Death Calling

Post date: Jan 21, 2017 2:43:40 AM

It's Friday night and I am stressed. At work we are super close to a major product release but strangely enough that isn't even close to what is bothering me. The stress I am currently experiencing was in fact induced by an email that I received earlier this afternoon. It read like so:

Hi Paul,

As I mentioned on Twitter, your talk was accepted. Please sign and return the attached speaker's agreement.


Innocuous enough right? Most people would probably be delighted at this point. For me though, and since the evening before when I saw the direct message on Twitter, I have been in panic mode. Should I respond? Can I still back out?

Even as I type this I am trying to find the best way to articulate exactly why I am so terrified by this. In fact, I am hoping that by doing so I can begin to better understand myself.

I go through this every time I make a talk submission, a process that occupies and hobbles my brain until the moment the conference is complete.

I think deep down I am hoping that some wizbang psychologist will come across this piece and say: Well, this is simple! You suffer from <this>; and then I can will simply move on with my life, but I doubt it is going to be that simple.

Stop looking at me

I was strange long before this. To humor myself and my understanding of cognitive biases I will anchor us at a point in time where things were probably the most lucid. The most poignant memory I have of being completely terrified of people was shortly after my first job that required me to actually go to a bank and deposit a cheque.

To date myself, the teller thought I looked like Mike D of the Beastie Boys. I was big into skateboarding at the time and my hair was a different colour every week; that fake blonde shade this time around. Not sure if this was troll on her part or not (definitely not a term at this point) but for the sake of argument it likely was ;)

Anyway, typical bank style there was this super long line that you had to slowly progress through before reaching the goal. As it turns out, I would rarely make it to the goal because as I slowly progressed through the line I was increasingly aware of every last person in the bank. Every person, every conversations they were having; it was overwhelming. As far as I could tell, they were all looking and thinking about me.

Invariably I would leave; even if almost at the goal because I had become so incredibly anxious and embarrassed that I was certain that everyone there was looking at me as if I was about to Point Break. In hindsight the act of leaving was probably quite suspicious.

So many times I would and did just leave. Granted I was just in my early teens and no one was missing a meal but still.The feeling was that strong that I just couldn't do it. No passing Go. No collecting $200.

This actually haunts me to this day. A flight for example is incredibly emotionally demanding. I am literally a sweating bag of nerves until I reach my destination. Security being the worst. I literally feel like I am about to be hauled away as I become hyper aware of a bead of sweat forming on my forehead as I am asked: Where are you headed today?

Fitting in

At some point in my life someone told me that the more you did something, the more natural it would seem. Are you afraid of people? Just put yourself front and center and this will fix everything! This is of course perfect advice for a normal human being. For me? Meh.

This will be my 10th talk. If these were weddings it would be the 10th time I have almost left someone at the alter. Up until the point that I start talking, I am ready to run. The day of still quite ready to feign a catastrophe to get out of it.

It is this part that confused me the most.There has been no incremental ease in delivery. I will be equally as terrified this time as I was the first time. I will still look out at everyone in the audience anticipating and playing out their every thought, and if the doors are open trying to make sense of the conversations in the hall.

Why do I subject myself to this? Conference talks are the scariest thing I consciously pursue to try and make myself better.

They are therapy, in some strange way that I am not certain I understand..

I just wanted to share that.