Sharer, not Speaker

(published 18 January 2015, MST)

“Speaker” is not a word one would immediately think of to describe me. Being an introvert, I have never been comfortable speaking out, especially in front of many people. I always worry about my voice cracking, or blacking out, or my audience poking fun at me for not being engaging enough, or not knowing what I am talking about.  What I am most comfortable with is having a loud voice on paper even when I am working behind the scenes.
In recent years, however, I have gathered a number of certificates, all in appreciation of my agreeing to be “speaker,” mostly in schools.
This week I was at a school in Marilao, Bulacan talking to high school students about making career choices. Weeks ago, I spoke about writing editorials to separate groups of high school and grade school students. Last year, I went up to Tagaytay to talk to staff members of a city university publication. The College of Accountancy of a bigger university also asked me to do the same. In various other schools, I have spoken about writing news and feature articles.
The more interesting topics however have been challenges to media, handling peer pressure, and violence against women and children.
The last one stands out. As I was talking about violence in the confines of the home, a seventh-grade girl started sobbing. I learned later that her father beat her when she obtained low grades. I knew better than call attention to her. I let her seatmate quietly comfort her.
I learned that speaking, after all, is not so bad. After a while you overcome your self-consciousness and are able to focus on your desire to make an impact, to help just a little bit and occasion a bit of reflection—even if all you have is an hour, sometimes less than that.
And one does not really get these gigs unless through word of mouth, so it it nice to think that whatever I am doing, I am doing so quite decently. It works because I have stopped thinking of “speaking” as the task of an infallible expert. I am not an expert, and I am most certainly not infallible.
On the contrary, we speak best when we speak as ourselves. So there is no need for glowing introductions, really  --I am just sharing how I get by in this job I love, and I am actually quite enjoying it.
During the open forum after the individual talks last Friday, the students hesitated to ask questions in the beginning. I was sitting at the front of the room with a lawyer who had just passed the bar and a young executive from a retail company. Perhaps they were intimidated, initially. But when they saw how the three of us would never feign absolute knowledge and in fact spoke candidly about our personal journeys, the questions started pouring in. We went beyond the time allotted.
What I noticed was that the students constantly used the words “pressure” and “stress”. It appeared that they were so weighed down by the demands of high school and the uncertainty of college.
Do most young people feel this way?
I have no means of validating these hunches, but if they do, access to traditional and social media may be responsible for the aggravated stress. All around kids these days are reminders of the “ideal” they should strive for. The ideal student excels not just in school but in other aspects of learning. The ideal family takes vacations or dines in trendy restaurants. The ideal teenager listens to the right music, watches the right movies or tv shows, brands of clothes and shoes, and possesses the right gadgets.
There is also pressure to make the right choices the first time—pressure to do well, period.
In the end, what can you do but make pressure your friend? Too much pressure is bad, definitely, but a little bit won’t hurt especially if you are setting standards for yourself.
Too much negativity is poisonous, too, but the only way to improve is to take constructive criticism in stride, get out of your comfort zone and find more ways to be useful to the world.
Then again, I have no way of knowing whether these would work for other people, old or young alike. I’m just saying what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Nobody’s a real guru; we can only, at best, share the experiences we know so well. With hindsight, everyone can speak with authority.