Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “But I would never do that?” I hear myself say that all the time. Sometimes it comes in the form of “I could never wear that” or “I wouldn’t know where to begin” or “I don’t think I could.” Those voices of self-doubt are very common. While it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one, I don’t want to live a life defined by “not,” “can’t,” “couldn’t,” and “no.” I want to be braver, but it’s hard to know where to begin.

The other day I got an opportunity to try. The Director of the Alumni Association asked if I would be willing to do a question and answer session with some of the freshman class at my alma mater. My immediate response was, “Do you know how I much I hate public speaking?” He surprised me by being genuinely disappointed.

“Really?”, he asked. “But you’re so well-spoken and thoughtful and I think you’d really have something to say to them.”

Saying “yes”

If I’d been paying better attention I would have thanked him for the compliment. Instead, fear had me spinning out reasons why I simply could not accept. I mentioned that I was in the process of moving. I told him about the kitchen reno that is underway, and the plans I was fairly sure I had. But I noticed something as I continued to ramble. I had an excuse, but I had not actually said no. I wanted to. I certainly meant to, but my lips just wouldn’t quite form the words.

He asked me to think about it and I promised that I would. I didn’t really intend to think about it for very long – just long enough to talk myself out of it really. But I couldn’t shake the truth that I had an out and did not take it. I decided to take a closer look at that.

It’s true that I really do not like public speaking, but what would it look like if I said yes? It would be an informal gathering — a Q & A session, not a speech. It would be a small group of 20-30 students, not the whole incoming class. They would have questions that as a graduate I would be able to answer. They were just starting out at a school I deeply loved; why not take the chance to share in that experience? I decided to say yes.

The day came, and I was nervous but not as nervous as I expected to be. The students came and I did have things to say and they listened. When I finished the questions I’d been asked to prepare for, they asked questions for another 40 minutes. The most surprising part of the whole experience was how much I genuinely enjoyed it. I took a leap, and it worked out just fine.

Choosing differently

There’s a quote from Seth Godin that asks, “Is this a reflex that’s part of my long-told story, or is this actually a good decision?”

It’s such a good question. My initial refusal – that was definitely “a reflex that’s part of my long-told story.” It was an “I don’t do that” reaction. But the reality is, I can do that, and what’s more, I actually liked doing it.

Each of us has the power to change the story we tell about ourselves. There are a few limits, but not nearly as many as we think. There’s a very fine line between change and growth and you really can’t have the later without the former. Growth is a sign of life. Change, as much as I resist, is not only good, it’s vital. I must change if I want to grow, and so must you.

Are there decisions that you are making right now that are reflexes rather than choices? This is a great time of year to try something new. Don’t limit yourself. Take a leap!

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This article was written by: Claire Colvin

Photo Credit: Katerina Radvanska