A few years ago I spent some time with a class of fifth grade students in one of my dad’s schools. I was doing a “book talk”, where I gave a presentation, then I would answer questions afterwards.
I have anxiety, and it was really bad at that time, so I had a script written out for my presentation.
I tripped up in the first minute or two of my presentation. I misspoke and couldn’t find my place again.
And then I jumped off script for a minute even though everything in me screamed to just push through and get through the script and be done.
“Sorry,” I said, tapping my script. “I get anxious sometimes when I’m talking to people, so for today I wrote out what I was going to say to make it easier. Sometimes I trip up anyway and have to take a second to find my place again.”
“That’s okay!” One of the kids yelled. “That’s called stage fright. I LIKE talking to people and I still get it.”
The next couple minutes were filled with these kiddos reassuring me that it’s okay if I have stage fright, telling me that they have stage fright, and even giving me a couple ideas for coping with it.
Those fifth graders were the best class I’ve ever spoken with and, honestly, that experience has helped me so much. I don’t think I lowered my expectations — I do expect to be able to speak without tripping over myself — but I gave myself space and time to build up to those expectations. I stopped beating myself up if I misspoke. I started to insert a little pause instead of mumbling while I found my words again.
I did take the advice of those fifth grade students. They told me that I’ll get better at it the more I practice. And they told me that it’s still okay to mess up.
Now, I tell my writing students and the kids I work with that you can do anything. You can be anything. And I tell them that it’s okay if they don’t know what they want to do or be yet. It’s okay. Give yourself time to figure it out.
If you have stories to tell but you can’t spell, write them anyway and get someone to help you edit. Don’t let anything hold you back from something that you want to do.
Stories are a human trait. We tell stories, we sing and dance and create art, because that is a form of communication. Humans need to communicate. That is almost an instinct. We need to communicate, and for more than just survival and living. We need to share stories.
I know far too many people who say you have to be good at writing, or singing, or dancing, or art. You have to be good at it if you want to do it.
You have to do it.
If you want to write, then write. And don’t worry about it being good. Just write. Tell the story you want to tell. Don’t know how it ends? Don’t worry about it! I have HUNDREDS of unfinished stories on my hard drive. It’s the best kind of practice there is. You will get stronger at writing with every word you write.
At the end of the day, the best way to get good at something is to just do it, and do it over and over again. Sometimes you have talents or gifts that make it easier or faster, but you still need practice and repetition to develop and strengthen you.
If you want to write, do it.
If you want to sing, dance, or create art, do it.
Don’t worry about anyone else. If you want to do it, then do it.
We are all made up of stories. Find your voice and tell yours. Even if it’s a story or song or picture that you create in your own head and never share with another person, you will be happier for it.
Originally shared on Facebook on February 10, 2021.