In the late 1970’s I was invited to give a 20-minute presentation to over 1,000 Shaklee distributors in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I grew up.
I had just completed the Dale Carnegie speaking course, and done pretty well. So the local director chose me to give this presentation to illustrate that his speaking program could take someone from novice to polished in a year.
I was thrilled to be chosen but I was scared as hell. My hands turned sweaty every time I thought about it… which was every 15 minutes every day.
Trying to memorize my speech, my mind froze up. It wouldn’t absorb because it was so consumed with fear.
As presentation day approached, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think of anything else. I was miserable and wished I’d never agreed to do it, and never been asked.
My parents, girlfriend, sister, and several close friends made plans to attend. I can’t remember a time in my life when I felt more fear, pressure, and regret. Honestly, I longed to get sick. Catching the flu as an excuse to bail out would have been a blessing.
The day finally came. I had laid awake all night. Driving to the event was a mindless blur. Walking into the ballroom my hands were sweaty yet freezing cold.
So how did I do? Don’t have a clue. I have no idea what I said or how well I said it.
It was like I was in suspended animation from the moment I walked onto the stage.
My family and friends said I was great. What were they going to say? “Greg, you stunk!”
I share this story because it was a watershed moment for me. I discovered that scary moments can be our biggest moments, the events that take us up a notch in life.
I’ve given hundreds of presentations since that day, and some say I’m pretty good at it. Learning to speak in front of people (from living room to ballroom to webinar) has been a huge contributor to my success. If I hadn’t taken that Carnegie course and given that Shaklee talk, I may never have developed presentation skills.
I’ve written and spoken a lot about how fears we all share… of failure, rejection and embarrassment… are merely dents to the ego, mental bruises. Yet these fears are often the greatest inhibitors to achievement. What you don’t try you won’t achieve.
Because our fear of failure is often more powerful than our desire to stand tall, we tend to avoid stressful moments. Our minds are not programmed to put ourselves in uncomfortable, sweaty-palm situations.
Yet when we avoid big moments, we eliminate big opportunities. In the words of Lewis Carroll: “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”
If you’re like me, as you become older your biggest regrets are not from when you tried and failed, but from when you didn’t try because you feared failure. In the words of Mercedes Lackey, “If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
Our legacy is who we become, not the failures it took to get there.
We must celebrate the opportunity to have big scary moments. If they don’t present themselves, find them or make them!
This lesson from musicians is a lesson for all of us… it only takes one hit record to be a rock star… but it won’t happen unless you step out on the stage.