It’s funny how different people are frightened by different things. I’m not in the least afraid of snakes (so was very disappointed to find out that one had slithered through my courtyard whilst I was away in Mali), nor of enclosed spaces, nor of travelling to strange places. However I am scared of spiders, and also of public speaking (or public singing, public cooking – indeed anything where people are watching me and perhaps judging me).
This past week I faced both. The first was on Tuesday evening, when I walked down my hall in the half-light, then reached for the switch for the bathroom. The switch felt odd, but it only registered quite how odd when the light came on and I realised I had put my finger directly onto the legs of a spider which had been sitting on the light switch. Thankfully not an enormous hairy one, nor one in the mood to bite me (apparently all spiders bite), but it still gave me a bit of a fright.
An hour or so later I had a phone call – from my boss in Lisbon, to say that he had missed his connection and so would email me the presentation I would have to give on his behalf to the regional conference the next day. I think it says something about the number of challenges I have faced since I took this job that this one didn’t even keep me awake that night.
It helped considerably that everyone knew that I had only been asked to cover at the last minute, and so they weren’t expecting me to be perfect. But really, it wasn’t too bad. The audience was some 25-strong, comprising the country director of all twelve countries in our West Africa Region, plus the Regional Director and his deputy and various invited guests from East Africa and our UK headquarters. I went quite quickly through the presentation then took a long question-and-answer session. If I had been faced with this a couple of years ago I would quite possibly have resigned rather than go through with it, but I’m quite a different person now.
I think it is partly the continuing set of new circumstances and new challenges I am facing, such that facing challenges has now become a normal part of my day-to-day life. To deal with that I have had to stop worrying. Basically I do what I can to make the situation better, but then just think about the present until the challenging situation actually arrives, at which point I simply do my best. I know that sounds fine in theory but impossible in practice, but in fact it has not been too difficult.
It is also partly the different environment here. In the City it did feel to an extent as though everyone was competing with eachother, so if you did have to give a presentation you could imagine that everyone was watching out for your mistakes, and that any questions they asked would be simply to make them look good for asking a clever question (even better if it was such a clever question that the presenter couldn’t answer it…). Here I am in a much more supportive environment, where it doesn’t feel as though anyone is looking to criticise, in fact they could almost have been willing me on to do a good job.
I didn't take this job in order to face challenges (in fact if I'd known how challenging it would be I may have turned it down). But now I'm in this situation I'm enjoying it, and definitely feeling a stronger person for it. Sometimes it really is worth making those big changes in life, no matter how scary they seem.