Day 17: Recite the alphabet in a public space
Julie had round, deeply engaging brown eyes – the kind that could stop traffic or prompt the sustainable creation of world peace, if given the right opportunity.
She was beautiful and spoke with a zest for literature that made my knees tremble so furiously that I felt, at times, they might actually be rattling out the rhythms of Van Morrison’s greatest hits.
I was five minutes early for my first literature class during my sophomore year of college. And as if scripted from a John Hughes movie - Julie, with hair blowing in the windowless classroom, floated through the doorway, sat down next to me and turned to ask for a pen. It was flawless – the type of effortless, fluid motion that renders 19-year-olds speechless.
Crippled by sweaty palms and an uncomfortable crackly voice, I nervously rummaged through my Tony Hawk book bag and retrieved one.
She gracefully grasped the pen, cracking her gum and muttering a “thanks” under her breath.
She liked me. We were going to get married. I was sure of it.
Halfway through the semester, we were forced to give presentations on a poem from our readings. Julie’s presentation was indisputably perfect - and I would have said back then that we all emerged from the classroom better people because of it.
Lucky for me, I had to follow Julie’s stunning performance. And unlike her, my hands shook tremendously during my presentation, to the point where I was unable read from my paper. I was embarrassed and had to sit down. I don’t believe I suffered from an anxiety disorder but rather a simple deep-rooted fear of public speaking.
But psychologist John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago might disagree when he says:
It is important to distinguish between typical public speaking anxiety and social phobia. A key concept is functional impairment. That is, in order to be considered a phobia, the fear must create significant emotional distress or prevent the individual from engaging in desired activities. For example, those with typical public speaking anxiety may feel somewhat anxious prior to giving a speech or going on a job interview.
However, in these cases, once the event begins, the individual’s anxiety diminishes and the activity is successfully completed. Those with social phobia, however, experience severe distress, in anticipation of or during the task, sometimes to the point of being unable to complete the task or avoiding it entirely.
Upon seeking advice from a friend, he recommended in the future I hold a dictionary in the same hand I held my paper. He added that the weight of the book would force my hand to be steady, and, being a dictionary, it wouldn’t draw too much attention.
My professor allowed me to give my presentation again in front of the class and the trick worked. I felt more confident, and I was given an A for the project.
I carried a dictionary with me to every presentation throughout the remainder of my time at school.
I saw Julie years later during one of our final college classes. She was late and looked as though she had rushed out of the house. Keeping her head buried in her hands, I noticed that she was not nearly as beautiful as I had once thought. I hadn’t noticed before, but makeup dramatically enhanced her otherwise unusual-looking eyes.
As an adult, I have since gotten over my fear of public speaking due, in part, to the advice I received from my friend.
Whether we admit it or not, many of us fall victim to anxieties at some point in our lives. And similarly, many of us ultimately find tools to assist us in our quests for confidence. I chose a dictionary. Others choose eyeliner.
For day 17 of The Time Hack, I decided to once again do a bit of public speaking. I left the dictionary at home and chose to recite the alphabet in New York’s Union Square.
- I stood on the ledge of a fountain facing the park’s northwest corner.
- A friend, who was helping document the event, stood behind my right shoulder.
- As I started reciting the alphabet, passersby immediately stopped and looked up at me.
- For whatever reason, I paused briefly at the letter W.
- A woman sitting in a chair to my left, who had a sign in front of her offering up psychic readings, began singing the alphabet with me beginning at the letter G.
- A group of five 20-somethings, four men and one woman, were standing roughly 30ft in front of me. When I finished, the girl in the group, who was wearing a grey winter hat, clapped. The man directly to her left was smoking a cigarette.
- Three men, who appeared to be students, were standing at a 45 degree angle to my right and were talking.
- I was told I was heckled, which is quite understandable, but I did not hear or see anyone yelling during the event.
- I believe I recited the letter slower than I normally would have.
- Roughly 10 people passed as I was standing on the snow-covered fountain.
- A group of women stood at a 45 degree angle about 75 feet away. They looked embarrassed for me and occasionally looked up from their conversation.
- A man handing out newspapers in front of the subway station, positioned to my right, stopped handing out papers, watched and listened to what was happening in front of him.
- I raised my hands in a Frank Sinatra-like manner throughout the entirety of the event.
- Prior to getting on the fountain, I said something along the lines of, “This is an incredibly embarrassing science experiment.”
What actually happened on Day 17? Find footage of the event here.
· I estimate that it took 48 seconds for me to recite the alphabet.
How long did it actually take? Find out here.
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