When I was a green college kid, struggling to get through my first class in Journalism school at the University of Texas, one teacher came down on me particularly hard. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't break a "C," and once even got a D on a reporting assignment. "You might want to think about another field," the professor sniffed.
Clearly I was failing in my first journalism class, but I wasn't about to cave in. I was pretty stubborn, and equally important, a poor college kid. I had to get through to survive, and I had something to prove. I plowed ahead, working harder than ever, joining the school newspaper as a cub reporter and learning from everyone around me.
My persistence eventually paid off. I managed to eventually carve out a solid career as a journalist, even making it to the "big leagues" to write for national magazines and publish a book later.
The reason I succeeded wasn't just talent, it was persistence--and the willingness to get up off the ground after falling on my face. I'm convinced that the willingness to fail and bounce back separates the winners from the losers (I've had plenty of practice during my crazy career). Losers don't like to fail, so they don't try. Winners fail and fail again, and eventually succeed. Given this, we'd be better off to accelerate the process, to "fail faster," as one business consultant put it.
This may explain why people have such a hard time mastering public speaking. Most of us, by our later 20s, like to think of ourselves as "fully baked" and established, and we're not eager to show our faults in front of our peers. No matter how you do it, learning to speak involves showing flaws and failing along the way.
It's similar to skiing. Kids seem to relish crashing into the snow, and bouncing back up to soar down the mountain. Adults, by comparison, are thinking about broken legs, hospital bills and missed mortgage payments. They'll naturally stiffen up, which ironically, makes it more likely they'll fall.
With speaking, people are afraid to fail so they refuse to leave their comfort zones. They refuse to get coached or join a group like Toastmasters, where they can practice. The only way to get better, of course,is to practice--to speak at every opportunity. Schools, business meetings, churches, civic groups--each is an opportunity to practice your speaking.
Until one gets over the fear of failing, they'll never master speaking. No wonder speaking in front of crowds is still believed to be the number one fear among Americans, ranking higher than death. If that's true, as Seinfeld once said, it means the average American at a funeral would rather be in that casket than giving the eulogy.
Don't go to your grave with your song still inside.
Dare to fail.
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