CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
In his article, Gavin shares the unique experience of speaking at his friend’s funeral. This was the turning point; he changed from a shy school boy to a calm and composed public speaker. For Gavin, his fear became his school; by confronting his fear he was able to grow. In his upcoming class, How to Stay Calm, Gavin will discuss in the class the different techniques that helps one to cope with the anxieties of life.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
As my dad likes to remind me in a somewhat lecture-like fashion, “It’s a son’s prerogative to visit his mum.” I like to remind him that they being in the U.K and me being in Taiwan is asking for a wee bit too much. Unless of course he’s willing to pay for the ticket, then, by all means, next week I’ll pop over for Sunday lunch. So far, though, no ticket has been purchased. So instead of making casual 20,000km roundtrips, I revert to using this thing called the internet, which is a very useful device for staying in touch with overly worried parents, who think their children have long forgotten them.
Being the thoughtful type, I recently contacted my mum on Mother’s Day. We exchanged the usual pleasantries; she expressing her concerns about how my short hair makes me look too thin, and me asking how the weather had been lately (“It was -5 last night!” she said), and then she asked me about my “talks”. She meant the classes I run. So I told her the truth, that they were going well and I was really enjoying them. “In fact,” I said, “it feels very right to be in front of people, either leading a class or a doing a talk.”
“Funny,” she said, with a hint of nostalgia, “you were such a shy boy, never wanting to draw attention to yourself.”
I veered off into a state of recollection, thinking about what I was like in High School. She was right, I hated being the center of attention. I would spend all English class dreading my name being called out to read out loud, and when it did happen (why was I always last?), my voice would tremble and stall at all the wrong places. Being saved by the bell was always a memorable day. My school reports were littered with comments like, “If only Gavin had more confidence in himself…” or “If only he would raise his hand more…” and “Even when he knows the correct answer, he still doesn’t speak up. YOU CAN DO IT, GAVIN!” Thanks, Teacher.
“Gavin,” said my mum, her face getting bigger as she got closer to the screen, frowning, “the screen’s frozen up and I can’t hear you.”
“Uh? Oh, sorry, Mum. No it hasn’t frozen. I was thinking, that’s all.” “Oh. About what?”
“Well… about how-”
You can change. You really can change if you want to change. And some of us say we can’t, but we can. If you lack self-confidence, you can obtain it. If you have high levels of stress and anxiety, you can learn ways to use them and to grow through them, and possible even transcend them. If you have a short temper, then you can learn ways to mellow out. It was by reflecting on myself throughout the years, that I realized how I had done it.
I faced my fears head-on, confronting them, until they had nowhere else to hide, and then I conquered them by picking up where they left off. I got to work on myself. I read books on philosophy and other systems of thought; I listened to motivational speakers, watched their talks on the internet, and threw caution to the wind by owning up to others what I wanted to overcome. I attended evening classes, that were teeming with people who were more confident that me, and I watched them and learned from them.
In the midst of all this came a test. A test that would make me put all I had learned about myself so far into practice. Theory is almost worthless if it isn’t backed up by experience. I was 25 when a good friend of mine, Daniel, a music producer and performer, died of cancer (he was 22). His family asked me if I would be willing to write and present a eulogy at his funeral. How could I say no?
I’m standing at the front of the church, with Daniel’s body, lying in an open coffin, to my right. I can see him there, looking peaceful, wearing his favourite clothes, with his favourite hat resting on his chest. I look forward and see 250 people staring back at me, all silent, apart from the occasional sniff and cough. My heart is pounding, thumping, like a crazed gorilla in a cage. My mouth is as dry as chalk but I’ve stalled long enough. It’s time to read out loud. I want to be saved by a bell but I know it won’t come.
I begin: “I once asked Daniel how he performed his music in front of an audience. He told me to think of the scene in the film The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves’ character is told that in order to bend the spoon, he has to first believe there is no spoon. Daniel said to me with a cool grin, “There is no audience.” And so, with that in mind, I’m going to ignore every single one of you.”
And that’s how I got through it.
I pinched myself afterwards and thought, if I can do that, I can do anything.
I didn’t plan on mentioning that experience here, but it goes to show that it must have been the time when my mettle was truly pushed and tested. I could’ve said no to the opportunity of speaking at Daniel’s funeral, but I didn’t. I faced the fear and did it. Not long after that, I attended an evening class. One night, after all the other participants had gone, the teacher pulled me aside and said, “I run an event every year, and I was just wondering - and feel free to say no - if you would like to be one of the guest speakers.”
Panic in the bloodstream. Heart fluttering. Palms sweating. Dry mouth. “Yeah, sure,” I said, “when?”
So what changed? To revert back to being in High School, why do I now so willingly put my hand up to read out loud? Why do I no longer want to be saved by the bell? And if the analogous bell does ring when I’m doing a class or talk, why do I perceive it as an unwanted interruption? The reason is this: I realized fear always covers up areas that contain vast opportunities for growth. We all have many fears, both big and small, and we grow in accordance to the fear we decide to confront.
Become aware of your fears and thank them. They are there as teachers in this school we call life. And then roll up your sleeves and decide which one first you’re going to tackle first. The worst that can happen is that you remain fearful, allowing the fear to stunt your growth. So go on - put your hand up and offer read out loud.