July 7, 2007

Remember your courage and move forward



"Nervous about taking a risk? Just remember when you did something that really took guts. You’ll discover that you’ve always had what it takes to do what you want, says Real Simple’s life coach, Gail Blanke."

The premise of this article is that, when you're facing a challenge or being held back by fear or uncertainty, remembering your life's defining moments (when you overcame adversity and used some deep inner strength) will help you move forward.

I talk to a lot of people who don't think they can "do" public speaking. They fear judgment, they fear being revealed as an impostor, they fear boring the audience, and on and on.

If they were to sit down for a few minutes and think about some times in their lives where they thought they couldn't do something but did it and succeeded - and found that inner courage - they might realize that they can do it. They can do anything.

Here's one of my defining moments. It happened about five years ago.

I was the brand new training coordinator for a large nonprofit organization and I was having a lot of trouble getting responses from my counterpart at a nearby college who was supposed to be partnering with us in a new training program. The seeds had been sown by my predecessor, but now I couldn't get her to return phone calls or e-mails. I was ready to give up on this partnership altogether, but I didn't have the authority to make that decision.

Finally, there was a breakthrough, and she came to a meeting with our top-level directors to hammer out the details of the contract. Everyone in the room knew that she had been unresponsive and difficult to work with for months, but it seemed that no one was going to address the issue.

I sat there in the meeting, realizing that I was going to have to say something. My heart started pounding, I could feel my face heating up, and I missed half of what was said due to the ringing in my ears. Right before the meeting was to wrap up, I took the plunge.

I stated that she had been unresponsive in the past and I needed reassurance that she would follow up on her part of the contract in the future. The room fell silent.

She responded, making excuses and defending herself, and I thought, "Great, I just opened my mouth for nothing, because she refuses to acknowledge that anything was wrong. And no one will back me up."

Then the Executive Director spoke, authoritatively, I might add. He demanded that she take responsibility for following through, that she respond to e-mails or phone calls within 24 hours as was our policy for our staff, and that she respect our partnership by being reliable and considerate of the partners. He even karate-chopped his hand a few times, if you know what I mean.

She agreed, meekly.

When the meeting was over, several directors came to me and shook my hand, and thanked me for bringing up the issue. It was a huge moment for me, standing up for myself and the organization, and discovering that everyone else was just as uncomfortable as I was confronting the issue. I was no longer the "new guy" after that, nor was I intimidated by the directors, as I realized that they trusted and supported me.

What are some of your defining moments and how have they moved you forward?

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Cynthia said...

This is really helpful advice. I tend to replay all my real or perceived failures over and over again in my head. Fear has been a motivator for me over the years, but leaves me feeling powerless. Now, thinking back to times when I really kicked ass, I feel more empowered, not just about public speaking, but about life in general!

Lisa said...

That's great, Cynthia. I know I enjoy reliving my successes. :-)

Tammy Whitten said...

Wow! I just read that and thought, "Go, Lisa!" I'm so glad that worked out great for you in the end. I've found that I'm much better at confronting in one-on-one situations. But in regards to speaking in public, I think a defining moment was one day when I was delivering a lecture to a group of college students and I stuck my foot right in my mouth! Without realizing what I had said until after it came out, I made a HUGE sexual innuendo! Luckily, all of us got a laugh out of it, and after that, they felt more comfortable speaking and sharing and I was more relaxed, too.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Tammy. I actually find that making a mistake (as long as it's not too offensive or egregious - which thank goodness has never happened), can really lighten the mood and take a lot of pressure off. After all, once you've made that mistake, it's unlikely you're going to blow it like that again during that same presentation!


And regarding confrontation - I hate it. Does anyone enjoy it? I recently had to speak to my new neighbors and ask them to keep their noise level down. I SO did not want to do it, but if I let it continue, how would that benefit anyone? So I just walked over and had a nice conversation with the neighbor. Very uncomfortable, but I'm so glad I got it over with!

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