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The Benefits of Pressing Ahead Through Social Anxiety

By Andrew Burgon /
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September 12, 2014

Social Anxiety Overcome
Image by Sander van der Wel from Netherlands (Uploaded by Russavia) / CC-BY-SA-2.0

Facing Your Fears Can Reap You Unforeseen Benefits

Being a stammerer for the first half of my life meant I experienced more than my fair share of social anxiety. Answering the phone, doing a speech in front of classmates and going to interviews were three of the things that generated the most anxiety.  I found though that facing my fears and being courageous can have unforeseen benefits.

I Do a Language Teaching Course Despite a Stammer and Anxiety

Something had been building up inside me for years that was going to be instrumental in ejecting me from my comfort zone and force me to come to grips with my stammer. That something was the immense desire to travel.

Knowing that English teaching was something a lot of people do when they decide to go overseas for a year or two I decided to sign up for a language teaching course. Part of me thought it was a joke. I assured myself though that teaching English was a last resort. I was, however, curious about how well I would do in the course.

It turned out I was in for a pleasant surprise as I ended up doing a decent job. My instructor who was also a co-worker was just as surprised as I was because she knew how much trouble I usually had speaking.

I Bite the Bullet in Taiwan and Face my Fear

To keep a long story short, I found myself in Taiwan low on money and in desperate need to find work. English teaching jobs were plentiful so after some hesitation I took the plunge taking on some part-time work and privates.

These are what I refer to as my Rocky (Balboa) days. Running down to the local park, doing exercises and practicing any kinds of speech therapy I knew including the main one I had been taught, Smooth Speech.

For the most part I got through it okay. In those early days I was extremely careful when speaking and managed to get through interviews and demos in order to get the job. The anxiety was sometimes palpable though.

Through it all I discovered certain things that I would never have been able to foresee beforehand.

The Anxiety I Experienced with Adults and Children Were Different

The first important things I learned was that my level of nervousness and anxiety teaching children and adults were very different. While I felt an uncomforable amount of nervousness teaching adults I felt comfortable teaching children. Teaching young children turned out to be a kind of unexpected loophole where my stammer for the most part was unnoticeable. I ended up exploiting this loophole to the full and phased out all my adult classes.

The Benefit of Becoming Larger than Life and Projecting my Voice

The second thing was that when I taught English I felt myself become larger than life. Naturally, projecting my voice was doing wonders for my speech as well. Teaching children seemed to come so naturally to me that I guess I may have been in my element doing it. This to me was like discovering a new gear when driving. While I had done several speeches in senior high school I never had felt that way before.  This helped boost my confidence.

The Freedom to Speak (Almost) Unfettered

The third thing I never could have foreseen is the impact teaching classes day in and day out would have on me. I gradually got to a point where I had a freedom of speech that was beyond my wildest dreams. I really thought I would have to cope with the stammer my whole life.

I’m assuming this goes way beyond becoming accustomed to teaching and probably has to do with neuroplasticity. Because I kept at it day after day, year after year a neural highway formed in my brain allowing me greater freedom of speech.

I would eventually go on to manage a dozen foreign teachers and host graduation ceremonies that had several hundred people in attendance. I’m still pinching myself to this day wondering whether I dreamed it or not.

To me, at least, this story borders on the miraculous. Had I of stayed in Australia I could very well have found myself locked in that stammering loop for the rest of my life. Imagine if I had taken the attitude, “There’s no way in hell I could be a teacher. There is no way I’m attempting it.”

Social anxiety is a subject I plan to criss-cross in different ways in the future. Here I just wanted to point out what sometimes happens when you keep an open mind and press on regardless of the anxiety you feel. You may discover that a loophole exits or that a natural talent kicks in to make the going easier. That certain things will help override, reduce or neutralize the anxiety you feel. That an unexpected breakthrough may be yours because of your faithful persistence.
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