When I teach presentation skills to my coaching and training clients, I always tell them to prepare to the point that they know their material inside out. Because, as jazz musician, Bradford Marsalis has pointed out, “If you’re not prepared, it’s too late.” Of course, this applies to anything you’re trying to accomplish in life, not just public speaking.But then there comes a point where you need to stop preparing and just DO it. This requires a necessary leap of faith that is terrifying to many people. And so, they keep preparing, and stay stuck.Several years ago, while living in southern California, I participated in a weekend retreat designed to challenge fears and perceptions. One entire day was devoted to tackling the elements of a rope-challenge course. For those of you unfamiliar with rope challenge courses, suffice it to say that participants are safely led through exercises that involve the use of ropes in ways that make you come face-to-face with your fears, particularly the fear of heights. Participants work in teams, pairs or alone, building teamwork, trust and self-confidence, doing such hair-raising things as leaping off the top of a tall tree towards a swinging trapeze or walking across a tightrope. It is not for the faint of heart.
Let me say right off the bat, that I have a colossal fear of heights. So the ropes challenge course both terrified and (strangely) attracted me.
The first ropes challenge I faced was, so I was told, a simple one, in that it did not involve climbing up a rope or a ladder: “All” we had to do was take turns leaning off the side of a cliff, tethered to two ropes commandeered by the ropes course instructors. To prepare for the experience, we were carefully instructed in the correct way to strap on the harness we would be wearing while dangling into the abyss, and shown how the belay ropes attached to the harness worked to prevent injury. We were given helmets and shown the proper way to secure them to our heads. We each took turns feeling the tension on the rope attached to an instructor as she dangled off the cliff. I, of course, asked a lot of questions: How secure were the belay lines? What if something went wrong? Should we look down? As far as I was concerned, I would have preferred preparing forever, and avoiding altogether the spine-chilling moment of hoisting myself off the side of a cliff with a wing and a prayer.
I managed to put myself as far back in the line as possible, watching with amazement and horror as person after person strapped themselves into the harness, walked to the edge of a cliff, yelled “ready,” and then slowly leaned out over a 300 foot drop. The line moved much, much too fast, until, finally, it was my turn to buckle on the harness. I truly didn’t want to go. Wasn’t there more to do, more to prepare, so that I would be completely safe? Was my helmet on right? Was the rope secure? The rope course instructor watched me with a knowing smile. “You’re ready,” he said “just do it.”
And so, I did. Somehow, I managed to make my feet move toward the cliff’s rocky edge. “Now let go and lean forward” the instructor ordered. And I did that too, my heart pounding like a bad headache, leaning slowing out into the cool fall air. “SNAP!” the ropes attached to my harness locked into place. And there I hung, at a 45 degree angle, the scruffy gray-green of the southern California hills spread out beneath me. I had done it! And, oh, it was a beautiful thing.
Afterwards, once my pulse had slowed and my legs had stopped trembling, I wondered: Why had I let myself be so scared? Because the fact of the matter was this: Actually DOING it wasn’t nearly as hard or scary as PREPARING to do it.
There comes a time when preparation must end and you must just do it, whatever “it” is.
When you must simply pick up the phone and make that call, send that letter, have that conversation, take that action, step onto that stage. So stop letting preparation stop you from doing what you know you need to do. And just do it.