The Professor And His First Lecture

You have to be confident to choose that outfit, though

Public speaking. It’s anxiety-inducing for most of us, which is why most of us are impressed by those who do it well. Our house has one member who does not fear speaking in front of others. In fact, Luke was born with two traits most people lack: self-confidence and a gift for public speaking. When I say born with, I’m not joking. For most people, confidence comes either through racking up a series of successes or repeatedly messing things up and then realizing we survived that calamity successfully. Luke needed neither of those experiences to acquire confidence. He simply had it in spades from the beginning.

From the age of two, Luke’s confidence allowed him to work a room. His toddler birthday parties were a dream. He would open a gift, carry on as if it (a toy, a blanket, a toddler potty, a dollar bill) was the greatest thing he’d ever seen, and then he would run to the gift giver and hug them. It was something else. We couldn’t have trained him to do that if we’d tried. When he was in first grade, we were looking at some of his art work. He looked at me and asked, “Am I pretty good at art or am I amazing at it?” He didn’t even consider that he might be meh at it like I would have. Another time around that same age, while he and his brother were discussing attractiveness, Luke said, “I’m attractive. I’m totally attractive. I’m like 300% attractive.” Well, okay then, I thought. The thing about Luke, though, is you can tell those statements aren’t made because he’s overcompensating for a lack of self-esteem or because he’s an arrogant little weasel. He just knows who he is and he’s comfortable with it. He also knows what he wants and how he will get it. He’s not conceited. He’s convinced.

His gift for public speaking first showed itself in school plays, where he was often given the funniest line and would deliver it and soak up the laughs like a lizard soaks up the sun. He would volunteer to give presentations to his class or other classes. When his voice dropped, his public speaking presence only increased. In junior high, he was chosen to lead tours for school visitors. He quickly became a Lead Ambassador in high school. Then he ran for offices in the Student Senate and the school chapter of the National Honor Society and won. Along the way, he kept killing it at public speaking. All students are required to compete in the Great Debates during junior year, and Luke finished in the top four. During senior year, students are asked to give a 50-minute presentation on a topic of their choosing. Most students think of this as something they have to get through. Luke started considering topics for his presentation his freshman year.

Last night, Luke stood in our living room and did his final practice for his Senior Symposium presentation today. His topic? Mars in Science Fiction. Luke started practicing for us on Sunday. He quickly realized he would run long with the copious amounts of information he had (he calculated he had read 8200 pages of science fiction about Mars over the years), so he presented to us again on Monday night with a reduced format and nailed the timing. Last night he practiced in front of us one last time. He was ready. Here he is in a one-minute practice snippet, which he granted permission for me to share:

It’s not easy to present with a dog wandering in and out and it’s not easy to film when your subject is working the room

Luke’s plans at this point are to become a college professor. That could change, of course, but he is aware that his comfort with public speaking is a gift and something he should find a way to use in his life. When we watched him give his speech, I have to admit that I could imagine him as a professor. He needed no notes. He spoke extemporaneously with little effort, comfortable in his subject-matter expertise. He was excited to give his speech to his classmates today. When he got in the car at the end of the day, he was ebullient. He was still hyped up over his presentation, for which received accolades.

It’s something else to see someone using their gifts. It reminds you that you should be doing something with your own.

Being A Difficult Woman Is Actually Quite Easy

Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:

  • Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
  • Ask for what she wants
  • Insist on equal treatment
  • Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
  • Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
  • Request help around the house or with the children
  • Believe it should be her body and her choice
  • Put herself first or make herself a priority
  • Know her worth
  • Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
  • Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
  • Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
  • Call herself a feminist
  • Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male

There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.

I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.

Do You Have The Chops?

That's me...jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really more of a warrior partial jog)
That’s me…jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really less of a dash and more of a warrior partial jog)

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This morning I found myself reflecting on my post from last night and considering how difficult it is for me to say no. I am getting better at it bit by bit, but it still troubles me that my inability to say no is such an obstacle to maintaining my sanity. Sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice my mental well-being and my free time because the immediate path of least resistance requires me to accept something I didn’t go looking for and don’t really want to do. And I will say yes against my better judgment merely to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Sad but true.

What’s more striking (and sad), however, is how rare it is for me to say yes to a true opportunity that I should embrace when it presents itself. There’s always an excuse as to why I shouldn’t take a risk or put myself out there. And, oddly, it’s easier for me to say yes to something I wholly do not want to do than it is for me to say yes to something that could truly benefit me and that I honestly desire.

With these thoughts in my head I was scrolling through the updates on my Facebook news feed today when I came across this video. Apparently Billy Joel was conducting a Q & A session at Vanderbilt University where he was set to play a concert. Students were taking turns in an auditorium posing questions to the Grammy-Award winning songwriter and performer. When one gentleman found it to be his turn at the microphone, instead of asking a typical question, this young man started with a statement. He told Joel that New York State of Mind was a favorite of his. Then he did something truly bold. With a trembling, tentative voice, he asked Joel if he might accompany him for a performance of that tune. The crowd in the auditorium gasped, presumably jointly thinking “What a presumptuous little creep.” But what happened next was pure magic. Joel agreed. The young man walked on stage, exchanged a few words with Joel at the piano, and began to play a well-practiced introduction to the song while Joel sized up the kid’s talent. Joel then stepped up to the microphone and sang the entire song. Afterwards he applauded the young musician, exchanged a few more words with him, and told the audience to remember the name Michael Pollock. He then paid him what I think is the ultimate compliment. The guy’s got chops.

After I watched the video, I found myself questioning whether I would have the nerve to ask for what I wanted in that same situation. I’m sure there were plenty of other students in that crowd that wanted the same thing Michael did but didn’t have the cajones to ask. Whether because of fear, some notion of the rules of etiquette, nerves, or a myriad of other reasons, they wouldn’t take the risk. Sadly, I’m positive I would not have either.

We often hear the tired cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained and You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We know these statements are true, yet how often do we let our fear rule our actions? There was always the chance that Mr. Joel would have politely and respectfully told Michael he was not interested. But there was also always a chance that he would consent. Michael chose to focus on that potential positive outcome, and he bravely asked the question. It paid off. And now for the rest of his life Michael will remember that he once played accompaniment for Billy Joel to his favorite tune because he was ballsy enough to ask. What a memory he created for his life’s storybook.

Some people are born with chops. It comes naturally to them to ask for what they want and to say no when the feel like it. The rest of us need to earn our chops. We’ve got to work at it. We’ve got to conquer our nerves and our fears about conventionally accepted behaviors and we’ve got to be willing to go beyond them. It’s not easy. But with time and repeated success it does become easier. With that in mind, I have a new goal for myself. I’m going to start working towards my chops. I don’t want to spend my life wondering what if or realizing I let pivotal moments slip by because I was afraid. I may not have been born with balls, but I’m going to acquire some before my time here is through.

Excuses, Excuses

What was that you said I couldn’t do?

 

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”       ~Jim Rohn

My friend Lisa posted this quote on her Facebook wall the other day. I’ve seen it before but never given it much thought, probably because I’ve never thought of myself as an excuse gal. I like to believe that, as a rule, I make things that I want come to fruition. I am determined by nature. Tell me I can’t do something. I’d love to prove you wrong.

In high school, our marching band was going to a competition in Florida over Spring Break. I wanted to go to Florida. I didn’t play a musical instrument, though. Problem, right? Wrong. The band needed a cymbal player. I could play cymbals. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I don’t read music of any sort, including percussion music. Problem, right? Wrong. I simply got a recording of the songs we were going to play and memorized where the cymbal crashes occurred. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, so marching in formation while banging some cymbals together would be no problem for me. I was golden. So, I went to Florida with the band. I marched. I splashed in the Gulf of Mexico. I got a ridiculously painful sunburn. I went on a Journey Into Imagination at Epcot Center. It was awesome, and well worth the very early morning band practices on a cold, frost-covered field in Castle Rock.

Thinking back to the quote, though, if I’m honest with myself I must admit there have been a few times when I made excuses about things I should have attempted to achieve. I choose not to acknowledge those times, however, because I don’t consider them to be traditional excuses. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s not. Here’s why. Sometimes an unconscious lack of confidence in my abilities convinces me that I cannot reach a particular goal. Because I inherently know I can achieve anything I want, my brain simply chooses not to want things I’m convinced I could never achieve. It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to find a way to do something if I convince myself I never wanted to do it in the first place. It’s an incredibly brilliant rationalization, but a rationalization all the same.

The reason I bring this up is because of my recent decision to brave my fears and attempt to write something other than a blog. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always wanted to be published…and not just by myself on a page I slapped up onto the Internet or via a bound copy of my master’s thesis housed in the library at Illinois State University. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve just never believed I was capable of it.

When I started this blog back in January and committed to writing every single day without fail, I thought I was doing it to get back into writing, something I’d given up when my oldest son was born almost 11 years ago. What I didn’t imagine, however, was that by practicing writing I would find some measure of confidence in myself. By writing every day, I was able to overcome my self-imposed road block. I realize now that the only current difference between me and published authors is that they tried and I did not. I may not write the next classic American novel. I may not become the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But, I will never know for sure what I might be if I refuse to allow myself the opportunity to find a way to do the thing I have forever longed to do. I look at it differently now. That is all that has changed. If I try, I might fail. But, if I don’t try, I will have sold myself short. That, I now believe, is a far worse fate than failure.