Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Failing at Adulthood

Some Things I Hate:
  • Velcro
  • Auto-flush toilets
  • Those random moments of awkwardness that crush my belief that I have finally become a confident and normally functioning adult. 

I thought I had conquered my fear of impromptu public speaking. It was an annoying mental block growing up that allowed me to present with confidence, but only if I could plan words out ahead of time. Read in front of hundreds of people at a Christmas Eve service? No problem. Offer my opinion on a piece of literature in front of twenty classmates? Panic mode. Even if I was utterly confident in my opinions, my hands would still tremble as I presented them, and often my voice would catch in my throat or quicken awkwardly as I began to run out of breath. So I stayed fairly quiet, and always surprised professors when I actually had quite a bit to say in my papers.

I finally got over most of my anxiety in grad school, partly because one of my instructor-idols pointed out that we were essentially preparing for a career in speaking, so we had better start practicing.

And I continued to believe that I was “cured” when I came to my current career. After the first day of each semester I’m not nervous at all when I’m teaching, in fact I feel confident and empowered (a delightful relief). I’m also usually able to converse smoothly with my coworkers and supervisors; in fact I’ve become a rather energetic, talkative, and loud personality. No more embarrassing trembling or voice catching for me.

Until yesterday, when I was sitting in a roundtable discussion with about thirty other faculty members, including some direct and indirect supervisors, discussing how to make the campus a safe space for LGBT students and other potential bullying victims. When the panel asked for questions, I decided to offer up a related situation from class that I thought would be an interesting discussion point. 

I started talking…and suddenly I was back in the most intimidating of classrooms. My voice went up several octaves and started to catch, making me sound like I was on the verge of tears. My breathing sped up so that I could barely finish my sentences without gasping. I was sweating, and my hands trembled under the table. It was an absolute and unexpected nightmare, and I barely made it through the most basic formulation of my question without running out of oxygen and dignity.

After the panel responded I wanted to explain myself further, but I was too terrified. I didn't feel afraid of my audience of coworkers, but apparently my speaking organs were, and they could no longer be trusted, so I spent the rest of the session in an embarrassed silence. I watched everyone else speak with calm confidence, and I wondered how strange I had sounded to casual listeners, and if everyone thought I must be a horrible professor because I couldn’t manage to speak three simple sentences in front of thirty of my peers.

I realize that I’m being an overdramatic and self-critical self-analyzer (surprise!); I probably didn’t sound as bad as all that, and it’s probably already been forgotten by everyone but me. After all, it’s not as if I asked a really inappropriate question or fainted or anything. Maybe people will just assume I was sick. Note to self: start coughing around any co-workers who attended the meeting. 

But the real issue is not the temporary embarrassment; it’s the disappointing realization that my impromptu public speaking terrors are still very much with me. Once again, I found myself wondering if I would ever stop feeling awkward. I just want to grow up, gain confidence, and become a real adult already. I realize that many professionals my age follow the “fake it ‘till you make it strategy” and don’t feel like legitimate adults either, but now I feel like I can’t even fake it very well.  

In other I’m-a-failure news, I’ve messed up WEDIO already. I meant to write yesterday, and I even would have had a few snatches of time to do so, but I completely forgot until 2am in the morning when I was almost asleep and it was already technically the next day. Obviously I’m still aiming to write every day in October except for the one I forgot, but WEDIOEFTOIF just doesn’t have the same ring.

But enough of this unproductive self-loathing. I don’t want to write a blog where I complain about being self-doubting or exhausted all the time (though I am definitely very tired right now, possibly because I had to escape a thick swarm of killer bees that invaded the tutoring session in my dream last night. Just saying.) I’ll have to brainstorm some more exciting and uplifting entries for the future. 

In the meantime, I leave you with the trying-to-be-an-adult struggles of the genius Allie in what happens to be the most hilarious and accurate comic ever

You're welcome.

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