DO SOMETHING EVERY YEAR THAT SCARES YOU
July 13, 2010 10 Comments
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.