public_speakingMy heart was on fire.

I clutched five note cards in my shaking hands, staring back at countless faces. My heartbeat throbbed in my ears. My throat was tight. Why was this happening? I had prepared, spent hours making my slides and perfecting my presentation. My research was solid. Yet fear clutched me as I stood in front of the class, unable to speak. No matter how hard I tried to retain control, my emotions betrayed me. I felt like a coward.

I’ve always been quiet. My fear of saying the wrong thing often prevents me from saying anything at all. I sometimes feel that my contributions to a conversation may turn out to be meaningless or boring. When I do speak up, I sometimes regret it. This leads me to spend too much time worrying about the things I’ve said in the past and not enough time on what I want to say in the future.

My worries peaked early in high school. Anxiety permeated my class presentations and group discussions, hindering me from expressing my true opinions in fear of rejection.  None of my friends had come with me to my new school. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was inferior and that my classmates would always know more and understand more than I ever could. I started spending long hours preparing even short class presentations and discussions just so I could feel like I was in control. My anxiety kept me from living my fullest life and from taking the risks that I should have. Striving towards perfection left me with no time to myself and little energy.

College shifted my perspective. I was still anxious, but I found myself comforted by the fact that no one really knew each other at the beginning of my freshman year. Thousands of strangers gave me a newfound anonymity. My anxieties significantly decreased when I decided that I didn’t really care what random students in my classes thought of my words. I realized most people tend not to pay attention to presentations and class discussions anyway. Most are more concerned with what they’re going to say themselves when their turn arrives.

I’ve learned that being quiet shouldn’t stop you from speaking up. Your friends will care about your opinions and view them as valid and worthwhile. Those who dismiss your thoughts are not your friends anyway. Because of this outlook, I began to see myself as an equal to others in my classes and in my life. While I still feel some anxiety before presentations and discussions, I’ve realized my thoughts are valuable, despite their imperfections.

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