When was the last time you were scared?

One Things Scares YouHave you ever done something that scared the bejesus out of you? Think back….how did it end it up? Did you learn anything? Would you do it again? Have you ever done something scary over and over and over again?

I have. It was called the speech and debate team. And to this day, I still have nightmares. For four years, I chose to memorize 8-minute speeches with the end goal of performing well enough to engage my audience and convince my judges that I wrote these words, felt this way, and deserved first place. I chose to research current event issues, prepare my position, and argue my points in the most disciplined of ways in front of an audience. And every single performance, every single tournament, I found myself nervously holed up in a bathroom stall, anxiety rising to alarmingly high levels, sweat permeating my forehead, tears filling my eyes… and for what? I hated public speaking. I still hate public speaking. But I kept doing it.

Why, you ask? With every performance completed, with every first place medal proudly displayed in my dorm room, I felt like I was becoming a better, stronger, more well-rounded person. If this nervous sickness that came over me every tournament Saturday for four years was the price to pay for that, I could handle it.

The beauty of this extracurricular activity is that it builds, sharpens, and requires several skills that are necessary in today’s world: public speaking, active listening, critical thinking, careful preparation, and solid research. Over time, the best of the best debaters and speech givers learn that public speaking involves a particular kind of poise – the kind of poise that can only be learned when your mind goes totally blank two minutes into your eight-minute speech, when mid-speech the heel on your shoe breaks and you fall flat on your bum, or when your debate opponent completely dismantles the core of your argument in less than 5 minutes in a move you, for whatever reason, never saw coming.

Yeah, you learn poise from these experiences. Trust me.

You also learn how to control yourself. I, along with my teammates and competitors, frequently came in loaded for bear, only to find quickly that our enthusiasm could actually get in the way. If we didn’t control ourselves, we’d say something regretful or lose a potentially valid point in a hail of undisciplined words. Composure was key.

I attribute these experiences to my current disposition. I am not someone who speaks up often – that is, not before I am well versed in the issue, have done my own research, and have processed the information. This is why I am not one to volunteer out the gate to do something if I do not think I will have ample time to prepare and work on it. This is why I am sometimes difficult to read. This is why I am sometimes restrained in my enthusiasm and emotions.

But, this is also why I can think problems and solutions through from start to finish. This is why I can often stand outside of a situation and see its consequences from multiple angles. This is why I am able to communicate points clearly, concisely, and thoroughly (at least most of the time). And, this is why I can troubleshoot problems on the spot without losing my cool.

Watching the current Trump-Clinton debate series has brought all this back for me. I started thinking about all the skills truly talented debaters and speech givers must hone. Every time your heart starts to beat out of your chest from embarrassment, being uncomfortable, or getting into an unfamiliar place, it’s a great reminder that you’re alive and that this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Growth requires change. Change can be scary. So do something scary. For some, it might be learning a new technology. For others, it’s doing more public speaking. I know that if I had not participated in debate and speech competitions, I’d be a completely different person today. So just do something scary. If you do, change is inevitable, and you might just end up a better, stronger kind of person. I look forward to the next time I scare myself.