Let Go Your Fear


I have been working on a presentation on our automation stack for many months now. I’m finally to the point where all that’s left is to practice, practice, practice. Following the Beyond Bullets approach I have spent a lot of time getting the speaker notes just right as they form the offline version of the presentation. I had intended to notecard the speaker notes into the key talking points, but very quickly I decided to just splat the entirety of each slide’s paragraph onto its note card. I didn’t want to leave out any of the prose I had spent so much time perfecting, you see.

Then of course I started stressing over how in the world I was ever going to memorize all that text. (I have always found memorizing hard. Which made piano recitals a challenge!) So I found all sorts of reasons to avoid practicing, which just made things worse.

But this weekend I realized how foolish I was being. I’ve been talking with people about this stuff for over a year now! I know what I’m talking about! I don’t even need the slides really, let alone the notecards. Sure I might leave out a specific example or two, but the gist of it all would come through loud and clear.

Immediately after that realization I felt much calmer. Yes I still need lots of practice, but it doesn’t matter whether I say exactly what my speaker notes say. What matters is that I connect with my audience, get my main points across, and answer their questions. Releasing my fear of missing something out let me focus on what’s really important and makes for a better experience all the way around.

If I had gone on stage fearful of forgetting something, my reliance on my script would have prevented me from connecting with my audience – my fear of making a mistake would have resulted in my doing just exactly that. Similarly, if when you test you are afraid to go down a blind alley of investigation because you are afraid of wasting time and missing the big nasty bugs, guaranteed that fear will cause you to miss multiple big nasty bugs. If however you can let go your fear of wasting time by going down a blind alley, you will find that far from wasting time you are gathering important information and finding lots of gnarly bugs.

Let go your fear – you’ll be amazed at what it’s hiding!

*** Want a fun job on a great team? I need a tester! Interested? Let’s talk: Michael dot J dot Hunter at microsoft dot com. Great coding skills required.

Comments (1)

  1. Shaun Bedingfield says:

    I think sometimes we spend too much time rationalizing and quantifying things.

    Being good at something is not a formula or recipe that can be followed blindly. Rather than something quantifiable it is often the never ending quest to look at yourself and find out what you did wrong yesterday and can do better today. We often strive for perfection but perfection leads to paralysis and the inability to move forward.

    I feel that the way to overcome fear is to not try to be great immediately or perfect. Rather, let yourself work and be fallable. Take small bites and then use introspection to figure out how to get a little better. The greatest failure is not failing to be perfect but rather in feeling that you are.

    We train ourselves in following processes to uncover solutions but not on how to discover the processes. A computer can follow instructions but only a human being can produce music. I feel that our education system is too centered on teaching people who to follow and fails to teach how to lead. When you confront a problem that may not have a solution or has potential infinite solutions requiring tradeoffs, you must know how to think not follow instructions.

    You’re point on fear is well taken but often I feel perfection a greater fault.

    We often throw away our best talents and stress our worst. Humans are bad at remembering notes and raw data and contrary to what most think, this is not any great loss. However, human beings can analyze music and find parallels between certain patterns of notes and the generated emotions in an audience. This might actually lead to compositions worth listening too. If you have trouble memorizing notes, think about memorizing the structures and impressions they create. Memory depends heavily on the ability for one to associate and appreciate what they are memorizing.