“Thank God That’s Over! Now I Never Have to do Public Speaking Again.”
I remember the moment I realized I was shy.
I was about four years old, and I was asleep in our family’s red wagon. When I woke up from my nap, a woman who was not my mom was pulling me along. But instead of crying out, I thought to myself, “well, this is it. I’m being kidnapped. I had a good run.”
I am an extroverted person…but I haven’t always been this way. I was tremendously shy as a kid, and that did not change very quickly. It was a long, difficult journey that took many years.
In fourth grade, I gave a speech about my cat, Princess. I practiced and practiced — and managed to present to my class of 30 kids. I was sweating, my hands were shaking, and I almost peed myself. But I did it (the speaking, not the peeing). I made it through.
All I could think as I walked back to my seat was, “Thank God that’s over! Now I never have to do public speaking again!”
(Famous last words. I know that now, but I definitely didn’t know that then.)
Much to my horror, my sweaty, anxiety-ridden speech was somehow chosen as the best in the class, and I was asked to give it again…this time to the whole school.
I was consumed by fear. I practiced over and over — my poor parents had to hear that speech every night for weeks — and on the big day, I walked into the gym, threw up, and had to go home.
As my mom was driving me home, all I could think was, “Thank God that’s over! Now I never have to do public speaking again.” (You can probably sense where this is going.)
So, when did this finally start to change?
Well, I went to high school and had to make new friends.
I started babysitting for my next-door neighbours, and let me tell you — you cannot be shy when you have one kid screaming on your hip and the other sprinting away across the playground. You will holler at the other parents and ally yourself with them, because kids can sniff out weakness.
I also started working, which meant tackling the dreaded job interview. We all know how fun interviews are — like trips to the dentist. I got my first job, and by that point, public speaking really wasn’t so bad.
I could give a presentation at school. I could wrangle my neighbour’s kids with the best of them. I could get a call for a job interview without my stomach immediately tying up in knots.
The more I did public speaking, of whatever sort, the more I realized, “Communication unlocks doors; professionally, socially, academically.”
This was a life skill, and I needed to master it.
I remember the moment I truly waved goodbye to my shyness. I was working at the second busiest Starbucks location in Ontario. I spoke to hundreds of people every day, and I had to do it with a smile.
But one day, I had a shift with Sam. Sam was notorious for being a bully. She had worked at the store for years, so she was always keen to tell people what they were doing wrong. She wore pale makeup and dyed her hair black. She was a true goth girl, and she was very intimidating.
Sam didn’t bother asking my name. Instead, she just called me, “fresh blood.” (Looking back now, it’s actually a great nickname, but back then, I took it as a personal insult.)
In that moment, something tugged at me. I thought to myself, “if you let her call you Fresh Blood now, you’ll always be Fresh Blood.”
So, the next time she did it, I turned to her and said, “My name is Shannon. I’m not doing anything else until you use it.”
As soon as I said it, I couldn’t believe that the words had come out of my mouth.
But I held my ground, and her blank stare told me everything I needed to know.
“Fair enough,” she shrugged. “Tall skim latte, Shannon.” And I said, “Great!” and made the drink.
Later that day, she pulled me outside so we could take our break together, and she ended up telling me her life story. She told me about her shitty stepdad. About her classes, and her plans for the future. We actually ended up being decent friends.
Sometimes, after I speak up in a meeting or in a big social group, I still think, “Thank God that’s over!”—but I don’t think, “Now I never have to do public speaking again” because it’s just part of life. I will do public speaking again — probably many, many times.
And young Shannon would be shocked to learn that I’m glad.