My stomach becomes uneasy hours before my mind senses the anticipation of the moment. My mind can’t maintain focus on any one task; instead it migrates tangentially from thought to thought. I start to sweat, regardless of the frigid temperature of the room. The perspiration saturates my shirt under my arms, forming an embarrassing darkened patch of cloth visible with any hand gestures. My speech quickens, almost becoming rapid and pressured: a sure sign of mania. I question every word I spout out, terrified of saying an incorrect fact or appearing ignorant. The hyper awareness of every syllable creates a warmth that rises up from my belly, spreads across my chest, and into my cheeks; splotches of fear visible to the surrounding listeners. And then it’s over. The flood of relief washes over me with such force that I almost lose my breath.
I’ve always wondered why society forces us to perform like clowns in front of colleagues. If public speaking truly is the most ubiquitous fear among humans, why do we require it of people? There are plenty of charismatic public speakers among us who truly enjoy the attention, who project their voices well, who speak confidently, and who convey their messages in an engaging way. So then why do our school systems and careers institute mandatory public speaking, when we know that every person has their own unique talents and fears?
It is like so much of the American school system and career advancement today; the constant push towards “doing more.” A person must achieve high grades, have leadership roles in extracurricular activities, and in all of their spare time have real world job experience. For advanced degrees, every student is required to participate in research, regardless of lack of passion for the field. The whole system leads to people checking the boxes of what they think they must do in order to succeed and advance in any given vocation. And once a person advances in a career, whether it be a promotion or graduate with another degree, there is always a next step, another form of advancement. This continual need for progression leads to chronic dissatisfaction among the population, with a system that repeatedly beats into people that what you have accomplished is never enough. So when do we mandate that enough is enough? When do we decide that careers are no longer the end all, be all; that we make relationships and our passions a priority? When do we learn how to say no unapologetically? When do we start to dictate how our precious and short time on this planet is spent?
I don’t know the answer to those questions and I can’t answer when. But I do know that I am ready for a change. I am ready to prioritize my efforts and time based on my passions and desires, and determined by what I deem important. This life is too short for anything else.