Many of you know I’ve been stepping up my speaking game for the past few years. Instead of treating speaking as an afterthought to my writing, it has (literally) taken center stage in my career. And I love it! At 47, when many of my friends are considering the months or years between them and retirement, I am eagerly setting work goals for the next decade.
I am blessed to be elbows-deep into a fulfilling career. I’m doing work I absolutely love and meeting spectacular, inspiring people every week. For an extrovert like me, this is a dream come true! Of course that doesn’t mean every day is a perfect day. We all know there’s no such thing as perfect, right?
Let me tell you about an imperfect (a.k.a. disappointing) day I experienced. I was scheduled to speak at a metro high school to a group of parents about the high school-to-college launch. Now this was no ordinary high school and certainly not like the rural, public one I attended. It was a large, private, Catholic, boys, military prep school. This wasn’t just a school. It was a campus. A gorgeous, sprawling institution of learning.
Normally, I don’t get nervous about speaking, I get jazzed. But for whatever reason, I was nervous about this one. So I prepared. And I prepared. And I likely over-prepared. And when the time came to speak, I did okay. Just okay. Instead of speaking with my fellow parents, I talked at them. Instead of connecting, I presented.
Don’t get me wrong, I still got the information to them, providing them support and strategies during this time of transition. But I know I didn’t deliver my best work. To me, it felt flat. Was it a total flop? No. But could I have done better? Absolutely. Let’s just say I spent the entire hour and-a-half drive home re-hashing in my head every little mistake I’d made, how I could’ve done this and should’ve done that. Trust me, when I get going, I can really beat myself up!
My career coach called me later that week for our check in and asked how it went.
“Oh, Sarah,” I sighed, “I just didn’t have my sparkle that night. It definitely wasn’t my best work. I should have been more conversational. I should have smiled more. I should have been more personal. I should have worn different shoes. I should have used more humor. I should have pushed for a headset mic. I should have…”
“Why are you shoulding all over yourself?” she asked.
“What?” I asked, not sure if I’d heard her correctly. Did she just say shitting?
“You are shoulding all over the place, which is not very productive,” she said. “Was it really that bad? Were they booing you off the stage?”
“Well, no,” I answered, “I did have parents come up to me afterward wanting to talk in greater detail, and I did sell some books. Clearly I reached some of them.”
“So stop shoulding,” she said. Her no nonsense tone softened as she told me to use this less-than-stellar performance to grow and to get better.
It was time for me to reflect without all of the shoulding. And without all of the self-imposed judgement. After all, we often learn more by our less-than-perfect experiences than we do the shining moments.
Are you a should-er? Do you should all over the place, too? How can you stop shoulding and start using your less-than-awesome moments to push you to be better? Here are three simple ways to start:
1. Own your mistakes.
By openly acknowledging any mistakes on your own part, you are confronting them in order to make better choices next time. But keep in mind that a mistake is not the end. It is an opportunity to grow.
2. Learn your lessons.
Analyzing an experience can be a good thing, as long as you aren’t beating yourself up relentlessly. Trial and error can be effective ways to improve our skills and knowledge. Write down everything you could have done better (without judgement) and use it to motivate you next time.
3. Keep perspective.
Perceived failure, particularly the public kind, will shake anybody’s confidence. That’s called being human. But understand that perspective and optimism are central to success. Remind yourself that everybody has strengths to rely on and weaknesses to improve on. It’s your job to improve your own. So stop shoulding and start growing!
Do I wish I’d given an Oscar-worthy performance to the folks at that prep school? Absolutely! But my “just okay” experience taught me some valuable lessons about preparation, communication and how to encourage more audience participation. I’m happy to tell you I took those lessons to heart and used what I learned to truly connect with my subsequent audiences.