The Joy of Leaving Your Comfort Zone Behind

A brave new world awaits.

As a kid, one of the banes of my existence, at least where grammar school was concerned, was the dreaded oral report.

I remember it as if it were yesterday. That God-awful moment when I had to stand in front of the classroom and deliver whatever spiel had been assigned to us—something history-related, usually.

It didn’t matter what the particular topic was, or even my degree of preparedness. I was terrified! All those other kids looking at me…assessing me as I shaked and quaked, index cards clutched in my sweaty hands, my breath hitching, voice trembling.

Damn. Oral reports. Even the name sounds intimidating. I would obsess over these things for days before the actual “event.” I’d wonder, what would my classmates think? Would they be sizing up my clothes, my hair, my body?

Thinking back, I feel such empathy for that girl. Hindsight, of course. Because, much later, I realized that my classmates probably weren’t paying attention to me as most of them were obsessing over their own turns at bat.

Sure, there were the confident rabble-rousers who could make their reports more like educational stand-up routines, but then, there were those kids who were more traumatized at being under the high-beams than even I was!

I’ll never forget one poor girl who had, in front of everyone, what I can only describe as an “episode.” She completely lost it. Her eyes took on a faraway glassy look as she literally stopped speaking in mid-sentence and just stared at something only she could see. Into the abyss, I expect. It was terrible to behold. I felt so sorry for her. I recall that our teacher had to physically lead her back to her seat. Or maybe it was out of the room to the nurse’s office. I’m not entirely certain. But it was bad.

Apparently fear of public speaking is a biggie for a huge number of people. According to psycom.net, it even has a name: Glossophobia! And it’s believed to affect a whopping 75% of the population!

Here are the symptoms, in case you’re wondering:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • A stiffening of the upper back muscles
  • Nausea and a feeling of panic when faced with having to speak in public
  • Intense anxiety at the thought of speaking in front of a group.

Wow. That’s some tough stuff. It makes you wonder what the hell everyone is so afraid of, doesn’t it? Are we that worried about what others think about us? I guess the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

But here’s the deal, sometimes, when you force yourself to face that which you fear most, you discover a whole new “you.” A you who is fierce and fearless. More on this in a bit.

I hated having to speak in public. I’ve established. So, what did I do? I became an advertising and marketing copywriter. A career where it is an absolute necessity to appear confident and sure of oneself as presenting work to colleagues and clients alike is an integral part of the gig. You can’t “shake and quake” in front of a client. Not unless you want a severe dressing down by the almighty Creative Director. My last gig in that industry, by the way, was as an Associate Creative Director. I never wanted to be the one to turn the lights off at night.

One of the agencies I worked at was Frankel, in Chicago, helmed by the legendary Bud Frankel, who was a true human being. The place has gone through several iterations since I’ve been there, as these places do.

I was a copywriter on Frankel’s largest account: McDonald’s. Soon after I started there, I had to take part in a presentation “workshop,” whereby myself and some of my creative colleagues had to spend three grueling days being filmed and critiqued by the head of the workshop, and by the other unfortunates who had to take part.

What can I say? It was horrendous. None of what we had to talk about in front of the camera had to do with work. We were given random topics and had to basically wing it. For a “glossophobic” like myself, it was quite the learning experience.

Another fun part of this gig: Every Friday, my whole creative team had to schlep out to McDonald’s corporate office in Oakbrook and present that week’s work. In a formal setting. In a theater. From a stage. GULP!!

I remember “losing my virginity” there. I had to open the presentation. I stood on stage as the McMuckedyMucks filed in and sat down.

Knees knocking, I managed a plastered-on smile that I’m certain was more like a grimace and squeaked out a “Good morning.” Not one of the suits smiled back, or acknowledged the greeting. Good times!

Ahhh, yeah. But I learned. Did I ever. And the more I spoke in front of people, the better I got. After a while, I aced my presentations. I can’t tell you the exact moment it happened, but I finally realized that I was as good as anyone in the room and better than most.

And that’s how you have to view yourself. As King or Queen of the world. I did, after realizing that the only one holding me back, was…me.

Fast forward to my becoming a screenwriter and the day, just a few years ago, when one of my short films had its premiere screening at the Los Angeles Film School. What a kick!

I was invited to participate, along with the filmmakers in a Q&A with the audience after the screening. What a surreal moment. But people, I got on stage and I kicked ass!

That definitely fell under the category of “Things I Never Thought I’d Do.” And here’s another one: At my last place of employ, where I was unceremoniously laid-off over the phone after fifteen years, I started, and was lead singer in a rock band!

It began as a Halloween party joke. Myself and a few of my work buds decided to dress up as the “Spawn of the Mamas and the Papas.” I rewrote “California Dreamin’” and as it turned out, I could sing.

From there, we got serious. We played at company parties at bars near the agency, had regular rehearsals, fought and had fallings-out, came back together, etc.—just like a real band. I never had so much fun in my life and certainly, never thought I’d be able to do anything like that.

I felt like Joan friggin’ Jett!

Here’s the odd part, but maybe you’ll get it: Although some of my family members came to our gigs, my husband never did. I really didn’t want him to as it’s really difficult to morph into someone else in front of someone who knows you inside and out. Does that make sense? Anyway, he’s never held it against me, thankfully. I’m pretty sure he understands.

My point to all this is, you can amaze yourself if you just try. It doesn’t matter if it’s fear of public speaking or something else that’s holding you back. Take baby steps. You don’t have to leap out of your comfort zone. It will be there waiting for you if you need to slip back in. But you won’t want to. I promise. Because you know what? You’re wonderful just as you are. All you need to do is let others see that. And believe it yourself.

Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinnhttps://medium.com/@sherrymcguinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.
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