I remember this distinctly: I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade and our teacher told us to do the last four exercises from our school book. I went right to it and finished first. When my teacher saw this, she congratulated me – which made me blush – but then went on to say we would play a game where I would stand in the middle of the classroom and all the other kids would circle around me and sing.
I froze with fear. Me in the middle, surrounded by people looking at me? After that day, I always made sure I finished second, or at the same time as the others.
A few years later on, my gym teacher discovered I was good at running and she decided to put me in the relay team. So far so good. I loved running and no one was looking at us anyway. A few months on though, she told us the relay team would participate in the local school championships. Cold sweat and fear. I went to her the next day and asked her if I really had to participate or if I could opt out. I’m not sure she understood the question. She just said with a smile: “Of course, you’re in the main team.”
“£! *@” (I cursed my luck in my head)
If all this wasn’t bad enough, she placed me right next to the opposing team’s best runner. Any normal person might consider this a compliment, but I was too busy trying to stop my heart from racing out of my body to think about it. My team won (and yes, I ran faster than the other girl!)
Still I didn’t learn my lesson. Fast-forward to my college years, when I was introduced to the public speaking class. “Are you kidding me? Why do I have to speak in public? I’m not a politician!” Mind you, this was an American college and, until then, nothing in the Greek educational system had prepared me for facing my fear of exposing myself. As long as I did my homework, I could hide all day under my chair for all they cared. Great system, huh?
I did my little speech of course, and everything went smoothly – if we disregard the sweaty palms, racing heart and lack of sleep. All this agony for a 15 minute speech.
It probably sounds extremely odd to those go-getters who thrive on competition, but for me, competing and being at the center of attention has always been a nightmare. Am I afraid of failure? Of success? Is it stage fright? I don’t know, maybe a little bit of all these things. I like being good at what I do, but I feel uncomfortable when it turns the spotlight on me.
There’s more: As if I was a glutton for punishment, I decided to become a journalist of all things – the one profession (apart from a politician) where you need to be not just confident, but downright cheeky!And pushy. And confront others all the time. Let alone the exposure…Miles out of my narrow comfort zone.
Many years later, when I was in London studying for my masters degree and I was asked to do a presentation on a topic relaying to journalistic practices in my own country. From a stroke of luck, one third of the class was absent, due to the upcoming exams, thus reducing my fear of facing too many people. I was still fearful, yet something had changed. I actually managed to make a few jokes while presenting the story and after the first minutes, my heart wasn’t pounding so hard.
Thankfully, I’ve changed a lot through the years, and my job has had a lot to do with it. But in my core, I do remain an introvert. Don’t get me wrong. I love being around people. I believe socializing keeps us sane (seriously), but every now and then I have this urgent need to be alone.
PS. Blogging is also a good sign I’ve moved on!