Conferences, confidence and comfort zones

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She always got picked for the big parts in school assemblies and plays: always the narrator, never the lead with an actual good costume. She always spoke eloquently and confidently, and everybody said she would do great things. She was probably really bloody annoying, to be perfectly honest with you.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and that girl … well, she’s certainly not failing at life, but she hasn’t exactly done those great things either. Somewhere along the line, all that confidence she had drifted away, worn away by the comfort of a nice little job and a nice little life. And when she … okay, it’s me, we’ve figured that out now, right? So I can switch to first person? When I had to set up my own business and make it on my own, that lack of confidence, along with my well-documented fear of failure, meant imposter syndrome often came calling.

But gradually, I’ve been learning to fight that monster and get my groove back. So I was asked if I’d like to give a session about swearing at this year’s SfEP conference, I, being in the middle of my Saying Yes kick, said yes. (And also because you got a discount on the conference and I’m a notorious cheapskate.)

Almost the minute I’d agreed, I wondered what the hell I’d done. Giving a conference session? Me? An editor who’s only been in the game a couple of years? Who’s going to take me seriously? Why on earth should they? But I’d said yes now, so I started to prepare. It was hard. I had to learn how to use PowerPoint, which surprised me – how the hell do you work in an office for 11 years without ever having to use PowerPoint? I had to research and refine my thoughts and ideas into something coherent, entertaining and informative, and then I had to practise saying it. And the more I practised, the more I remembered that annoying, confident girl. And when I stood up in front of that room of people, I felt her back with me again.

The session went really well – not perfectly, but then nothing does, and I count it as a huge measure of personal growth that I’ve barely given the mistakes a second thought since (except for “fucktion”. That was pretty funny). And – and here’s the bit that keeps surprising me – people said, and continue to say, really nice things about it. People said they had fun, that my session was funny and entertaining, and I’m so grateful for that. But even better are the comments that picked up on the more serious points I was making (yes, there were a few. I can do serious sometimes). Yes, it was about swearing; yes, it was silly; yes, it involved the creation of a game which is basically Cards Against Humanity for word nerds. But I genuinely have to edit a lot of swear words, and those words deserve as much editorial care as any other word I deal with. So I was glad people recognized that and, even better, didn’t laugh at the fact it was little old me telling them about it. It’s boosted my confidence, in both my editing and my public speaking skills, immeasurably.

Comfort zones change over time. But unless we’re vigilant, they only grow inwards. They shrink, without us noticing, until they’re far too cosy to break out of easily. But breaking out of a comfort zone isn’t always trying new things. Sometimes it’s trying old things, breaking out of who you’ve become and reminding yourself of who you were. Of who you still can be. And of those great things that are still within your reach.

5 thoughts on “Conferences, confidence and comfort zones”

  1. I laughed when I read your article, Kia, because I was in a similar situation just recently. I was asked to represent IPEd at an ASA workshop and give a presentation (including Powerpoint) on who IPEd is, what editors do, how to find and editor and so forth. I haven’t done a presentation in over 20 years, since my corporate days, and even then any presentations I did were to a small group of departmental colleagues, not to a roomful (plus over 40 watching remotely, I might add) of authors. I was so, so nervous, even a double layer of anti-perspirant didn’t seem to help. Anyway, once I overcame my initial feelings of terror, it went very well. Like you say, sometimes we have to get outside our comfort zone, even though it’s harder to do as we get older.


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