I recently graduated from the technical university of Delft. Every student has to do a final presentation of his thesis work. A public defence in front of friends, family and the graduation committee. The hard work of the past year is finalised on that very moment. All coming together at this hour.
I felt the pressure. The anxiety of performing in front of a group. Especially the week before the presentation, were my focus was constantly shifting to the big obstacle in front of me. I really saw it as this huge stone blocking the way to continue my life path. And of course I started to investigate and listen to myself. Why exactly was this such a big roadblock for me? What kind of thoughts came up? And how does it feel, where do I feel it?
What I noticed is that my mind wanted to shift past this important date. Peaking over the stony block in front of me. It began to think about the events I had planned the week after, about the training schedule for the next week, and about what I wanted to do for my graduation drinks. All would be good when I was at those future events. The granite block was then shatter into smaller bits and it would be easy to climb past it. At the same time I realised that my focus was often fixed to the next thing in my current day. On much shorter term then my normal train of thoughts. I became more present although convoluted with thoughts about the presentation day and the next coming week.
So why the fear? This comes done to two things. I have difficulty in dealing with people’s judgement and how they think about me. Next to this I started to realise that I am critical of myself. It should be perfect otherwise people would not like me. I want to protect my ego. This is a very powerful thing to realise as I see it also popping up in other parts of my life. It creates stress and it also explains why I want to work so hard, do my best. Otherwise people might be critical and that would cause me pain.
A funny aspect of this I noticed the week before the presentation. I attend a personal development afternoon in Amsterdam. A broad topic was discussed: masculine and feminine energy. Very interesting and I might write a separate article about this later. But what I noticed at those presentations that their slides were not great. Misspelled words, barely visible text, pixelated pictures, etc. Also most speakers were not so well prepared in terms of knowing their slides. But what I started to realise is that didn’t matter so much. They still could tell a compelling story and deliver their message. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be good! That was quite a breakthrough for me.
So what about the feeling? I could clearly feel the fear inside my body. It was located just between my lungs and my stomach. Some kind of pressure but it was not constant. It more felt like waves. Waves of emotions rushing in, pushing the feeling upwards as if it wants to fly out away from the body. And then it settles again, moves to the background into a constant pressure. With those peaks of the waves, thoughts about the presentation came rushing in. Clearly I wanted to prepare myself fully just to take out the uncertainty. Line after line I mentioned it inside my brain. Thinking about how I pronounced the words, about how I would stand there telling my story. Negative thoughts also appeared in front of me. About that I wasn’t doing a good job, that I would be silent for a long time, people staring at me. But I realised this and with meditation and breathing I tried to relax the body. Flowing into a calmer state of mind where the waves are calmed to only wrinkles on a lake by night.
I succeeded with my presentation all thanks to the meditation practices and the many Toastmaster evenings that I did. I’m an engineer now. Doesn’t this sound fun! This entire endeavour tells me again: when you do the things you afraid of, it will make you feel alive and helps you grow”.