On Bravery

Here's a bit of a confession for the day: I am a worrier...a brooder...a dweller...a nervous Nelly.

I don't know where this stems from since my parents seem to be fearless and for as long as I can remember, I've been performing. Throughout elementary school I was a competitive gymnast and had no problems flipping and jumping and balancing in front of a crowd. I loved the thrill of performing. I remember watching my older cousin's volleyball games and doing back handsprings and cheers on the sidelines simply because I LOVED being watched by a crowd. In middle school I bravely donned my olive green cargo pants and crop-topped Calvin Klein baby doll shirt to sing "Hit Me Baby One More Time" in front of the entire student body (DON'T JUDGE). In high school, I performed in musicals and ran varsity track--getting a thrill at each round of applause and sound of a starter's gun. I even gave a speech at my high school graduation in front of nearly 300 of my peers and even more of their friends and family. Like most folks, I remember the proverbial butterflies before public performances, but I don't remember freak-outs prior.

Maybe time has just given me a set of rose colored glasses (has it really been twelve years since I graduated?!), but I feel like my sense of nervousness has increased post high school.

Image from Pexels
Rarely was I required to perform or give presentations for my undergraduate degree, and if I did have a presentation, it was for my upper level classes where I was surrounded by the same peers I had been taking classes with for two to three years. I remember feeling like I could puke each morning during the first two weeks of my first teaching job. For a few months, I subjected my husband to my lessons so I could practice explaining things before I had to actually explain them to real students.

Then, after my first year of teaching, I started graduate school. In my first class, I had to give a 60 minute teaching demonstration and lead a discussion afterwards as a requirement. I was the youngest teacher in the room, and they all seemed so much smarter and cultured and put together than me. What could I, a brand new teacher, possibly offer to a room full of teaching veterans?! I remember sweating profusely throughout the entire demonstration. I remember my face hot with worry. I remember rushing out of the room afterwards in embarrassment. It was all self-imposed. Nobody tore me down that day, and I even earned an A in the class. But it was the first time where I was incredibly self-aware, and I think it's because the stakes were higher. This feeling continued throughout most of graduate school. By about year three (my last year of classes in the program), my confidence increased and I was less hesitant and anxious because the newness had worn off. But the trend of excessive nerves for the first two years continued into each new activity I started: coaching, singing in a local bluegrass band, teaching new classes, etc.

I am two and a half months shy of 30, and my nerves continue to hold me captive in my mind. I may exude confidence, but don't buy that lie because on the inside I am FREAKING OUT. Lately my nervousness is more related to parenting, writing, and meeting new people. New experiences with my kids leave my insides wrapped into a tight ball as I worry about how they will react. I obsess over each post I submit to an outside publication until I receive either the rejection or acceptance (and when I receive rejection I make a hasty and silent vow to never write again). In fact, I refuse to submit to any outlet that takes more than a week to respond because I know I will torture myself with anxiety. I've become quite the introvert over the years, and meeting new people makes me feel sweaty and itchy and like I need to run, so most times I hole up at my house or my desk (at work) and do quiet, non-social activities like reading and writing.

I am not brave, but I'm working on it. I will continue to take deep breaths and practice self-calming techniques when I give my kids new experiences, I will make myself vulnerable and send my writing to different publications, and I will message someone I barely know and invite them for coffee (and wear lots of deodorant when we actually meet). Being brave isn't comfortable, but I'll do it because I know I won't grow if I don't take risks, and I hate the thought of not growing and learning more than I hate the thought of starting a new activity.

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