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Facing the crowd

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Can you speak in public? Get up in front of strangers and just speak loudly? I’ll share with you a history of success.

 

I study Russian. I won’t get in WHY i study Russian, but i study it in a federal university here in Rio. Federal universities in Brazil are the biggest and more important than the private ones, so they offer rarer courses like this. There is only one class for each level of russian (there are 20 for english only).

 

In october there was a cultural fair in which each student and classes, together for a day, invite lots of foreigners for cultural exchange, and present music, dancing, and other cultural traits for each course: greek, japanese, arabic, russian, french etc… Each student creates alone something to share.

 

3 weeks before the event my teacher asked us what we were showing so we could prepare (oh shit). Everybody started presenting something like cooking, a presentation about Russian cinema, hand works, a guy offered to make Kvas (Vodka is not the only Russian beverage)... i was the last one since i did not have any idea what to present. A friend of mine suggested for me Poetry. Yes. Get up there and recite poems in Russian.

 

When in front of people i get so anxious i can’t think right. Before i trained myself for public exposition, i just started to stutter, or say something awkward. Now a days i know by memory things to say, jokes, proper reaction etc… in my manual i just could not remember what to say when i don’t have a suggestion to present for a fair (The class and the teacher were staring at me waiting a response). I know i could simply say “I won’t go”... but i really like my russian course. I meet interesting people and culture, and i am good at it; rarely i have something to study that don’t make me anxious. So i said OK.

 

My friend offered me some audio and writings of poems, so since i had 2 weeks to prepare, i just picked one poem fast and started studying it everyday. In 4 days i had it all in my memory and repeated it perfectly… but i had no idea what it meant. LOL With the help of my teacher i translated it, and i discovered it was beautiful. The next week (My russian classes are on saturdays) i waited for most of my colleagues to get out to have the room empty and asked my teacher to help me. I practice it a lot so i took courage enough to recite it to someone. I recite it, and she said it was perfect. Hurray!

 

The next days i started reciting it to other family members: my mom, my sister; so i could get more courage. I had no idea how many people would be there for me to recite to. I worried more about knowing what i am doing than worrying what people would think. I really applied myself so if i have fear, and get anxious in front of people, at least i would know it was irrational. I knew that as soon i know my fear of failure and shame was irrational, i could ignore it not thinking it was something real.

 

The day came. The fair was huge and the building was full of people. I got there late and went straight to the class of Russian to meet the students… it was very boring (for me and by the face of the foreigners and the visitors) and there was less people than i thought it would be. Most of my colleagues did not come (that gave me a hint that i was not the only one nervous about it…) what was kind of sad because i was really curious to taste Kvas :-( (There was Vodka though hehe). Most of the colleagues were from more advanced classes, and i was not hurry to recite the poem… not at all.

 

As time went by, instead of fear i was gaining trust; i practice it so much, and my colleagues were presenting their work so bad, i was not getting anxious to present in front of people, but to present it already! My confident part turned on, and i asked the teachers that in my turn, they called people outside to join in to listen… the Russian fair was pretty boring compared with the Greek for example. I was feeling competitive i guess.

 

My turn came. The room was full of people, including with Russians and Ukrainians. I got up, and OMFG my body was shaking. The time stopped in my head and i felt how my body was unprepared. I did not expect my reaction, but i was aware i had no motive at all to feel that way. It was one more evidence i could not trust the signals of warning my body sends to me… or more technically, the signals the more primitive parts of my brain (mainly amygdala) send to my body, that makes it feel like a predator was in front of me ready to kill. I practice breathing and muscle relaxation, so i used what i’ve learned and paid attention to every inch of my body trying to relax it. Stop shaking dammit. I looked at nothing, while looking at the crowd, and started… Нет, обманула вас молва, Попрежнему дышу я вами.... etc, etc, etc… end. Everybody claps. But the body did not stop shaking. Went to another poem… yes, even though my body was making me uncomfortable, i chose to, this time, read another poem… so i recite it… everybody claps. I don’t remember anymore if my body was shaking or not. I was so happy i was not paying attention anymore. Now the translation (of course)... No, the rumours lied to you; As before, for you i still breathe… etc, etc, etc...More claps. More confidence.

 

I am convinced it was the highest point of the Russian fair, and i was very proud. But for a person that suffers of Social Phobia, the days after are as important as the day i had to face the crowd. My main concern was if they saw me shaking, or if the poem was too good, or if i was ridiculous in some way… my mind had to make absurd reasons to justify its fears. As gradually i revealed they were absurd, i noticed my fear completely apart from my reason. I felt divided. I learned i have a lot to learn and train so my body stops responding as it is right now. My brain is, in the primitive parts of it, working seriously against me. Now i have more fear of these primitive parts of my mind than i fear the crowd.

 

PS.: One thing bothered me though. My mom was there and she was so excited she did not registered it in any way, and in the pictures someone else took, i noticed there was a huge Soviet Union flag right behind my back. LOL I’m not a communist… so i could not share the picture with anybody in social media because people can mix what i was proud about that day.

More in this category: « Meditation I feel lost »

2 comments

  • Comment Link Sidnei Barrientos Saturday, 31 January 2015 20:46 posted by Sidnei Barrientos

    Thank you puh, i am glad you liked it. I took too much time to share it because it means a lot to me, and was a vistory for myself that took some energy to go over it, before and after.

  • Comment Link puh Thursday, 29 January 2015 03:07 posted by puh

    .. that's a really fascinating story.. and an inspirational one. Thank you for sharing it, I enjoyed reading it. This is something I find almost impossible (talking in front of people, especially lots of them) and I have no doubt it has held me back and prevented me from doing the things I'd really like to do. It's fantastic that you overcame this and even more fantastic that at the end of the day it was your poetry reading that was the high point of the event.

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