Speak Easy

“There are many possible directions that any conversation can take.”

– The Dulwich Centre

A statement which I have found to be inherently true throughout my time studying Narrative Practice. And, a statement that remains true, regarding this reflection.

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Recently, I interviewed my father, using Narrative Practice techniques to guide our discussion. This was a very interesting process, as I have never encountered him in a professional space. Nonetheless, it was inspiring to hear about his career narrative – which highlighted the value of hard work, and the importance of forward-thinking.

As I am transition into adulthood and the professional world, I have learned to appreciate the advice of a seasoned professional. So, I really enjoyed this opportunity to connect with my father in a different way. Most notably, my dad said that “the signs were right in front of [him]”. This quote stood out to me, because it highlights the importance of acknowledging when it is time for a change, and acting upon this before it is too late.

Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

The part of the interview which I could most acutely relate to was my dad’s notion of a ‘Quantum Leap’. I have had many in my life. Whether it be moving schools, dropping a degree, or changing job roles. But, I think my most important ‘Quantum Leap’  was learning to have confidence in myself. After all, as Kate, our seminar leader, recently remarked – the most important thing that we take out of this class may not even reside within the learning outcomes. Thus, my personal realisation arose from a short exercise we undertook in the last seminar:

We were challenged to think of a word which identifies a sizeable barrier to us successfully completing our university semester. For me, this word was ‘stress‘. Undoubtedly, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to managing the heavy workload that arises near the close of a semester. In part, I believe this stems from a combination of my perfectionism, and the pressure I put on myself to output quality work, coupled with the eventual burnout from my work/uni schedule.

Afterwards, we had to describe an instance where we did not act in this problematic way, and then select a word which represented this more productive way of working. Here, I reflected upon my rocky relationship with class presentations.

Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

Public speaking, for whatever reason, has always been something that I am not confident doing. In fact, 5 years ago, I was hardly able to get three words out in front of a class before the panic attack set in. 3 years ago, I could just make it through a speech – with a crackled, mumbling voice, and fiery red face that was holding back tears – but it was still an improvement. Fast forward to university, and I was somehow able to make a presentation without palm cards, and with a calmly projected voice. Although a large chunk of this particular narrative has been skipped over, the moral remains the same. I had to learn how to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. (A notion which was inspired by Mia’s blog post).

But, as anyone with anxiety would probably know, this is not a linear process. There is no end point where the optimum comfortability has been achieved, because there is always an opportunity for a set back. And, for me this happened about 7 weeks ago. For reasons I honestly cannot recall, my anxiety hit a disaster stage. During that time I had a small presentation, in which my voice cracked, the tears came, and the teacher even asked if I was okay, and if I needed a moment to calm down. I felt like I had gone back years. And then, this small uncomfortable moment seeped into every other aspect of my life. For weeks I couldn’t speak in tutorials, and in a few cases I couldn’t even attend tutorials, because being in a group situation was too much for me.

Unfortunately, learning outcomes don’t take into account a person’s experiences outside of the classroom. So, my group received a sub-par mark for that assessment, and I couldn’t help but feel partly to blame. But, part of me was frustrated, because I knew that I had the ability to perform, but just not on that day. 

Knowing that I had two larger presentations looming at the end of semester, I jumped back on the path towards the comfortable. I combatted my apprehension towards these tasks with fierce preparation. The idea being, that if I could be confident about my preparation for the task, my calmness within my uncomfortable situation might improve. And, it worked! I got through both of my presentations unscathed, and was proud of my small victory.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Accordingly, the productive value that I selected was ‘calmness‘, a trait which, when used in a conscious effort, works wonders for becoming comfortable with uncomfortable situations. And, the word which I chose to describe this process of becoming comfortable was ‘confidence‘. For, the most valuable thing I learnt this semester was to have confidence in myself, and my abilities, to avoid becoming derailed by stress.

Narrative Practice has taught me how to listen to other people’s stories, and learn from them. Through Outsider Witnessing, I was able to identify elements of my dad’s career narrative which were experience-near to me. And, upon reflection of these, I was able to confront the downfall of my semester, and acknowledge the strengths which helped get me back on track. I identified a problematic narrative I tell about myself, and realigned that way of thinking, to reveal a value of calmness and confidence.

Featured Image

 Oleg Laptev

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