In the last week of October, I received an e-mail from NASPA about a proposal for the national conference in March, 2012. I was approved for my presentation about preparing for mid-level success, and in that moment, and I couldn’t have been more honored and ecstatic. I told my friends, colleagues, and family, posted it on Facebook and Twitter, and in one way or another, showed my part of the world how excited I was for this opportunity.
Fast forward to 30 minutes later – the excitement I had built up had already started to fall apart, brick by brick, until I backed away from what I had built and all I saw was what remained – a busted foundation of doubt, fear, and questioning. So – how did this happen so quickly? Who came into my world and ripped this down, so much so that I was left wondering how I built it up in the first place?
The simple answer: it was me. Why wait for someone else to do it?
Over the last few years of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to present on an institutional, state, regional, and national level – presenting is one of my favorite things to do, for the simple reason that presentations are one of the major things that inspire me during times where the daily grind of work begins to make me wonder if I’m in the right place. I’ll attend a conference, and when I see another person talk about research I’ve never seen, life stories from their own past, and words of wisdom for the future, I’m given inspiration, insight, and hope. Last March, I presented at NASPA on Women in Student Affairs as well as the development of new professionals, and for the rest of the semester, I don’t think I’ve ever felt better professionally. I met amazing new colleagues, and in the process of influencing others, my world was opened up to those who wanted to help and motivate me as well. Presenting for me (on whatever side you’re sitting) is a form of connection, the sharing of ideas and resources that encourage new relationships you would otherwise not have been exposed to.
With all that said, in the coming moments of receiving the approval e-mail, my doubts started crowding out all the enthusiasm I had about presenting. Of course, even the most seasoned professionals will say they get the jitters beforehand, and obsess about every little detail before they speak to a crowd. It’s only human to get a little bit panicky when it comes to the pressure of being in front of any group. I wondered, however, if what I was feeling (and so early on) was a sign of my unpreparedness – was this the sign that I’m just not cut out to get in front of colleagues on a big topic?
As I reflected on these questions, the main theme, and the biggest question that stood out to me, was around worth, and in particular, how much I was questioning mine.
What I am worth as a professional?
Is what I say of worth to others?
Am I a person of worth?
Is the risk worth trying?
I think many of us question ourselves based on the challenges and projects we’re exposed to: every day, I see women not only question their worth in regards to their work, but in addition, they will actually bypass trying something new as to avoid going through the potential embarrassment and disappointment. With the absence of challenge comes no need to go through the pain of a process and the potential failure associated with it. On the flip side, however, with the absence of challenge comes the absence of growth, an absence of the thrill of achievement, and the building and cultivation of self-worth.
As I reflect on these feelings and fears, some that are still remaining and some that I’ve decided to leave behind, the driving thing that remains for me is this quote:
Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
In the end, regardless of how I feel today, in three months, or the three minutes before I get in front of an audience in March, it’s the risk itself that keeps driving me. Sure, there’s the possibility that I’ll get up on stage and totally blow it. What pushes me past that fear is trust – trust in myself, to know that I’ll be working diligently to prepare; trust in my colleagues and mentors, who direct and guide me when I’m in uncharted territory; and finally, a trust in what’s potential – there’s so much more out there to learn, to share, and to live, and those things will never be realized without risk.
So – what risk is worth it to you today?