I wasn't the most outgoing person in high school. I didn't have many friends, kept to myself, and rarely (if ever) spoke in public.
The few times I did speak were 5-minute speeches in class. Though I'd usually work to get out of even those presentations if possible.
I wasn't just introverted, I was anti-social. I read books rather than talk to people. My only school activity was band. I preferred time to myself in the woods to time with others in the city.
I've said multiple times that I consider lessons learned while working at Scout Camp to be vital to my development. But even camp was an accident.
I put off applying to summer jobs until after graduation - when everyone else had already started their new jobs. It wasn't that I hated money, it was that applying for a job meant I either had to pick up the phone (terrifying) or go in-person to apply (even worse), so I put it off as long as possible.
And paid the price.
By the time I started applying, there were no jobs left. Not even McDonald's would hire me for the summer. I was desperate. I started applying to anything and everything - classifieds, gas stations, even Monster.com.
One day, after I put up my resume online (yet again) and said a short prayer begging for a job, the phone rang. Literally as I said "amen." It was my brother's boss at the Scout camp he was going to be working at - they were just as desperate as I was, and had an open position.
"Kevin mentioned he had an older brother, and we need some help at camp this summer. Are you interested in a job?"
"Absolutely! When can I start?"
"We'll need you to be here tomorrow morning. It's a 6-week season, so starting tomorrow you'll be here for a month and a half."
Just like that, I had a job. Accepting from someone I didn't know, over the phone, with barely any thought behind it - again, I was desperate and not really in a position where "no" was the right answer.
Working at Scout camp, where you're essentially "on stage" in front of a hundred kids 24 hours a day for a week helped pull me out of my shell. Unlike my high school days, I spent college meeting as many people as possible.
I introduced myself to every student in my dorm. I introduced myself to every student in every one of my classes. I frequently visited random student groups to get to know people. My sophomore year I became an RA (Resident Assistant) so I could be even more involved.
My junior year, I was given the opportunity to speak in front of the entire Residence Life cohort about my experiences as a 2-year RA, but I turned it down. Not out of fear of speaking - at this point I was already comfortable speaking in front of groups of hundreds of students - but out of peer pressure.
Some friends told me the invitation would be coming from one of the administrators we didn't like very much[ref]I figured out later that her reputation wasn't her fault entirely ... stay tuned tomorrow for more details on that.[/ref] and urged me to turn it down out of spite. I did, and my boss called me on it. My boss pulled me aside and explained, "I know you don't want to do it. But there's a time in everyone's career where you have to do something for someone that you'd rather not do. I know you're comfortable with speaking, so there's really no excuse. If you don't raise your hand, no one will notice you when it comes time for advancement, either."
She was right. When I applied later that year for a promotion, I was initially passed over because I wasn't willing to raise my hand and do the thing I didn't want to do. I learned my lesson pretty quickly. When a twist of fate meant I was given a second chance to step out of my comfort zone, I did it and got the job.
I never wanted to be a developer.
I went to grad school to get a marketing degree, and worked hard to get a position doing marketing after I graduated. My first real job after school was for a start-up, doing marketing.
Unfortunately, we weren't very successful. Our product was too rough around the edges, we had no practical advertising campaigns, and only managed to gain a few customers through word-of-mouth promotions. My boss came into the office one day and told me the company could afford to keep paying for marketing.
This meant our coaches and staff had to either work for free (stock options) or find employment somewhere else. I was fresh out of school and couldn't afford to work for free. It was a devastating blow.
"Well, if any of you can build a website, we can keep paying for that because we need a website."
I raised my hand and said I was the one for the job. He agreed and I kept my pay. That afternoon I stopped by the bookstore and bought How to Build your First Website, read it over the weekend, and jumped in Monday morning.
That job was the jumping point for my next position, one gained solely through the power of my portfolio and my ability to say "yes" to a task that terrified me - building custom web controls in C# (a language I didn't know using frameworks I've never heard of). From there, I moved on to yet another position, again by agreeing to do things that challenged and scared me (Azure).
I started challenging myself with public speaking as well. I'd been involved in WordPress as a freelancer for a while and had begun attending WordCamps. I felt I could do a better job than some of the speakers I'd seen, so I started applying to compete directly with them.
WordCamp Phoenix was the first to accept me. They were also the first to really challenge me by asking (the second year) that I both give a traditional short presentation one day and teach a 1-hour workshop a different day. Scared of the prospect, I said "sure."
Since then, I've spoken at a large conference (some international) every other month for two years. Every time I get on stage, my heart skips a few beats and I feel like running off stage.
Do the thing
I'm still the same person I was in high school. I'm still an introvert. Speaking in front of crowds still terrifies me. Working on challenging tasks still stirs up a nearly paralyzing fear of failure.
The fact is, much of what scares me is also what scares others. If you give in to fear and hold back with the crowd, you're one face among millions. If you're the one to look fear in the eye and despite your nerves say "sure, I'll do it" then you're the one who stands out from the crowd and gets the next opportunity.
In college, one of my former residents applied to be an RA. She said I was one of the people who influenced her decision in spite of her fear of the job. We became close friends after that, and she gave me a notebook to say thanks before I graduated.
On the cover was printed an inspiring quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
I'd never read or heard that quote before, but it's how I've tried to live my life and what runs through my head to compete with the too-loud voice saying "give up, you'll never do it" when I'm faced with a new challenge or opportunity.