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How I Let Myself Down By Never Being Who I Was Born To Be

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How I Let Myself Down By Never Being Who I Was Born To Be

Throughout most of our lives, we stumble along, never really knowing which direction will lead us to the path created just for us. Perhaps, we never believe there is such a thing and merely come across it by accident. In my case, it was something I still have trouble accepting, even six years later.

I tell myself that I am just a simple woman in her late 40s who has been married for almost 27 years with three grown sons. The career path I chose back in college is nowhere near where I am now, and yet no college course could have ever guided me here. For years, I muddled through life without knowing it. I feel remorseful for cheating my husband and sons out of who I really could have been for them. The truth is that I didn’t know how to be more than who I was. I gave them everything I could and only now understand how I not only let myself down, but them as well.

Downplaying my talents

For years, I downplayed my abilities and denied my gifts and talents. Some of you might be able to relate. In the past, they brought me attention, even though it was usually the good kind. I was recognized for being an academic scholar and a superb athlete in high school. I was popular and many people knew my name. But that was just what everyone saw on the surface. I still had hidden underneath years of not feeling like I fit in or knew where I belonged. Even as a member of team, I never really felt comfortable there. I just played my game and let my skills speak for me — maybe so I wouldn’t have to otherwise.

And that worked for a great number of years.

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But it wasn’t just myself I had cheated. Or my family. I had cheated the world too. I had lied, been deceitful, and hurtful — all without ever intending to do so.

I had cheated everyone of everything I was ever born to be.

Letting fear take hold

Fear is a nasty slave and once we become its prisoner, it is very difficult to break those chains. For some, it can be downright impossible. For others, there is no one there to show them the way or to encourage them to be somewhere different. We convince ourselves that we are not worthy and that our mere presence is barely worth the ounce of breath we spend with that acknowledgement. Most would never see their lives as diminished, sheltered, and minuscule. This is why what we believe matters.

I didn’t believe in myself.

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I never wanted to stand out from the crowd, and even now it still makes me uncomfortable, but I am better at it. “Being ordinary” and blending in with the crowd, barely flying under the radar seemed to work — but that changed six years ago.

Making the change

Without knowing why, a friend and I had arrived at the same crossroads, asking ourselves the “big” questions of our “purpose,” and I became ready for the life I was born to live after just a few words. I allowed my heart to be free and soared higher than I ever had before.

It was scary, new, and yet something I couldn’t dismiss. My purpose had called to me and I was finally ready to hear it and do something with it. Not even really knowing what that meant and stumbling more than I ever had before left me with more questions than answers. At times, I felt like I didn’t know which direction to take, but I never felt lost.

I had spent my previous 40+ years full of logic and reason, following a plan I had no part in designing. I now felt in control of my life, as if I had just found my voice and realized that I could make choices for the first time.

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I took me a long way to get there and then once I did, I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to who I once was. Not that I wanted to, but I wouldn’t have had a clue. I was changed — changed for good.

Change isn’t always easy

Some of the roads I took were very hard. So hard, they made me want to run away as fast as I could without looking back. But something kept pushing me forward. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to keep going. I read as many books as I could that would enlighten me and bring my sense of awareness to a level I had never experienced before. Admission and honesty became my two of my biggest advocates. Forgiving myself was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, and yet I knew in doing so it would give me peace and allow my true spirit to be released from the captivity I created for it.

I began to journal in notebooks in addition to my blog that I shared online. My journals are much more personal and one of my biggest fears is whose eyes will see them one day when I am no longer here. They are the most raw and vulnerable ways of expressing myself that I have shared. Getting these thoughts and emotions out of my head and somewhere else brought a sense of relief that I had not found anywhere else.

Probably the biggest thing I did was to believe in who I have always been. After spending too many years ignoring who I was and what I was capable of, I came out of the shadows — damaged, broken, hurt, and yet still I knew there was more to me than those attributes that I assigned myself a long time ago. I stopped trying to be who someone told me to be, following a road I never wanted to be on, and stopped caring about what others thought about my choices. I have but one life and I consciously chose to start living it on my terms and no one else was going to tell me differently.

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Throughout these moments of absolute fear and doubt, I found courage and strength in places I never knew it existed. It filled me with a sense of joy and excitement about life that I had never experienced. Every day was a blessing, not a curse or something to begrudge. As I shared more of my stumbles and struggles, more people began to feel relieved that they weren’t alone and would often sigh heavily as the words, “Me, too!” escaped from their lips. You could just see it in their eyes and feel it when we allowed ourselves to be who we really are.

Where to go from here

If you’re struggling with making similar life-altering decisions, these tips might help you out.

  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers and be willing to accept them for what they are, not what you want them to be. Although you may be guided by others, including books about where to find the answers, ultimately the answers are only as good as the questions.
  • Fight through fear. It is easy to walk away and pretend it doesn’t matter, but you and I both know that at some point in your future, that decision to walk away will come back to haunt you. You can only get to the other side of fear by going through it. You cannot avoid it or pretend it isn’t there. Confront it, get it over with, and move on.
  • Be honest. Honesty will become something you hate and yet you are unable to grow without it. It will piss you off and remind you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear. But when all is said and done, you know where you stand.
  • Tell your story. Being vulnerable is one of the most daring things anyone can ever do. There is the fear of ridicule, regret of sharing too much, and even feeling alone, all wrapped into something that most can’t even imagine doing. Ask yourself why TED talks are so well attended and you will understand the value of storytelling and the connection we all make when someone shares a bit of themselves with us.
  • Keep going. Most people never get started, and yet the ones who have taken on the task of finding themselves can get frustrated and discouraged if the road seems too difficult. We forget that by consistently moving forward, even with baby steps, we inspire the world and people in ways we never even imagined. Every ripple begins with one simple movement.

The journeys we believe we are meant to take may surprise us and actually take us in directions we were never meant to follow. By withdrawing from life and every possible notion it has created, built, and envisioned for us, we trick everyone into believing that we have nothing more to offer and we become impostors. We become hypocritical and fake in a world that is hungry for more authenticity and honesty.

Our world is what we make it and living our true lives is how we add to it every day. In doing so, we make it better and make a difference in the lives of others. No more hiding, no more pretending, no more cheating. This is who I was born to be — I just never knew it.

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So when you least expect it, when you are swamped with everything else going on in your life, you just may find yourself heading down a path you never imagined, and yet you know it is the one you must follow. Without a single regret, you will look back and smile, accepting that this very moment is why you are here, why you matter, why it called to you. Pay attention.

Featured photo credit: Jordan Donaldson via unsplash.com

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Michelle A. Homme

Author, Speaker, Quote Writer, Empowerment Coach

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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