I am a teacher. And my job as a teacher requires that I communicate certain ideas to others with at least a modicum of clarity.
I love conveying information intimately through my one on one interactions with my students. And I also really enjoy taking the time to craft my thoughts through the process of writing. But, unfortunately, there are also lots of times in my professional life where I actually have to give talks and lectures to groups of folks.
And this particular task was something that on my best days was barely tolerable and on my worst days would make me want to throw up.
I actually get a huge charge out of developing a sense of sacred community and working creatively with groups of folks. I just wasn't a big fan of speaking to them en masse. And the only reason I continued to do it was because my desire to communicate these teachings was stronger than my desire to not speak to groups at all.
At a certain point it dawned on me that I used to have the same feeling about writing. In the not so distant past, I would dread it, avoid it and then ultimately make myself laboriously crank out an article or a blog post because it was something that I needed to do for my business.
But I eventually worked my way through that particular stuck place in myself and now I actually enjoy the process of writing.
So it finally occurred to me that maybe speaking could end up being fun too. Which is all I really wanted. I didn't need to become the best speaker on the planet. I was just tired of this thing that I did all the time being such a torture. I was finally ready for speaking to be easy and dare I say ... even pleasurable. Maybe.
The first thing I did was to hire myself a speaking coach. Someone who specialized in helping folks like me become more confident and relaxed.
I had a grand total of five sessions with him. And at the end of that time the miracle occurred. The next time I had to give a talk it was almost a non-event because I felt so normal. So "no big deal". Like I was just hanging out and chatting with friends or family.
There were no fireworks or confetti being thrown. Just ease. I could breathe. I didn't have to think about it. I just did it.
It was exactly what I dreamed would happen.
Of course, I did spend a few minutes in shock and incredulity wondering why in heaven's name it took me so long to get to this place where speaking was so ridiculously effortless once I put my attention on it.
But I realized in retrospect that taking the steps to deal with it was really the tail end of a very long process that had been in play for a while. I had needed whatever time it took to build myself up to this point where I had the ability to make the shift.
So in observing this journey in myself I identified a few stages and pre-requisites to allowing change to occur.
1.) I had to be ready.
This is perhaps the most mysterious part of the process. Because what constitutes readiness? And for those of us who are terminally impatient (waving my upraised hand wildly), there is always that question of "How do we get to that state of readiness quicker?"
But readiness is something that I don't think we can force. We all carry an inner, invisible timetable of unfolding that is unique to who we are. Attempting to push that timetable is like planting an acorn in the ground and expecting to see an oak tree a week later.
It just doesn't work that way. The best we can do is to stay alert and pay attention to when that internal "Go" light turns on.
However, one way you can know you are moving into readiness is that your desire kicks in.
All of a sudden this joyful speaking thing became something that I really wanted. And I wanted it bad. I had put up with suffering through it for years, but now, for some inexplicable reason, I was ravenously hungry for a different experience.
2.) It finally occurred to me that things could be different.
This one is huge. And is probably one of the biggest hurdles to change.
For the longest time ever I had a story about myself and public speaking. It was hard. I wasn't any good at it. It was just not my "thing." The goddess had cursed me by making me choose a profession where public speaking was a necessity. (This last one is only partly a joke.)
I had some early life experiences with speaking that were painful and so "stressful speaking" became part of my identity.
So I never even considered that there was another alternative. But once that thought of "Huh. What if it doesn't have to be this way?" entered my brain it opened the door to the next step.
Which was the possibility that I could actually have this.
This required a seismic shift in my perception of myself.
"Do you mean to say that I, Chris Zydel, could be someone who enjoyed speaking in public?" And of course, the goddess was off in the corner laughing and gigglesnorting gleefully and shaking her head in an enthusiastic yes.
3.) Breaking the pattern of isolation and asking for support.
Once I picked myself up off the floor after facing the shock of this identity shift, I started to think about what I needed in order for this change to take place. I began by talking about it openly and asking other people about their experiences with public speaking.
And to my surprise, I found out that I wasn't alone. That even people I loved and respected and who I thought of as not having an issue with this struggled in one way or another.
Talking about it to others freed me from some of the shame I felt around the fact that this was hard for me. I was able to see this difficulty with speaking as common and human. And solvable.
My friends shared with me their many strategies for dealing with it. And one of the more interesting strategies was finding a speaking coach.
4.) Getting the right kind of help.
Finding help that was actually going to be helpful meant being clear about what I wanted and needed. I knew that the most important thing to me was how I felt while I was speaking.
I had a couple of technical things I wanted to change. Like no longer saying the phrase "you know" four times in one sentence.
But other than that, I knew I wasn't interested in becoming a bright and shiny, polished and perfect speaker. I didn't want tricks and formulas. I just wanted to become more comfortable being myself when I spoke to a group.
So I looked around and decided against the nice enough woman who lived in San Francisco and who wore a power suit in her website photo and promised dazzling charisma and ironclad results.
And instead went with the gentle looking guy who talked about spirituality and self awareness and saw me for our sessions in his apartment. Who would make me feel safe and comfortable and not pressure me to learn how to project my voice or come up with a list of jokes as icebreakers for my talks.
Change is hard. Except when it isn't. Sometimes we are in the right place. And it's the right time. And "the force" is with us.
When we find ourselves at these magical crossroads all we need to do is follow our hearts, be willing to shift our ancient stories, get a little help from our friends and find the guide that's perfect for where we are in this moment.
At these moments of grace, the tension disappears, the rock wall slides away, the portal silently opens and we find ourselves wide eyed and wondering in a brand new world of freedom and sweet potential that feels strangely like home.