Golden Moment

I did it. I have finally proven to myself that speaking in front of group is not going to kill me in spite of having fully convinced myself to the contrary. I performed a role-play today in front of nine pairs of scrutinizing eyes watching my every move and nine pairs of ears listening to every word I spoke. Granted, I stumbled and stuttered and you’d better believe I was sweating bullets, but I got through it without dying.

I almost cried afterwards, but that was just a matter of being so very relieved to have put the whole experience behind me. I had let my anxiety get way out of control!

Did I say recently that sometimes I am my own worst enemy? I have proven that to myself in spades. I think I let myself get so worked up about this that my self-consciousness nearly paralyzed me. I had myself so convinced that my best method of communication is not face-to-face, but from behind the scenes that I sabotaged my own ability to do well at this.

Hey, Self? You’re a jerk sometimes!

Ah, but anyway, surviving the role-play was not the real golden moment of the day. The golden moment came afterwards. See, what happened was this. As each of the participants performed their role-play, the rest of us watched and listened. When it was over, the rest of us would leave the conference room while the performer stayed behind with the presenters and our CEO, at which point the performer would receive feed-back from presenters and CEO. (And they were very kind and supportive after my role-play, so it wasn’t nearly as painful as I’d anticipated.)

As the last performer was receiving feedback, the rest of us gathered outside of the conference room and talked about what we’d learned and how we felt, etc.

As a side note, one of my frustrations over the last couple of days was that I was receiving training in a sales technique. I am not a sales-person, and may never be a sales-person in the traditional sense, though I could understand the value of what we learned and can see putting this knowledge to work, not only in a job, but in everyday relationships. I just felt that the expectations were a bit high considering I was trying to become adept at something that is so far from my typical job duties.

Back to the gathering of participants standing outside of the conference room… As we conversed, one of the people who is very directly involved in sales made a comment. She said, “You know what would have really been good in this seminar? We should have had a copywriter there. A copywriter could use this information in all kinds of written communications, including on our website.”

Everyone in that small group was aware that the company’s copywriter had resigned a few months ago, and because the company is still working to get on its feet, a replacement was not hired.  The woman who made the comment lamented, “Too bad Amy isn’t here anymore.”

But at that moment, I noticed my boss pointing her finger in my direction and nodding. She was looking intently at the others and saying, “Terri. Terri can write!

She went on to heap praise on my ability to compose quality communications to our customers, and raved about some of the writing I had done for various projects and even within small group assignments we had done during the training of the past few days.

“Terri can really write,” she said again!

The others looked over at me with pleasant surprise on their faces, asking, “Really? You write?”

And though I was slightly embarrassed by such high praise and normally would have brushed it off and downplayed my abilities, I heard myself say, “I do. I am a writer.”

I am a writer.

That’s the first time I’ve allowed myself to admit it to myself, much less out loud. I didn’t say, “I like to write.” I didn’t say, “I enjoy writing.” I didn’t temper my statement like I usually do with comments like, “I’d like to be a writer someday” or “I hope to write better someday.”

Someone else called me a writer! But more importantly, I called myself a writer. I’ve been blogging for three years and have written in some form or another throughout most of my life, but today, for the first time, I admitted it. I am a writer.

God, that felt good!

The Torture Continues

Today’s training seminar was no less painful than yesterday’s.

Poo. And I went into it with such high expectations. I was determined not to allow myself to be dragged down by my discomfort with speaking in a group and being the center of attention. It was a great plan for a short while.

But then… dun dun DUN…there was role-playing. Yes, you heard me right. Role playing! My worst fears were realized. Not only did I have to come up with some original ideas and opinions, but I had to voice them in front of the group. And the group got to critique me. And I was expected to show emotion and “non-verbal” expressions. I was supposed to be animated and put some inflection and tone in my voice.

And I sweated bullets.

And the presenter pointed out my flaws, which I’m sure is part of his job and was only meant to steer me in the right direction. But it felt like criticism and ridicule. I know you probably think I’m being overly sensitive but I wanted to crawl in a hole. Seriously. I was fighting tears for a little while there until I forced myself to get it together. I hate that this kind of thing is so far out of my comfort zone.

Later, the presenter asked me why I disliked role-playing so much. I hated to even admit it to him, but I explained that being the center of attention made me crazy. He said, “Don’t let it make you crazy. You’re good at this.”

Pffft! I tried to brush off his remark but damn if it didn’t stick in my head. (He did that on purpose. Manipulator!) BUT, I forgave him again for making me blush and carried on as best I could.

Tomorrow brings the biggest pain. I “get to” speak in front of the group, on two separate topics, while displaying emotion and passion and non-verbal messages. I have to follow a particular order and also “be in the story” whatever the hell that means.

Gah! At least tomorrow is only a half-day session and I get to go home afterwards.

Maybe I should have a beer for breakfast.

Dying of Embarrassment

My cat, Tigger, in an unusual display of bravery, ventured into the family room while I was sitting in here this evening and climbed onto my lap of his own accord. This may not seem impressive to anyone who doesn’t live in this house, but that’s because you can’t possibly know what an amazing feat that is for one abnormally skittish cat. Normally not one to show his face or seek any amount of attention, Tigger spends most of his time hanging out on my bed or hiding somewhere in the corners of the house. When we seek him out, it becomes a game of how fast he can run before his human family members manage to to grab him. He prefers to wander at night unseen. He does not like to be watched. So I was impressed when he climbed up on one recliner, stepped over onto the lamp table, and then over to the chair where I sat. I scratched him under the chin and told him what a brave boy I thought he was.

To some degree, I can relate to Tigger. I do not like to be the center of attention. At forty-something years old, I still feel claustrophobic when all eyes are trained on me in any situation. And please! Oh, please don’t make me speak in front of a group. Big group. Small group. I don’t care. I prefer to remain slightly anonymous and invisible.

I can blather on incessantly here, on the pages of my blog, in the written form.  I can take risks here and even be a little adventurous by stepping out of my writing comfort zone. It doesn’t intimidate me because I can’t see your reaction. I can’t feel the weight of judgement when I’m hiding out behind a computer screen.

But personal, face-to-face attention with more than a small group of people has never been my cup of tea. I have always worried too much about what others think of me. And to this day, when I voice a thought or opinion, my first instinct is to wonder if someone else considers it ridiculous and then I second guess myself to the nth degree.

I was forced to face my fears today at work in the first day of a two-and-a-half day training seminar. I was one of a small number of people selected to go through this training. I’m familiar with all of the other participants. I have worked with each of them in some capacity during my five years with the company. But still, when gathered with all of them in a conference room all day, with four trainers present, trying to bestow upon us their wealth of knowledge, I would have preferred to just sit quietly by and absorb the information.

Guess that wasn’t allowed.

As I could have guessed, what I would prefer and what was actually expected are two different things. And in spite of my preference to sit back quietly and refrain from risking embarrassment by offering up my own personal thoughts and ideas, there is a part of me that refuses to give in to that shy little girl who often still resides inside of me.

Also, there are rewards for participation, so to some degree, my slightly competitive nature was battling my extremely shy nature.

Still,  I can’t figure out why one of the thoughts I did voice played right into my phobia of drawing attention and speaking in front of a group. Without boring you with all of the details, the presenter raised a question about why people tell stories. Thoughts and ideas were contributed by various members of the group. The obvious ideas were voiced but the presenter was still seeking more. And since this was a sales training seminar and the perspective was on the business aspect of story-telling, I responded with a thought of my own.

People tell stories “to get attention.” (This makes sense, doesn’t it? If one business is offering the same product as another business, the goal is to make the most sales. If Business A wants to out-sell Business B, then Business A’s story needs to draw attention away from Business B and toward themselves.) Well, I thought it made sense anyway.

“To get attention.”

I don’t know why that particular answer fell out of my mouth, but it did. And the presenter found humor in that answer and seemed to think that it was not only a statement about business, but a statement about me! After all, this was a light-hearted session and he did try to make it fun for everyone whenever possible. If he only knew that while he was drawing the group’s attention to me, I was breaking out in a cold sweat and mentally counting off the seconds until they moved on!

Much to my dismay, as the day moved on, the presenter managed to find ways to remind me over and over again about my response, constantly bringing us back to the “get attention” theory. (And by “over and over” I mean, probably two more times. And that was two times too many for my liking.) This is where it got painful for me. Each time he brought it up, it was like he was nudging me and laughing again. And the group found this quite funny. And me? I could feel myself turning eight shades of red every time he made the joke and steered everyone’s attention back to me.

The last time he did it, I found myself growing irritated and mumbled something to my coworker about keeping my mouth shut from now on. Of course, the trainer heard me and happily informed me, “Nope. Sorry. That’s not allowed.”

For a while after, I refused to make eye-contact with him, not wanting to invite any further attention. My inner-rebel took over and it seemed to work. I didn’t offer any more ideas and I wasn’t called upon to offer any responses for the time being. But sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. I quickly realized I was only punishing myself by refraining from participation (and attention.) The trainer was very engaging, and in spite of myself, I found myself wanting to focus on what he was saying, wanting to participate, in spite of the “repercussions.” This was good stuff and I soon realized I was only shooting myself in the foot by holding back.

Maybe the presenter noticed that my discomfort had reached epic proportions because he finally let the joke slide. And after he did so, I began to realize that any other time I’ve been in such a situation, the leader always seems to find someone in the group whom they can engage in the topics of discussion in order to keep things lively and interesting. I may have been that person today. And if I didn’t give in to my fears so easily, if I’d bothered to think about the fact that all new experiences involve some level of risk (in this case, embarrassment) I might have found the whole experience to be less painful, maybe even enjoyable.

Regardless, we later broke into smaller work groups, which is much more my style. I found that I was actually learning and enjoying the information and able to put it to use with ease in our practice sessions. After all, we were “learning” to tell stories, and I am a story-teller.

I have to go back again tomorrow for another full day’s worth of training. I already know that there will be more “opportunities” to be the center of attention and speak in front of the group and possibly feel that horrible emotion, embarrassment. I still won’t like it. But I’ll do it anyway.

I think they refer to this as “growing and learning” and oh yeah… “Conquering one’s fears!”

Hey, if my cat can do it, so can I!

It’s a Small World After All

My maternal grandparents had four daughters; Shirley, Elaine, Arlys and Margie (my mom.) I’m going to tell you a little bit about Elaine and her family.

Elaine was married to Ben and they made a living as farmers in the town of New Richmond, Wisconsin (which is about a forty minute drive from where I now live in Minnesota.) Ben and Elaine lived in a modest two-story home on the farm. Their little yellow house sat just off of a quiet, rural road. Just across the road was another, older farmhouse. In the farmhouse lived Ben’s Brother Keith and his wife, Lois. Together, Ben and Keith ran the farm that had been passed on to them by their father.

I have fond memories of visiting Aunt Elaine and Uncle Benji’s farm. The barn fascinated me. So did the cows that lived inside, even if I was a little bit scared of them. Sometimes my cousins (one of them the one who remembers me as a “little shit”) would take us up into the loft and show us how to climb the hay bales and find hiding places among the stacks of bales. I loved the country feeling of their town and home. Everything seemed quieter and more relaxed, as if time was standing still for a little while. I was used to city life, so being on the farm was a whole new experience for me.

Uncle Benji passed away several years ago, but Aunt Elaine still lives in the house where they raised their family. Much of the farmland has been sold off, and the area has become much more residential. It’s been years since I’ve been there. I’m not sure I’d even recognize it anymore.

Elaine and Benji had four kids; my cousins Brad, Chris (the only girl), Jeff and Greg. Chris now lives in the neighboring town of Star Prairie, Wisconsin and she is the one who organized the family reunion we attended yesterday which happened to be held at a park in Star Prairie.

After spending the better part of yesterday at the family reunion, we came home and headed over to our neighbors’ home for our friend, Bill’s 50th birthday party. (I know this seems like a total change in subject. Trust me. This is going somewhere.)

At Bill’s party, we met up with many friends and acquaintances, some of whom were the couples with whom we go on vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin every August. We have been going to Bayfield with these same people for… I don’t know… six or seven years now. Dave and Julie make up one of those couples. We would not know Dave and Julie if we hadn’t met them through Bill and his wife, Tammy. (And just for the heck of it, let’s throw in the fact that Bill is originally from the state of New York.)

So…Dave was kind enough to give my Brad a job last summer and hired him back again this year, so the two of them were conversing at Bill’s party, when Brad called me over to the table where they sat.

“Mom, tell Dave about your cousin who lives in Star Prairie,” he asked.

I gave him a questioning look and Dave explained, “Julie is from Star Prairie!” I found that amazing, as Star Prairie is a very small town.

So I proceeded to briefly tell Dave that some of my family are from New Richmond and one of my cousins has lived in Star Prairie for years.

“What’s their last name,” he asked?

When I told him, his eyes got wide and he called Julie over to the table, saying, “Terri has a cousin in Star Prairie and also has family in New Richmond!”

Of course, then Julie wanted to know more, so I started to explain about Elaine and Benji and the farm in New Richmond.

Julie asked, “Wasn’t it a little yellow house?”

“Yes…,” I replied, now very curious that she was familiar.

“And across the road was another farmhouse? And behind the farmhouse was the barn?”

“Yes….”

“And the man who lived in the farmhouse closest to the barn was Keith, right?”

“You know them,” I exclaimed!

“Yes, my aunt was married to Keith,” she proclaimed.

So all of these years that I have known Dave and Julie, it has escaped our notice that Julie’s uncle was the brother of my uncle.

It really is a very small world, isn’t it?

I just find that amazing!

Well, anyway… how about some pictures from the family reunion which I stole from my sister’s Facebook page?

Shirley, Arlys, Elaine and Mom

Second cousin Jen, Shirley, Arlys, Elaine, cousin Debbie, me, cousin Brad

My sister, Cory, cousin Greg (who dubbed me a "little shit") and me

My nephew & godson, Josh and my Brad

Mark and nephew, Alec.

Bean bag toss!

Can’t wait for the next reunion!

Family Reunion

We were about half-way there when I slapped my leg and uttered an expletive. Mark looked over at me from the driver’s seat.

“You forgot your camera, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Want to go back and get it?”

“No, we’re halfway there. Forget it.”

So, I’ll have to rely on my sister to share pictures because she remembered her camera.

Oh well. It was fun, anyway, and I hardly missed my camera because I was busy catching up with my cousins and second cousins and aunts. No uncles, though. Sadly, they are all gone now.

One of my cousins informed me that I was a “little shit” when I was little and also that I was incredibly shy. I knew about the shy part. I didn’t think anyone but my parents really thought I was a little shit, though. The accusing cousin also informed me, basically, that he thought I grew up to be pretty cool, so I didn’t feel so bad about the “little shit” label.

It was a really fun day. It looked like it was going to rain, but it never did. The sun even showed its face for a while. I was so enthralled with my extended family that it escaped my notice that maybe Mark and Brad and Heather probably weren’t as enthralled as I was. (Jake and Kacey didn’t come – work and softball took precedence.) Brad asked if I minded if they took a little jaunt over to the trout farm just around the corner from the park where the reunion was being held. Of course I didn’t mind.

I proceeded to gab and gab and gab with my cousins and second cousins. It seemed like the three were hardly gone at all when they returned with a bag of ice and trout, which they then tossed into the cooler which held our beverages for the day. Gross. Good thing I had already drank my share for the day.

Mark caught the tiniest trout. I thought that was funny and couldn’t stop laughing. Apparently, you’re not allowed to toss ‘em back at the trout farm, so he had to keep the baby trout. Here, Brad and Heather display Heather’s trout chasing Mark’s trout:

So it was a day of fun, good food, and good times, and promises from the cousins to get together soon; definitely before the next reunion which could be two or three years away.

Life is Good – June 18, 2010

It’s hot out today. It’s humid and it’s windy. But I run anyway.

For a split second, I think maybe I should have done the treadmill instead today. Then I tell myself I’m stronger than that. I can do this. I start out walking for a few minutes. Stretch my muscles. Tighten the arm strap on my iPod. Adjust the ear buds. I can already feel the wind pushing me sideways.

One time around the block; Two times around the clock; Three times, don’t cross the little lady…

I start out on an incline. Thank God the wind is against my back. Traffic is heavy on the road next to me. I turn up the volume trying to drown out the sound of tires on the pavement.

So pretty and oh so bold; Got a heart full of gold on a lonely road; She said, “I don’t even think that God can save me.”

I make it to the top of the hill, but my lungs start to burn already. I’m not used to running in humidity. Damn it. I reluctantly let myself slow to a walk for a few yards.

I pick up the pace again, but I can’t find my rhythm. That damn wind keeps trying to knock me off-balance and it messes with my breathing. I let it intimidate me and I’m breathing too hard. I keep pushing though.

Am I gainin’ ground; Am I losin’ face; Have I lost and found my saving grace; Thankful for the gift my angels gave me.

At the half-way point I have to slow down again. I’ve got to pace my breathing. A few yards and I speed up again. I figure it out this time and the burning feeling in my lungs goes away. It only took me half the run, but I’ve put all the pieces together.

Born alone, we die alone; ‘n I’m just sittin’ here by the phone; Waitin’ for the Lord to send my callin’.

I’m moving downhill now and onto more level ground. The wind is still trying to distract me but I force my thoughts away from it and keep going.

Street wise from the boulevard; Jesus only knows that she tries too hard; She’s only tryin’ to keep the sky from fallin’.

Sweat is running down my back, down my face, and down other places best not mentioned here. I keep going.

Any man who says it’s Heaven and Hell; Prob’ly got somethin’ useless to sell; You ask me if I’m saved but what’s it to ya?

I hit the last stretch of my route; a nice, long, downhill section of path. The wind is hitting me head on, full force. I’m grateful I’m moving downhill or I might give in. I notice an ache in my right side. I don’t care. Side aches don’t scare me anymore. I used to feel them and panic, thinking they would get so much worse, but they don’t. I ignore it and keep going. Think of something else.

Blow a quarter, cop another eight; You’re runnin’ out of high, you’re losin’ your faith; Throw your hands up and scream “Hallelujah!”

Keep going.

Hallelujah, Halleluja;Hallelujah, Hallelujah; Amen.

One more block.

One time around the sun; Another year older and my work ain’t done; It’s time for me to write that final chapter.

Keep going.

Deal the cards and roll the dice; Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll are my only vice; Tryin’ to figure out just what’s here after.

Damn wind is making me crazy, but I’ve finally made it. Traffic parts at the last busy intersection before I turn towards home and allow myself a cool-down walk.

Halleluja, Halleluja

I did it. (Thanks to Everlast for the help…) :-)

Life is good.