The other night, I was attending a summer festival put organized by friends of mine. I was watching math magician, Petter Kolm, perform card and mind tricks. He asked for a volunteer from the audience who was savvy with his/her cell phone, so, of course, I did not raise my hand. Like any good Gen Xer, I can’t live without my phone, but I’m also often unsure how it works. Not to mention I have a huge complex about my math inability (bestowed on me by teachers who told me I’d never get it). So, there was no way I was going to raise my hand and volunteer to help this guy.
Out of an audience of 100 people, guess who he picked? Me, of course. He asked if I wanted to join him on stage, and I couldn’t say no because I didn’t want to disrupt his act. When I got up on stage, Petter told me to take out my phone and open my browser. It took me a second to compute, “Oh, that’s Google,” and I completed the task.
Right about then, I started to get nervous. My hand started to tremble and little beads of sweat rose on my brow. Now, I’m a public speaker. Being in front of an audience is usually a comfortable place for me. It’s rare for me to feel nervous, so why this time? Because Petter was playing on two of my biggest insecurities (that I’m not tech savvy and I’m not good at math). I was concerned I’d a) let him down by doing something wrong b) let my friends down by ruining his trick and c) embarrass myself by showing my stupidity.
He asked me to type something into my phone. “Oh God, anyone in this audience would’ve been a better choice than me,” I thought, as I typed and retyped the question with one shaky finger. I laughed at my own mistakes and apologized for being so slow, and then something interesting happened . . . I heard the audience laughing with me. Not at me, with me. And I realized they were sympathetic, and most likely just relieved it wasn’t them up there.
And their laughter helped me to remember something else, this was supposed to be fun. For me and for the audience. We don’t have to be perfect to have fun. I took a deep breath, relaxed my grip on my phone, focused on people’s smiles, and leaned into the magic. And sure enough, despite my ineptitude, his mind trick worked, delighting both me and the audience.
We’re all going to have to confront our insecurities every day. We can play it safe and sink low in our chairs hoping no one notices us, refuse an invitation, or reach up and take an outstretched hand knowing everyone has insecurities but typically the only person they really bother is us. And even if they do cause us some embarrassment, most people will be too busy admiring our courage or sympathizing with our discomfort to judge us. It’s all in good fun, if you allow it to be.
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