I have two big fears in life.

Fear 1: Not getting to the buffet table in time

Yes it’s a privileged fear. It’s also irrational, because there’s usually plenty of the good stuff. It’s just that those moments of standing in the queue, waiting for the person in front of you to languidly decide between the potato bake and the rice, before tentatively picking up the oversized serving spoon and awkwardly selecting just the right amount – give or take a grain or two – can be agonizing.

I just want to eat, people, ok?

Fear 2: Feeling exposed

Oh, that’s the little thing that happens every time I put myself out there – like being tagged in a Facebook post (usually with my eyes closed and my mouth open – why is that?) or experimenting with a new move in karate, or trying to remember what I said last night at the dinner party that had the guests giggling and making eye contact with each other. Or speaking in public.

Yip, each of those leaves me feeling vulnerable and exposed.

My most recent experience was at the Toastmasters International Conference, which took place in Cape Town last weekend. I had the privilege of representing my division in the Evaluations Contest: nine countries, ten competitors. One of them me.

For those who aren’t familiar with this contest format: a brave demonstration speaker stands up in front of almost 300 people to deliver a 5-7 minute speech, all the while knowing that 10 people in the room are watching his every move, making notes of what he does well, and nitpickingly trying to find at least two instances where he could improve.

Contestants (aka me) then take 5 minutes to prepare feedback and 3 minutes to deliver it to the speaker in a supportive, encouraging way. The contestants are judged, time-kept and (probably, because it’s habit-forming,) um-counted.

With a dry mouth and a jacket pocket that I’d purposefully torn – seconds before walking on stage – to accommodate the battery pack for the mic, I began my evaluation. Three minutes later the timekeeping held up the red card and I scuttled off, before I could commit the grievous error of running over time. In Toastmasters, every second counts.

I don’t remember much of what happened next, except that when the results were announced, there I was, standing on stage, struggling to keep the grin off my face. (And later, the tears out of my buffet supper.)

I won.

Here’s me with Michael Chikwililwa, courageous demonstration speaker (to my right) and Frank Tsuro, newly appointed Toastmasters District Director (to my left).

I felt fortunate, privileged… and emotionally exposed.

I drove home that night and instead of looking forward to sharing the glorious moment with my family, I wanted to hide.

Somewhere along the line of growing up I’d fallen into the wrong side of healthy striving, into the need to be perfect. And while I’d won this contest, it fell directly into my dangerous and debilitating belief system: “Yes but what do they really think?”

To quote Brené Brown “Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame.”

Cold water stuff, hey?

But now that I know why I feel so exposed, I can continue with the life work of trying to downgrade the importance of What Other People Think Of Me.

Maybe in some small way this is helpful for you too.

That’s it.

I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart,

  • Michael Chikwililwa for his exceptional demonstration speech,
  • Verity Price, former District 74 Toastmasters Evaluation Champion and friend, for her extraordinary mentorship,
  • ToastED Toastmasters club for their unwavering support and encouragement.

And of course my family, each of whom have happily eaten scrambled eggs on toast for weeks, because I’ve been too busy preparing evaluation speeches to prepare supper.

Much love xx