When it came time for us to do speeches in ninth grade, I remember making myself absolutely sick with worry the entire week before. I was red in the face, sweaty palms, so nervous when I finally had to give the speech. I can't remember what it was on, and I remember it was for only four minutes. Longest four minutes ever. Why did we have to give oral homework? Why couldn't everything be written? I was great at that. But speaking in front of others? Heck no. Not for me.
That's why sometimes I think it's humorous to those who knew me growing up when they hear about what I do. I was reminiscing one day with my oldest friend, someone who has known me since fifth grade, and she laughed and made the comment that never in a million years would she have ever pictured me as an attorney. Thinking about it myself, honestly, I kind of agree with her. How could a girl who was petrified of speaking in front of a classroom for just four minutes possibly picture herself doing an all day termination of parental rights trial. Or teaching a training in front of a room of about thirty attorneys? No freaking way.
I am honestly not sure when it happened. It probably was my very first court hearing. I had possibly the worst client ever. It was a child support issue. He was demanding, unreasonable, and completely difficult. I walked in there not really prepared, and I was up against one of those types - the old, white man attorney in a small town who knew the judge, knew every attorney in town, was one of the good old boys, and here I was - a fresh, new attorney and a female one at that. I was totally unprepared for it. And trust me when I say the hearing was a massacre. Baptism by fire is the only way I can describe it. But it was my first hearing. I ripped off the Bandaid.
I didn't get too many divorce hearings after that before I was laid off. My next job involved training attorneys on legal research software. That was intimidating in and of itself. I was training attorneys who had so many years up on me in practicing law. Who was I to teach them anything? But I did it. And with each training it got easier and easier.
But really, I think the kicker that pushed me over the edge of being petrified of public speaking was working with the Indiana Department of Child Services. I worked in the biggest county in our state, and sadly, we had so many cases, it was like an assembly line of child abuse cases. I had my own docket once a week where I handled 30 hearings at any given time, and I also handled a set of termination of parental rights cases. My very first trial lasted me four days. Eight hour days at that. Again, baptism by fire. It was shortly after that when I developed no fear. You kind of had to when you were questioning a parent on the stand who did such awful things to their child. You basically learn to do pretty much anything in terms of public speaking. And somewhere along the line, I started to enjoy it. (I'm not going to lie. I got a great deal of pleasure from totally grilling a parent who abused their child and tearing them apart on the stand.)
It's amazing to look back and see that progression. I'm no longer that scared little girl. Honestly, if I went to my high school reunion, I would have no fear in talking to anyone. Not even those "popular" kids who intimidated me so much in my younger days. Because I just don't care what they think of me anymore. They're just people. No different than I am. And if I can fight in the courtroom, I can do just about anything else. No more Miss Shy.
I hope that, as a parent, I can give my daughter that confidence. No fear. You're as good as anyone else, and you shouldn't be scared of speaking up for yourself and presenting yourself in a confident and polished manner. Someone asked on Twitter the other day what would be one of the best gifts you can give your child. And I answered with the word "confidence." Because that's what I hope to inspire in my daughter some day.