, right? Makes sense. But recently I was made aware of one significant difference between the two: the beliefs we carry. In other words, thoughts are powerful.
  2. The best way I can answer the “why” question is to say that I secretly want to public speak. Weird, huh? That’s often the case; that the thing we’re scared of most is the thing we actually really need (and want) to do. The following quote from the lovely Marie Forleo will shed some light on this; I love the way she likens fear to a sort of GPS: “Fear is instructive and directive for where our souls want us to go.” [Now, of course, we’re not talking healthy, basic survival fear, like “Don’t walk alone at night” or “Don’t touch the hot stove element.” We’re talking the “I can’t speak in front of a group,” or “I can’t possibly perform my own songs” kind of fear. The stuff that, with a flip of the script (thought), can become a sort of adventure instead of imminent doom.]  

As I found myself standing in front of a university class, presenting “Your Voice: How it Works and Why it Matters” (it’s way more entertaining than it sounds, pinky promise), something interesting happened. At the 20-minute mark, I actually started to enjoy it, like really enjoy it. The class was fabulous and attentive with insightful questions, and I was lit up, passionate, animated even! In fact, I could have talked way past the 1.5 hour mark, which I never in a trillion years would have believed I could do (or would want to do). The icing on the cake came when I overheard a few students remark, “Why doesn’t everyone know this information?!”

Sigh. My heart skipped a beat, in the very best sense.

So what happened? How did I conquer my lifelong “rollercoaster”?

I said “yes” and (here’s the kicker) stuck it out—waaaay past the point of no return.

Past the pit stains and the hot flashes, past the nausea and the tummy rumbles, past the blushing and tongue-tied-ness, past the “What the heck are you doing?! You aren’t qualified to do this?!?” inner dialogue. And you know what? Things got good.

And everything but the pit stains subsided.

So, all that said, here are the key takeaways from my rollercoaster saga: (1) examine your limiting beliefs, (2) face your fear and, as they say, do it anyway, (3) breathe through the discomfort, and (4) welcome in the magic.

Or perhaps, more eloquently: “On the other side of fear lies freedom.” (Richa Srivastava)

[P.S. Some of us genuinely don’t like roller coasters and that’s totally cool. It’s not essential to. I'm talking about a different kind of belief —the ones that keep us small, quiet or limited in any way, and especially the ones we refrain from but secretly wish we could do. You know the ones.] 


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