Who me? No, I’m just a worm!
Over the past 18 months, I’ve spoken at a few conferences. Last year, I was approached to do the keynote address at the University of Queensland Cyberschool Seminar. The organisers had heard the amazing Megan Townes speak about social media at a different conference, and she wasn’t able to do theirs, but recommended they contact me to see if I’d be interested. Just over a month ago, I delivered the keynote address at WATL’s annual conference, after being asked to fill in because their original speaker had to cancel. I’ve always made excuses for these … along the lines of “oh, I wasn’t their first choice, they only asked me because they couldn’t find anyone better” … you know, imposter syndrome. And it’s been easy to get away with that, in my own head at least. Because I’m just a worm, right? A passionate worm, admittedly, and one who loves to share the story of her library and her ventures in social media, but a worm nonetheless.
Today, though, I lost the whole “oh, they couldn’t get anyone else” excuse. Because today, I spoke at the NSW Public Schools Libraries for Future Learners (#L4FL16) conference, and this was one I had to submit an EOI for.
Why was this a big deal? Because I hate speaking in public. Not like I hate Vegemite (which is in Amanda Palmer proportions, in case you’re wondering), but detest it with every fiber of my being. In the lead up to having to present something, I get stomach pains and nausea, so much so that at 6am before my keynote in Dubbo, I was seriously contemplating whether I needed to go to hospital because I decided this couldn’t JUST be nerves, I had to be getting really sick. When I’m actually presenting, it rarely gets better. My legs shake. My voice wavers, my face flushes, and I get increasingly tense as the time goes on. The slightest mis-step in my presentation throws me, and I mentally abuse myself for the rest of the session, and those three seconds are my takeaway – not the many comments of praise from participants afterwards. I remember the missed paragraph, the poorly described slide, the stumble over the statistics.
I could easily have not submitted the EOI for #L4FL16, and just gone along as a participant. There were some fantastic sessions on offer – many of which I couldn’t attend as I was running my own. But I’ve always said, to my students, and to my daughters, that it’s ok to do the scary thing. Whenever my students complain about having to do a speech task, I empathise with them, and tell them about my own experiences. Whenever my daughters start stressing out about needing to deliver a presentation at school, I remind them that I know exactly how they feel, and that I’ve survived every single speech I’ve had to deliver. And whenever I start to think that I need to go to hospital because I must be being consumed by some vicious new alien superbug, I remind myself that this is just your anxiety, Rodgers, and it’s not going to kill you, just keep breathing!
So, today was a big deal for me. I presented, through nerves of jello. I got some great feedback – not only from the people who I knew in the room, but from strangers who weren’t compelled to say nice things to me, but who came out of their way to find me during our post-conference drinks, and chat with me about my presentation. Their thoughtful and inspired reactions made me realise that I do, in fact, do a great job – through my stress and my nerves, my passion for our library story comes through. I’m incredibly proud of that. I’m really grateful to the wonderful people who’ve given me the opportunity to share my story, and to those who have taken my story and ideas on board. There’s nothing quite like hearing from someone later on who has sat through one of your presentations, who lets you know how they’ve applied some of the stuff you have talked about. Or when someone gets inspired by something small in your presentation, and it turns into a fantastic collaboration of ideas.
Mostly, though, above all of that, I’m immensely thankful for my wonderful friends and family, who can tell when I’m about to do something scary, and who love and support me through all of that stress. To the people who mentor me, and who remind me that I’ll be fine. To the ones who listen to me hypothesise about what could go wrong, and dwell on how crappy I’m going to feel, and who just gently love me through all that. I’m reminded, at times like this, that I -have- anxiety, I -deal with- anxiety. It’s not who I am, it’s just a little part of me that is NOT going to win, or stop me from doing what I’m passionate about. It’s getting easier to come to terms with that, and to accept that yes, I am just a worm, but that doesn’t mean I’m insignificant. I’ve got awesome stories to share, and those stories matter.