When I was in college I took French. Unfortunately, I had never learned to study a little every day.
French was a particularly difficult subject to cram. I simply couldn’t cram it all into my head the day before the test because at least part of the test was actually speaking in conversation. All my old cramming study tricks, like acronyms and such, didn’t help much when I actually had to converse. It takes daily memorization and daily outloud practicing dialog with another person to gain mastery over speaking a language.
Added to the ‘no cram factor’ was my real fear of not being perfect in dialog. When it came to dialoguing with another person in French, I could barely speak at all because I was so afraid to make a mistake. My accent was passable, I could read and basically understand what I read, and even what was spoken to me-- but I was terrified when I had to speak out loud for fear of getting it wrong in front of someone. I expected myself to be fluent before speaking.
So I went totally overboard when “extra credit” opportunities showed up. There was one time we had to give a presentation in front of the class. I knew this was my opportunity to utilize all other skills and creativity to boost my grade. For my presentation I acted as an M.C. for a French fashion show. I dressed super funky, and then dressed up roommates and friends and got them to come to my French class to walk across the room as models. I painted large impressionist-ish watercolor posters of fashions for the background. I used my clip board as part of my act to flamboyantly announce each new fresh face, though it really it was just a reference crutch for all the things I was supposed to say in French about each model and fashion. It was so over the top that my teacher just blinked.
I likely got every possible point to boost my grade. But when it was time for me to sit just one on one with him in the hallway, during the actual test, and have a short conversation in French where he asked me simple questions and I answered, and vice versa, I froze. I rarely even practiced dialoguing out loud with another person for fear of embarrassing myself by getting it wrong. When it was time to actually speak my own unrehearsed, unmemorized words without notes, I was paralyzed.
The deep fear of not being perfect has kept me from dialoguing with people for a long while. The fear of embarrassing myself. The fear of not saying it just right. The fear of making someone uncomfortable, of ruining my relationships by speaking up. Having that all crammed inside me has made me sick. Like a great simmering crock pot of unspokenness, that I periodically cram more things in.
I don’t mean I want to lash out and hurt people with my words. I don’t advocate hurting people. I mean being who I really am. Asking my questions. Having the courage to speak up. To speak my truth. To go big and get it wrong. To give myself space say one thing, evolve, and say another. To say what’s in my heart even if the way I say it, well, just sucks. To open my mouth anyway, and let the words tumble out because I can’t keep them inside perfectly anymore. I’d rather have them outside imperfectly. And gain mastery by actually speaking my language.