DO SOMETHING EVERY YEAR THAT SCARES YOU

I had the opportunity recently to meet with a group of 50 young graduates from a new Masters Course in Germany that combined Business Management with Technology. These were the Top-50 students from varying universities around Germany, and I had been asked to talk to them about “How to manage your career”.

I found it to be an exciting session, as these were bright, articulate, outspoken young people and the 2 hours I had been allocated passed too quickly.
During my lecture one of the things that I told them was that I felt that it was important that “… every year you should do something new that scares you…”.

I was referring to things like public speaking, and mentioned that it didn’t need to be at a high level of terror, like when your wife says “Does my bum look big in these trousers?”, which strikes mind-numbing panic into any married man, but more along the lines of the things that we avoid because they make us uncomfortable.

I have always believed that if you do face these challenges over and over again (and learn something from them each time), they eventually become a skill and you can move on to the next one, thereby adding new skills regularly to your repertoire.

I used as an example the absolute mess I made of my first public speech back in 1967 when I was asked to address the Humanist Society in Christchurch, New Zealand, as their after dinner speaker. I was so nervous that instead of my heavily prepared and mirror-rehearsed 45 minutes, being 10 minute introduction, 30 minute main body, and 5 minute closure on the topic of “Looking for a Humanist or in search of polite literature”, I went straight from my introduction to my close, making the entire speech last less than 15 minutes, with very little to carry it in terms of content.
To try and recover, I then did a 30 minute answer to the first question that was asked of me from the floor, at least not wasting all the research I had done in preparation. I had quite a few surprised people chat to me after the dinner, who all felt that the speech was a bit ho-hum, but what an interesting (if long winded) answer to a fairly innocuous question from the floor.

Over 40 years and hundreds of speeches later, I am a lot more comfortable with the act of public speaking, and have not made that same mistake again … I have however made lots of different ones and still do, and each mistake teaches me something different about speaking to an audience and about myself.

I still however get nervous before every speech that I give, and I believe that this is critical to ensure that my energy levels stay high during the presentation. The nervousness tends to go with my opening sentence, to be replaced with the excitement of the moment, and I have always believed that if the day comes when I am not nervous as I walk on stage, then that is the day that I should stop doing it.

During the Q&A session at the end of my workshop with these German graduates, one of them asked me “Just out of Interest, what are you now doing that scares you?”. I had to think about it for a few moments, and then had to admit that since I had retired from SAP in June of 2006, I hadn’t really done anything that had particularly scared me, and whilst I had done many new things with many new people and new companies, I hadn’t really tackled anything even mildly scary. This really bothered me.

I have decided that this need to stick with what we find extremely familiar is something that just accelerates the ageing process, and for me, this needed to be overcome. I am now, at the age of 65, taking horse riding lessons. Whilst my wife is an extremely keen horsewoman, and we have 3 horses on the property (Patrick, Bella and Atos), I have never been on a horse again since my first unfortunate, frightening and only riding experience with a horse called Diablo in Tahiti in 1979, when a romantic ride along the beach at sunset with my bride to be turned into a nightmare for me, and a source of over 30 years of merriment for my wife.

I am still finding it a scary experience, but I believe that with time and effort I will at least be able to accompany my horse enthusiast wife for a wander through the vineyards that surround us where we live in France, even if I never actually get to gallop across the plains.

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10 Responses to DO SOMETHING EVERY YEAR THAT SCARES YOU

  1. Dominic Wakefield says:

    Well as long your attempts to live longer doesn’t kill you in the meantime….my advice is stay on the horse and don’t fall off!

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Dom,
      You take the same approach as my chiropractor.
      I had to visit him last February with some back problems, just before we were due to go skiing.
      When I asked him whether skiing would be an issue, he replied “Not at all, but falling definitely would be”.
      I am trying my best not to fall, and these days I stick to horses with gentler names like Bella rather than Diablo.
      I realise that it is not a sure fire selection criteria, but it does help with confidence.
      Les

  2. nickie hamilton says:

    You certainly are biased, Bella being a family name and all!! and by the way you skiied just fine. I had to ride with an audience at my lesson today – does that count. I’ve never had to do that before not with someone telling my to put my “boobs” in the air!!! somewhat disconcerting!!

  3. Sean Le Leprichaun says:

    Les, I have been to your house and that doesnt look like your staircase! I dont think that is Victoria’s bum either!

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Sean,
      You are quite right, it is neither my house nor her bum.
      In the interest of anonimity, we used a professional “bum-model” and borrowed stiarcase. 🙂
      Les

  4. Les

    Great to read the blog and make sure you keep scaring yourself

    Regards

    Chris

  5. Linda Lockhart says:

    Dear Les,

    I really like this piece and believe it is so true. I have found that in times that shake our self esteem, like divorce or a serious breakup, doing something that scares us is a great way to break out of a self-doubting funk. Never in my life did I do more scary stuff than the 12 months following my divorce. I not only took up skiing at 35, I also learned to drive…in NYC! Thank you for reminding me to think upp some motrre scary stuff to do!

    Linda

  6. leshayman says:

    Hi Linda,

    As Brian Tracy (Best selling author and US TV Host) says ….
    “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new”.

    You have shown this to be true so much in your own life.
    What you have personally done with the set up of the “Global Give Back” programme to help young people in Kenya shows that you can overcome any discomfort and fear to achieve world changing results. You are a role model for doing things that are needed despite tough obstacles.
    In admiration,
    Les

  7. Gary Fisher says:

    Les,

    Public Speaking can indeed be terrifying and a fertile field for mistakes. As someone who has seen many of your speeches and benefited in many ways (including financially) from them, I have to tell you of one of the lessons I learned from you. I remember offering you an offhand compliment once in the SAP days. I said words to the effect that you handle such speeches so ‘naturally’ and I wish I could do the same, the implication being that it came naturally without effort or preparation. Your reply taught me a lot, and I have quoted you to many, many people since. I think you said….”I was up until 4:00am this morning, preparing and rehearsing that”. A bit like Samuel Goldwyn’s statement …”the harder I work, the luckier I get”.

    Gary

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Gary,
      It still hasn’t changed for me.
      I still go through the same rehearsal and re-rehearsal before every one, even if it is one I’ve done before.
      I have always found that the best “ad-lib” is one that’s been tested a few times.
      Les

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