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January 10, 2006 - 5:09 am

Do you have a phobia of something so strong that just the thought of it sets you into a tailspin? I know I do. My fear is public speaking–I hate it. I have done everything I can to face my fears, including reading books like a href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect?link_code=as2path=ASIN/0449902927tag=wwwviolentkicomcamp=1789creative=9325″emFeel the Fear and Do It Anyway/em,/aimg src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwviolentkicoml=as2o=1a=0449902927″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”" style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” / but sometimes, I have to remind myself that pushing through fear no matter what is not always the answer. br /br /The fear of public speaking started in high school; before that, I could get up in front of the class with some trepidation but I was able to do it. But that all changed in 10th grade English class. I had to give a report on The Canterbury Tales and when I got up to speak, I just lost it. I had already been ignored and/or verbally abused by half the kids in the class and facing them brought the fear I had been hiding for years to the forefront. I froze. Have you ever froze in front of a group of 10th graders? They burst into laughter–the teacher tried to put things into perspective by saying, “We’re laughing with you, not at you.” Yeah, right. I never spoke again in class until my last year in college when I was stuck giving a speech in a required class I needed to graduate. I stumbled through it the best I could–all the while feeling my heart pound and the room spin. I somehow made it through and even got an A with a comment from the professor, “try to look people in the eye when you speak.”br /br /My next bout with public speaking came in graduate school; I was really lucky as The New School for Social Research in NYC had a European style of teaching which meant very large classes where I could slink in the back of the room and then take one written test for my whole semester grade. It was impersonal and suited me fine–I did not have to interact or talk to anyone until my last semester in a small seminar. Again, I needed the class to graduate and had to force myself to attend. The class was taught by my worst nightmare–a strong-willed Israeli professor who seemed to get a sadistic thrill out of poking fun at the “dumb American students.” This mean streak got even worse when she announced that in order to pass the course–each one of us would take our turn “teaching” the class on a different topic. You can only imagine the torment I went through trying to teach on language development in children in front of a malevolent professor who took pleasure in pointing out my every flaw. I rejoiced to get a B- in this woman’s class and never have to deal with her again.br /br /So, fast forward to today. Despite the weeks of anxiety beforehand, shortness of breath, and my heart beating out of my chest, I have perservered in the public speaking arena–and it has never gotten better. I have forced myself to give testimony to legislatures, talked to crowds of 500 about my film, and spoken to groups of professionals about kids who are violent. You would think that after all this–I would feel less fear. But I never do. It is there each time, as strong as ever. A colleague said to me once, “it is not necessary to speak because you think you have to, but it is necessary to be able to speak if you want to.” I think this is the crucial difference. If we face our fears because they keep us from doing something that we want to do, that is one thing–but I have learned that I no longer have to face my fears just to prove to myself that I am not afraid. br /br /Do you have any fears you could share–and if so, how did you overcome them, or not?

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