Public Speaking and Making Things Happen

Over the last year or so, I’ve spoken at SCaLE, OSCON, LinuxCon, and the Grace Hopper Celebration, as well as a slew of small local events and Toastmasters clubs. It often doesn’t seem like it, though. It seems like it happened in a fantasy. I have vivid memories of the train and plane rides, the hotel rooms, and sometimes, the expo halls. These haunt me. Less vivid are the memories of the post talk conversations, of looking out over rooms full of interested people, and especially, of connections with people who found my knowledge and perspective valuable. These are the memories that want to dissolve into my ever present mental fog unless I do the challenging emotional work to keep them fresh.

When looking back over what I learned, I wish I had some scintillating insight about speaking, about technology, or even about community to share. I wish I was advanced enough for that. What I actually did learn is something much more basic: that these things actually did happen. They were real, no matter what my avoidant selective memory wants to tell me; and I made them happen by learning and gaining skills, by being able to package and deliver knowledge to help others acquire those skills, and not to be minimized, by responding to calls for participation and catching my breath as I clicked the “Submit” button. I know intellectually that they happened. My current job is to learn it emotionally.

That’s why, as part of my visualization exercises, I’ve been letting those memories flood my internal monitor screen and saying to myself, “This happened. It was real. You made it happen. You had help from wonderful, supportive people who care about you. Still, it was you.” I’m learning to be with the cognitive dissonance surrounding those memories, and to sort out the clash of emotions that create it. Most of all, I’m learning to prevent my old self image from taking over and shutting down that active, ambitious, successful part of me. It’s uncomfortable. But ongoing failure and mediocrity is even more uncomfortable.

I did it. I made it happen, and I can make it and other things happen again, whenever I want. That is the lesson.

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