by Avery Thatcher
When I was in grade one we were making a craft with a colonizer settler covered wagon, celebrating discovering the “great frontier” which I now know is a lie, but that’s another story.
Anyway, there we were: a bunch of six year olds coloring pictures of wagons, horses, and using safety scissors to cut them out. When we were ready to fasten the pictures of the horses to the wagon, we were supposed to go up the parent volunteer and ask them to help us use a brass fastener to join the two pictures so that the horses could move a little bit.
I was all finished coloring and cutting, so I picked up my papers and walked over to the parent volunteer. I didn’t know them, and at the time I was SOOOOO shy. Like unable to even look my teacher in the eye despite the fact that I’ve been in that classroom for 8 months already SOOOOO shy.
So I walk up to the parent volunteer, who is chatting with my teacher, and I ask “Can you please help me hitch my horses?”
And they laughed. Not like a little chuckle, like a full on belly laugh. They thought it was cute or funny that I asked them to “hitch” my horses even though in my mind that’s what they were doing. Because that’s one of the words we learned in the story we were reading.
They thought it was funny.
I was MORTIFIED. I felt tears welling up my eyes, but refused to cry. I waited for them to attach my horses to the wagon with the brass fasteners and then went back to my desk and avoided eye contact with everyone for as long as possible.
That was the first moment where I felt like what I say is wrong and people laugh at me because I say stupid things.
There are many other moments in my formative years that continued to strengthen this core belief. Answering questions in a unique way in class, making people laugh when I meant to be serious. Getting “too emotional” in conversations and making other people feel uncomfortable.
I always gave my papers to my mom or younger sister to read because my family always talked about how great a writer she was and it’s true. My papers would always come back with lots of red ink circled around words, crossed through phrases with other phrases written on top of it. Even with their help I was lucky to get a B on a paper, so I felt like if I didn’t have their help, I would definitely fail – so I kept going back.
The older I got, the more quiet I got. I didn’t trust my voice and so I didn’t want it to be heard. I would notice things, have ideas, see the way to solve a problem – but I wouldn’t speak up because I didn’t have the courage to be wrong or make a mistake.
Fast forward to when I was in university in my first semester of my nursing degree and I’m sitting in the practice lab with my group and the professor lets us know that next week we’re going to be doing a communication lab where we’ll be recorded and then critiqued in front of the rest of the group so we can learn from each other.
I was terrified! I immediately felt all of the dread, the knots in my stomach, the fear of looking stupid in front of my peers. It all came rolling back so fast.
The night before the video lab I didn’t sleep. I felt like a zombie walking into the room that day, feeling like my worst nightmare is about to happen in real life but at least I have all of my teeth and I’m wearing pants.
It’s my turn, and I sit down across from my lab partner and we start talking. The 5 minutes flies by and it’s now the time to watch the video back as a group.
I watch myself pop up on the television and I’m surprised because other than the obvious lack of any sort of color in my face, I don’t look nervous at all (despite the fact that I still feel like I could throw up now).
The video starts to play and the professor starts talking about how this is an excellent example of active listening, of guiding the conversation and of relating to the person in a professional way. She turned to me and said “honestly, I have no critique for you at all. That was great.”
My. Mind. Was. Blown!!!
It was the first time in my life that I questioned a core belief that I thought was true – but now realized maybe it wasn’t.
The next paper I wrote I just ran through a grammar and spell checker and submitted it without getting feedback from anyone else. I got an A+ and a hand written note from the professor saying “I really like your writing style!”
At this point, I was like “shwattt?!?!?!”
That moment in the communication lab, watching my video back and having unbiased external feedback that a core belief was wrong and that I actually was really good at this thing – that moment was the tipping point for me to start the journey of discovering who I am by learning who I’m not.
That was the moment I started to find my voice.
If I didn’t believe that professor, if I didn’t start to question my unhelpful and untrue core beliefs, we wouldn’t be here right now. Communication is at the center of what I do now, and I’m so grateful that I embraced that moment and chose to find my own path.
Want to learn more about me, what I stand for, and what I believe? Savage Garden’s song “Affirmation” is pretty much me in a song, and one that I listen to and dance like a wacky inflatable arm human on a regular basis to remind myself of the importance of using my voice.