By Tom Kelly, M.S.
In my past blog, I wrote about a meeting that was coming up, and how I kept telling myself, “don’t sound dumb!” This line of thinking was self-critical and unhelpful, so I worked on changing it. I focused on how I would speak with a friend about their fears, and tried my best to be positive.
Since that post, the meeting was held. It included three university professors that I really admire, and had hoped to impress. It started off great! We made some small talk and discussed common interests. I thought of how well it was beginning and how I should not have been so fearful. Then, I was asked to get the meeting started and discuss the detailed plans for our project. I prepared and held an outline to refer to if I felt lost. However, the first part of the outline included a discussion of one of the professor’s ideas. As I was trying to explain his idea and how it applies to the project, he quickly stopped me. He told the other members that he was going to take over in order to clarify.
This was quick affirmation of one of my greatest fears. I had sounded dumb! I had been unclear enough that I was stopped right in the middle of speaking. I started to feel anxious again, and was focused on what I had said and how I had said it. My focus left the task at hand and the meeting in general. But this was not helpful, and was only resulting in more anxiety. After a few minutes, I began to speak again. I got back on track and talked about the points I wanted to make. After the meeting ended, I even stayed late with one of the professors to continue the discussion.
Looking back, my fear came true. But it was not so bad! Yes, I did not complete the meeting with a perfect and uninterrupted discussion of my ideas. But making a mistake, perhaps even coming across dumb, was not a fatal error. In fact, despite this error, I was still asked to continue speaking following the meeting. I still think it is unwise to demand myself to not sound dumb preceding any meetings, but will now also remind myself that sounding dumb is not the end of the world.