Earlier this week, my wife Barbara and I hosted a reception
at our home for a friend and colleague who is running for a seat on the
Pinellas County Commission here in Tampa Bay.
It was an opportunity to support someone we really respect while also
promoting higher-quality government in our region, but we also welcomed the
opportunity get to know our neighbors better and make some new friends. In addition to greeting guests and making
sure their glasses were full, I was to introduce the candidate. Now, this clearly wasn’t a big deal: only some 35 people, most of whom were
acquaintances, in an intimate setting, with the mellowness that comes from
ample libations. Keeping in mind that I
am a practiced workshop presenter and conference keynoter, you can see that
this wasn’t much of a test.
But it turns out that it was! When I tapped on a glass to get everyone’s
attention, and the room quieted down, I suddenly found myself short of breath
and my hands trembling. The first words
out of my mouth were a bit strained, but – thank heaven for experience – I
quickly settled down and acquitted myself reasonably well, covering the major
points I’d wanted to make about our friend’s experience and attributes. However, I was aware the whole time of a
feeling of danger, of being at risk – of suffering what is commonly called
As I thought about the experience later that evening, after
seeking reassurance from Barbara that I didn’t really appear to be nervous, I
realized – not for the first time – that, deep down inside, a fear of being
judged and found wanting still lurked, even after 25 years of facilitating
workshops and speaking to audiences in large ballrooms. I’m not into psycho-babble, but it does seem
like a scared little boy still lives inside a guy who’s a pretty aggressive and
self-confidant professional. Now, it’s true that, when I first started speaking
in public settings a quarter-century ago, I had to grapple with tremendous
performance anxiety and almost gave up on my dream of building a national
consulting business. But discipline and
ambition, and, of course, constant practice, got me over the hump.
However, that little boy who’s so frightened of being judged
and rejected apparently still lives somewhere inside and probably won’t ever go
away, no matter how many audiences I satisfy.
And what I realized earlier this week is that intimate settings can be
far more threatening to this little guy, who’s normally pretty unobtrusive, than
facing a thousand strangers in a ballroom, probably because I’m not encased in my
normal suit of armor. Maybe that’s not
so bad, and maybe it’s not so unusual.
Whatever, it’s definitely a part of me, and perhaps some of you reading this share my occasional sense of
By the way, I don’t believe the little fellow is really an
enemy, despite the title I’ve given this
piece, but his occasional reappearance can feel like sabotage