A year or so ago, I went to a friend’s 50th birthday party. This is someone I have known for over a decade and who I consider myself relatively close to.
I have been to parties he has thrown before, and they are generally your typical cocktail party where the guests stand around eating, drinking and socializing. So it was a great shock to me on this occasion when my friend announced he had rented a karaoke machine and wanted everyone to perform at some point.
This was a side of my friend that I had never seen in all the years I had known him. And at this event, one that he threw for himself to celebrate himself, I learned two important things about him. The first is that he has a terrible voice and that I will never be hiring him to sing at an event I am throwing. The second, and more important by far, was that he had the ability to throw caution to the wind and simply enjoy the activity without the worry of what people might think of him.
I refused to perform that day no matter how many times he asked me, but still, I instinctively knew I needed to be open to the idea letting go of some of my inhibitions. I left that party in awe of my friend and vowed that I would work on developing a little of that carefree attitude for myself.
The funny thing is, for someone who gets very nervous about making a fool of himself, my long term career goal is to become a public speaker in my field of coaching. I want to give presentations, be invited to be part of discussion panels, facilitate workshops and the likes.
I have some experience talking in front of people and as long as I feel perfectly comfortable with my subject matter, I do fairly well. But one thing I realize is that I will never get really good until I can let go of my self-consciousness.
Entering into my coach training program has really pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone in this area. For one of my class projects, I chose to give a presentation in front of my peers. And although it went relatively well, I really survived it by going into this sort of out of body experience; one where I found myself almost completely disconnected to what was going on. When I finished the presentation, I found myself needing to come back to reality. My classmates were saying really nice things to me, but I wasn’t really present to take them in.
A little over a year ago one of my fellow coaching students, and someone I am proud to call my friend, launched the Life Coach Radio Networks and asked me participate. I have certainly never done radio before, but I knew that if I wanted to become a public speaker, I needed to pursue every avenue presented to me that gave me the chance to speak publically. And thankfully the radio show has given me this one avenue.
After doing my very first show, my instinct was to avoid listening to myself. I have never liked the sound of my own voice and really resisted the idea of forcing myself to do it now. But after a couple of more times on air, I decided that the only way I was going to get better was to listen for areas that need improvement. And the only way to do that was to listen to myself. Eventually I have gotten used to my voice and I don’t cringe when I hear it.
Over the last week or so, I have begun the process of the next phase in putting myself out there. I have written the concept and script for my very first video presentation.
Today I began doing some testing on the logistics of recording myself and I have to admit it was uncomfortable to the point that I just had to quit. Watching myself on the playback, even that paltry 30 seconds I was recording in different ways, brought up the deepest fears I have about myself.
In my coach training I was introduced to the concept of a gremlin. Recently, I heard Dr. Brene Brown use the same term. In each case, the term gremlin refers to the deepest, darkest voice we all have whose entire purpose is to keep us small.
Growing up gay in a small midwestern town in the 70s and 80s, I always knew I was different and I knew that it wasn’t the good kind of different. I became hypersensitive about how people perceived me. I was no different that any other kid in the sense that I just wanted to fit in. So I essentially did what I did while giving my class presentation; I went into my own little mental shell. I didn’t really accept myself for who I was; I simply went into a state of denial.
My friend, and founder of the radio network, Russ Terry, recently quoted me in one of his videos. He used something that I heard over 20 years ago, something that profoundly changed my life. The quote was, “Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.”
In many ways I have taken that concept to heart and it has allowed me to become far more comfortable in my own skin than I really ever imagined possible for myself. But seeing myself on video today, seeing the mannerisms that I had worked so hard to deny existed, stare me back in the face was truly gut wrenching.
That little gremlin, the one that tells me that I am different in a way that people won’t accept, the one that tells me I will always be judged negatively and the one that tells me that I am inherently unlikeable, screamed loud and clear today. It reminded me that it is almost never other people who get in the way of my success; it is usually me.
So what do you do when you realize your own worst enemy is you? You have courage. You face the fears and do it anyway.
For me, I will get back to testing the best ways for me to create this video that is the first in a planned series of five. I will do what I need to do overcome my self-doubt and my self-criticism. I will surround myself with energy and people who will encourage me and help me succeed. I will simply just keep at it.
For the thing is, although I am often my own worst enemy, I am also my greatest hope. I just have to decide which aspect of myself I wish to tap into.