That will never happen to me: A common mindset that puts people around the world at ease. A statement automatically chosen to be believed. But there are no guarantees in life, no promises, no shields. That very thing could happen the next time you try, just like it happened to me.
Public speaking is an acquired skill. I was not born a confident speaker, and, deep inside, I’m still not. But I’ve always been good at hiding my emotions. When I present, not a single person is able to tell if I am scared. Usually. But, when I fall, I fall hard. I either lose myself in the clouds or I land flat on my face.
There is no in between.
On the last Monday of eighth grade, I fell harder than ever before. Reading out loud is one of those skills that everyone can do, so a final assessment where you have to read a piece out loud should be easy. When I’m nervous, however, I would much rather give an impromptu speech on the different species of geese than read from a paper.
It’s not that I find it boring or that it’s not creative enough for me. It’s just that reading from a paper forces me to say certain words at a certain time, in a certain order.
I walked into my English class with a ball of nerves bouncing through my stomach. This was the first sign of disaster. I stopped becoming nervous about presentations ages ago. We did a warm-up where we read our pieces facing the wall. We spoke all at once so the weight of peers judging our every word was lifted off our shoulders. That part would come later. I read through my paper with close to no mistakes, but I knew that something was off. I felt a pit in my stomach and the room looked like it was spinning ever so slightly. I had the same sensation of confused, excess nervous energy that comes when ever I perform piano or dance on stage. Never during this class.
This was definitely not normal.
While warming up, my presentation was flawless but my mentality wasn’t. I felt pangs of self-doubt and what-ifs that never occurred prior to this. I was actually panicking.
I found my teacher and explained that I wasn’t feeling well because of my nerves, and went to get a drink of water. The look of shock and confusion on her face was a replica of my emotions. Me? Nervous?
Everyone reacts in a different way to nerves. Some talk faster than the speed at which Usain Bolt runs, some bite their fingernails, and some act like they just won a million dollars. I, however, do none of these. When I get nervous, my muscles and body tighten up and an imaginary barrier forms in my throat that won’t let certain sounds come out. This is when I take long, awkward pauses because I feel like it’s better to save myself the humiliation and let the sound come out when it’s ready to, rather than trying to force it out and end up stuttering to no end. When choosing between a rock and a hard place, neither option is desirable.
I walked up to the front of the classroom, like normal, and turned to face the class. Paper in hand, I smiled. But I forgot to breathe. I kept telling myself not to mess up, because it hit me at that very moment that this was the last impression. The final assessment. As I began to talk, I started to think about the words in this piece that had tripped me up before. I began to think about how I cried myself to sleep the night before thinking about this moment. The “problem words” started popping out at me and the rock in my throat turned into a boulder. All of the words: negative, digestion, benefit, broken, were taunting me and glowing through the page. And for the first time, they won. Five lines of writing were filled with more than five awkward pauses and more than five moments of panic.
The irony of the situation is that I don’t have a stuttering problem. It’s all in my head. The fact that I have a strong mind is both a blessing and a curse. I have the ability to convince myself that I have problems I don’t really have. I know this, yet I let it happen and take control over me. Today, I over-analyzed everything to where it was all a concern. An overly concerned mind translates to a frozen body and mouth. Because of my strong mind, I became tongue tied and stumbled upon my words. I shocked myself, confused my classmates and let down a teacher who believed in me. Many would think that I would do it over if I could. But they would be wrong. I learned from this that nerves are inevitable. And unfortunately, so is failure.