I once had a university professor actually tell me straight up that he had to give me a low grade on my class presentation, because even though it was full of great points and useful information, no one could tell because, “it was clear that you were incredibly nervous, Andrea – it sounded like you were hyperventilating at times.” That’s some real talk, right there.
And it was totally true. Public speaking wasn’t my thing. Truth be told, it wasn’t really because I was shy. It was because I was self-conscious as hell. I would prepare a presentation, know my facts, be confident in what I had to say, and feel great about it. But as soon as I got in front of a class of “cool” people (I was not a cool person – I think I was still a loser kid in my head. A lot of the time, I think I still am.), my brain and my body would completely betray me. My thoughts would immediately go the the judgement I assumed my classmates were feeling toward me. I’d be speaking externally, but panicking internally about how I sounded, how I looked, if everybody thought I was stupid, fat, ugly – you name it, I worried about it. Of course, the worrying would make me unable to breathe properly, which would make my heart race, which would make me sweat, and then I’d worry about the fact that I was sweating.
And so on. UGH. I feel gross just thinking about it.
I ran (well, still run, but we’re on hiatus) my own indie theatre company, and even though I have spent the last six years directing theatre, I still felt a lot of those feelings through the majority of the rehearsal process. I felt like the loser kid trying to boss cool people around, and I really struggled with that. I definitely didn’t assert myself enough, and often, the result was a play that was almost what I wanted, but not quite. And that made me sad a lot of the time. Like I was letting myself down.
I kind of just thought I would always feel that way in front of people or when I had to be “the boss” of people.
Then I became a fitness instructor. Zumba®, to be exact.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sell Zumba® to you or anything – that’s not what this is about (but if you’re ever interested in knowing how amazing and fun and good for you I think it is, you let me know and I will talk your ear off). This is about the process.
Because here’s the thing: I started out as a totally out of shape participant, and then I realized, hey, I like this and I’m good at it, and hey, I can pick up and memorize choreography like nobody’s business, and hey, I love the music, and hey, I am losing tons of weight and feeling good, and hey, I’d love to be up there teaching people my own choreography! Cool!
So I signed up for teaching certification. I did it. I started preparing my own choreography, and it was going awesome. I was discovering my personal flavour, my dancing style. I was feeling good.
Then I had to teach a song to a class and I almost peed myself.
I got on stage at a World Health and was suddenly acutely aware that I was standing in front of a lot of people – some of them like, super model levels of sexy – in fitted spandex and other workout gear, sweating profusely, wearing no makeup, and I literally wanted to pee. Or cry. Or both.
But I DID IT!
I messed up a bit.
Cool, so I got that done and I was like, “Okay! I can do this!” and I started to prepare my first class. I set up a schedule of free classes so that I could get lots of practice in front of lots of friendly faces, and I worked my ass off to choreograph/learn an hour’s worth of songs.
And then I had to teach my first hour by myself and I almost DIED.
Like, seriously, guys, if I hadn’t gotten my cardio health up, I probably would have had a heart attack. My heart rate was ALL KINDS OF CRAZY because I was ALL KINDS OF NERVOUS. I could barely breathe. My body did that betrayal thing again. Good thing it was socially acceptable at that time to be pouring sweat, because boy, did I ever.
But I DID IT!
I messed up a bit.
That was three months ago. I still get nervous sometimes when I’m teaching new songs, because like, what if I forget all the choreography all of a sudden? But that’s never happened. Not completely, anyway. And you know what? You figure it out! And you know what? Nobody’s hating on you for it! They’re following your lead, so if you do the wrong thing, they just do it along with you! It’s a beautiful thing!
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, you know how when you’re at the doctor and they’re like, “take off your shirt,” and you weren’t quite expecting it and you realize you forgot to shave your armpits, but you’re like, what can I do? So you take your shirt off and just swallow your pride?
Being a fitness instructor’s kind of like that – you can’t really have much shame.*
Because before you know it, you’re standing in front of a class in spandex or other workout clothes, and you’re dancing in front of them, which means you’re totally shaking and jiggling in front of them, and you’re sweating in front of them, and if you’re smart you have no makeup on (because ew, your pores would hate you otherwise), and then you start to do ab crunch moves and you get to show off the fat rolls that form on my (I mean YOUR – what a fitting typo!) stomach when you do that, and then halfway through class you realize you’ve totally worn the wrong underwear and you’ve got the WORST wedgie in the world, and you totally can’t readjust, and that, my friends, is that.
And you know what?
Because it doesn’t matter! It totally doesn’t! And when you can embrace that, you’re golden. And you’ll be a better instructor for it. And that’s some more real talk right there, because I guarantee you, when you go to a class where your instructor’s more concerned about how (s)he looks while (s)he teaches, you will be able to tell, and chances are the class will suck.
And you know what? I’ve recently started teaching non-fitness classes, too. Classes in my field of work (creative writing, playwriting, etc.). And I discovered that I have totally gotten over my public speaking thing. There’s no more brain and body betrayal here. I actually really love teaching.
So I DID IT!
All I had to do was find that thing that got me out of my shell. And I’m really glad I did!
Now, who wants me to speak in front of a room?! Anyone? Anyone?!
‘COS I’LL DO IT!**
*This is probably not the same for all my instructor friends who are like, super model levels of sexy.
**I attended a crazy awesome Zumba® class tonight and am still on a total endorphin rush. I also taught a playwriting class this afternoon. I’m happy, give me a break.