I did my first public talk about design in 2008. Since then, I’ve spoken at around 250 events. I still get nervous before each talk.
I thought it’d go away at some point. And that would probably be the point that I was “a pro.” When that didn’t happen after a few years, it made me question whether I had the right to be on stage.
Until I started to learn more about nervousness.
Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Adele, Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Streisand, Eminem, and so many more world-renowned professional performers have stage fright. That doesn’t make them any less professional—or awesome.
We’re supposed to get nervous when we go on stage. It’s our bodies’ natural stress response to warn us of possible threats. And there are threats—even if they’re more imagined or perceived than real—when we present ourselves authentically in front of others. What if they see me for who I am and judge me? What if they don’t like what I have to say? What if they already know what I’m saying? What if they don’t care?
I’m only a few days away from opening Design System University to the public on June 5, and I’m noticing that I have the same nervousness I usually have before stepping out onto a stage. I feel the jitters. What if no one shows up? What if it’s too expensive? What if it’s too cheap? What if no one cares about the thing I’ve been working on for months?
For me, the solution is to try and articulate my specific fears, acknowledge the thoughts and the feelings, and not let them stop me from doing what I set out to do.
A few year into doing public speaking, a fellow speaker asked me if I got nervous before giving talks. I said yes, and they asked me to describe the feeling. I mentioned a few things: about 30 minutes before going on stage, I feel extra alert, things move a bit in slow motion, and I feel like I have to pee a little. They said, ”That sounds like adrenaline.”
It does. Ever since that conversation, I wait for the adrenaline rush. I can anticipate it now. And shoot: I think I actually like it. (Am I even addicted to it? Is that what’s kept me speaking for the past 15 years?)
Three days before launching DSU, I think I’m feeling the adrenaline rush. The excitement of hard work (hopefully) paying off. The thrill of putting something new into the world that wasn’t there before. The risk that people might not care, but the potential reward that they might.
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