I stood on the high diving board, looking down.
Nope, nope, nope.
I was 10 years old, at the pool at Twin Lakes Tennis & Swim Club. That’s where my family went on hot days from our weekend house in Stamford, Ct.
The usual suburban club: Moms with deeply freckled chests. Tennis whites. Cheeseburgers, defrosted crinkle-cut fries, ketchup in mini white paper cups. Bee stings in the grass. Fit, year-round kids in matching swim-team Speedos. A low board, and a high board.
I’d been eyeing the high board for a couple of years, thinking, “That looks fun but not yet. Today, I’ll satisfy my longing for adventure and accomplishment with a frozen Snickers.”
Then, one day, I decided to get off my Garfield towel and go for it.
I questioned that choice the whole time I waited in line to climb the ladder, and deeply regretted it when I got to the top.
Nope, nope, nope.
Was it the impact of hitting the water that scared me? How much higher-up it looked from the top than it had from the ground? The idea that I’d spend 2 seconds in the air, wishing I hadn’t done this? Getting water up my nose?
Yes. To all of it.
But I knew what I had to do.
I took a deep breath, bounced a couple of times, prepared for the run-n-hop I’d learned in diving class.
And then, I turned around and asked everyone on the ladder to get off so I could climb back down.
That’s always been my approach to fear:
Avoid! It’s bad for you! Eat a snack instead!
I once saw Will Smith talking about fear on The Tonight Show.
He said, if he’s afraid of anything, he has to go do it. Like, if there’s a high cliff over water that looks scary, he MUST jump off.
What is that?
Why can’t I be made of that stuff?
Instead, I’m made of my grandmother, who thought street curbs were a dangerous height to step down from and made me zip up my windbreaker in late May because otherwise I’d “catch my death.”
Still, once in a while, I try to channel Will Smith (minus the Scientology part).
That’s why I occasionally agree to public speaking gigs.
I did one on Sunday, and the lead-up went just like last time. It’s always the same.
Here are my 20 Stages Of Public Speaking.
- Me, speak at your event? I’d be honored! Sounds fun! Yes, let’s discuss.
- OK, put me down as a yes, maybe. Have to see how a few things shake out in the ol’ calendar. But probably.
- OK, yes. Yes, for sure. Put me down. I said I wanted to speak more. Right? Let’s do it.
- Dear event organizer, Is there wiggle room to pull out if I need to? That week might actually be kind of hairy.
- No, no, I’m in, definitely.
- I’m so glad I agreed to do this. I’ve got an important message to share. What that is, I don’t yet know. Ideas gotta marinate!
- Dear event organizer: How many people are you expecting, again?
- Even if just a handful of people are there, that’s good. It’s like a practice run. No presh.
- It’s in a month. What am I going to even talk about?
- It’s 3 weeks away. That’s plenty of time to figure out what I’m saying. I’ll block out the whole week beforehand and practice for 2 hours a day.
- One week away. I could probably figure it out on Thursday while I’m getting my eyelash extensions done.
- Dear event organizer: Could this just be a panel discussion instead of me giving a “speech”?
- NOBODY ASK ME FOR ANYTHING! No, I can’t pick up half and half. Don’t you know I’m speaking this week?
- I can always practice in the shower tomorrow. Plus, maybe it’s more natural if I wing it.
- I will never again say yes to speaking. Too much stress. Not worth it. Stress causes inflammation, which is what makes old peoples’ noses grow so big. I like my nose as is!
- Today’s the day. FUCK ME. But later this day, it will be done and I’ll be free. Shit, this dress has too much boobage.
- There’s a microphone in my hand. Where am I? Who am I?
- Is that person engaged and taking notes? Or bored and doodling?
- THEY’RE CLAPPING AND IT’S OVER! I DID IT! I FUCKING DID IT! WHY DON’T I DO THIS ALL THE FUCKING TIME?
- I need to eat everything. Give me a muffin. Give me jellybeans. Take me to dinner.
Say yes, regret it, do it. Rinse, repeat.
Do you dive right into the fear? Or run to the snack bar?
Are you Will Smith, or my Grandma Helen?
Do you do public speaking? Does it tie you up with a monthlong freakout?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.