Let me start off with a little story. From the time I started going to school and socialising with other kids, I ended up doing just the opposite of what I was meant to do. Making friends was not the easiest thing in the world for me to do and maybe even today if you were to meet me in person, I would have a hard time initiating a conversation with you at our very first meeting although I might be successful at concealing it in the best way possible. It has taken me years of practise to conceal my discomfort. All my old report cards from school are filled with remarks by my teachers that I should be encouraged to participate more actively in class. Everyone kept telling me that all I needed to do was be more confident. With some effort from all sides, things began to change a little bit. At one point I even remember being called the most talkative kid in class!
However, whenever a teacher walked into the class prepared to ask questions on a previous lesson, my being fully prepared to answer them never helped with the anxiety. I knew that I was prepared with the answers but I could feel my heart beating against my ribs. I would dread being picked in front of my classmates and always tried my best to hide my face behind the head of the person sitting in front of me. Reading aloud even from a text-book in front of an audience comprising of my own classmates and teachers would put me in the most uncomfortable position imaginable. I would panic and mess up words and sentence structures. My eyes would read the words faster than my brain processed them (or so I thought) and I would end up shaking with shame and frustration. Again, the main advice I received from all sides was to work on my confidence.
During my early teens some of my teachers picked me to deliver a speech in front of an audience comprising of the entire school. The decision was based on the pretext that I had a very neutral English accent and that I should get out of my comfort zone to face this challenge. Despite my initial protests, I agreed to give it a shot, more for myself than for anyone else. It was a "Thought for the Day" speech which had something to do with a frog in a well. It had been written by one of my teachers who advised me to learn the whole thing by-heart and to not carry a piece of paper on stage. I worked on it for about five days, reciting it as often as I could, sometimes in front of the mirror, sometimes in the shower. But never in front of an audience of any kind. Never in front of my parents or close friends. Even getting caught while practising was a source of embarrassment to me. On the day of the school assembly, I climbed up on stage, shaking with nervousness as the assistant adjusted the microphone to my height. My entire speech probably sounded like this:
I completely messed it up and loathed myself for it. I couldn't face a single person I knew at the school and mentally calculated the probability of my falling down from the stage and dying a sudden death. All I truly wanted to do was curl up somewhere and wait to be transported to a world away from the source of my shame. It was horrible. I allowed myself to pity my very existence for about 4 whole days after which I decided to try and snap out of it.
Ever since that incident, I sought out opportunities for debates, public speaking, and the like, by joining various clubs in both my school as well as college. I later went on to volunteer to speak at events. I volunteered at every turn to become the first person to present seminars in college. I must admit that on some such occasions, the stage fright and anxiety did catch me out of the blue, despite all my attempts at overcoming the same. But it wasn't all bad. I started seeing a difference by the time I was doing my post-graduation and seminars became an important part of my existence. Those seminars on an almost weekly basis started making me comfortable to address an audience and I noticed how a part of my former scared self began to fade slowly. It so happened, that after landing myself a corporate job by pure chance, I learned that I would be addressing as many as 200 engineers on a daily basis. It was terrifying considering how I never thought that I would be up for the challenge. They were all about my age and I must admit I looked younger than most of them. I liked to think of them as my equals so something about the task of taking classes for them and assigning them with activities seemed daunting at first. I can't begin to explain how much I grew to love that job day after day as it widened my horizons and completely plucked me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to be comfortable addressing large groups of people on a daily basis. I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity and the learning experience.
But am I a confident person today? I can't say for sure. All I can say is that I have come a very long way by doing two things - avoiding self pity and fighting for improvement. So when I stumbled upon this video recently, I couldn't help but wish that I had seen this as a teenager:
Do share this with any young kids or teenagers that you might know too.
Have a happy Sunday!