I want to let you all in on a secret.
The outward facing side of my job, doing developer advocacy, is primarily hoping on planes to go give presentations.
It is the most fun, rewarding job I have ever had, and I have had a lot of interesting jobs: paramedic, lawyer, even an outdoor guide.
My secret though? What makes it funny that hoping on planes to go present to big rooms is my favorite gig?
I am anxious flyer and I get incredibly nervous before every single one of those presentations.
My flying anxiety
I did not fly for ten years after 9/11.
Getting back on a plane took years of planning and months of intensive work with a fear of flying therapist.
I joined a support group for anxious flyers and attended a special program at Southwest Airlines.
When the day came to fly again, on a practice flight from Baltimore to Providence, I was terrified.
I pulled it off though, gripping my therapist and partner's hand with a death-grip on takeoff.
Then, for the next several months, I flew again, every other weekend, somewhere. Sometimes just to turn around and get back on the same plane to fly back. That is one benefit of living near a Southwest hub with $39 flights.
Flying repeatedly, with varying degrees of anxiety, is what it took.
It was funny at times. One time I tried pushing the flight attendant call button to get off the plane just as the engines began to rev up. It did not work.
It got easier though. I have since flown over fifty times, all over the world.
I later became a mentor in the anxious flyer support group and helped others fly again too.
My flight anxiety has never completely gone away. It is always there, lurking in the weeks before my flight, and peaks in an exciting little sixty second panic attack on each on takeoff.
Xanax, alcohol, beta blockers, they don't make much difference. What does help is positive self-talk and simply putting myself on that plane, again and again.
The only thing I can do though is to continuously move towards the fear, embrace the physical sensations, remind myself that the sensations aren't a sign of actual danger, and go through them.
That is why I decided to take up flying lessons, to push that anxiety even further.
Pushing through the anxious feelings is how I break their power over me.
Bring them on, I say.
Just as I get nervous before every single flight, I get nervous before presentations too. Every single one. Live talks, streams, podcasts, even big company meetings.
I try compensate with preparation and rehearsal.
But, like flying, the first few minutes of any talk are a total out of body, sweaty experience.
Then, by moving through the feelings, simply observing the sensations, letting them happen, I usually find my groove.
I relax. I then usually enjoy myself. The rush of endorphins as your parasympathetic system returns your body to homeostasis is an amazing high.
This doesn't always work. I was giving a company-wide presentation to Canonical in mid-2020 when I completely froze.
Thanks to preparation, I was able to throw to a colleague and only a couple people even realized something had gone wrong.
It is helpful when presenting to remind yourself that the audience, they are rooting for you to succeed.
It is not always perfect and being able to embrace all outcomes, including complete embarrassment, is part of it.
My secret isn't that I am anxious flyer or nervous when giving presentations.
The secret I want to share is that what you fear, you must do it anyway.
The physical sensations of fear, they can't hurt you.
With preparation, you can learn to lean into the sensations.
With positive self-talk, you can even welcome the fear.
Step into that place, feel those feelings, again and again.
Feel the fear. Do it anyway.
If you are looking for more, I highly recommend 'Don't Panic' by Reid Wilson: