The silence has texture, as I settle in with my computer and script at the mini-conference table in an unused office at our district admin building. My ears fill with a foamy clog that surrounds my head. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from preparing my talking points for this PowerPoint, or maybe it’s simply the fact that I am about to narrate a PowerPoint for a PD session that I will be facilitating. I have never done either of these things.
The whiteboard and power strip on the opposite wall are focal points that lack definition and I struggle to ground myself. I need to create a nonexistent audience in order to make my narration engaging and believable, but imagining an audience makes my skin splotchy and my voice tight.
Drink some water. Take some breaths. Focus on the words. Picture people who smile and nod their heads when I talk to them.
Slide one. Record. Listen. Erase. Begin again. “Ewww!” Is there anything worse than having to listen to your own voice in a recording? Nothing about it sounds like what I hear in my own head. “Is this what I actually sound like?” It comes as a surprise every time I hear my voice coming back at me.
I plod on to slide two, and three. I review from the beginning. Hour one. Hour two. I take a break to find chocolate and fill my water bottle. Hours three, four and five merge together as I dig in to complete the work, listening and revising along the way.
The silence has receded to the blank walls, and an audience of my choosing has stepped in. When I complete the last slide, I save and upload the document to our server. Relief. For now. Tuesday lurks. How will people react? The same fears that kept me from standing up at the poetry reading a couple of weeks ago are the ones that fill my thoughts with snickering and gossiping. I wonder, does middle school ever leave us completely?
Tuesday is now history. In fact, in my exhaustion, I fell asleep writing this piece and woke up to the first minutes of Wednesday. The staff development day is behind me. My grade-level teammates were laudatory, but it’s analogous to your parents telling you how great you are. You wonder if they feel the need to say it because you belong to them. My teammates repeat it again, just to let me know they really mean it. Others, staff members who owe me nothing, thank me, or tell me that the information was helpful. And then there are those who leave, and I don’t know what they are thinking. I invent possible reactions. Some of the thoughts are negative. I stop myself. It’s okay to believe your parents…or your teammates. I know that when I tell my son he’s done something well, I may be biased, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s done a good job. Even if he doesn’t give my praise the same weight, my son would be crushed if he didn’t receive feedback from his mom. I know that my team supported me because I’m theirs, but they still meant it. And, the the others who shared their positive feedback, they meant it, too. And, just because my parents taught me that when you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it, it doesn’t mean that the folks who didn’t give feedback had negative thoughts. There are lots of reasons for not offering feedback. As I step out of my comfort zone, it’s okay to recognize that some people won’t like what I do, but focusing on that, or worse, inventing what doesn’t exist, will grow my fear, and that isn’t helpful to anyone… least of all, me.
Today was another step in facing my fears. I didn’t melt like the Wicked Witch. In fact, I’m told I did some good, like Glenda, and that feels pretty great. I think I’ll stay rooted there until I sprout some more buds of confidence and take the next risk.