"Quiet people never get anywhere."
That phrase haunted me for years.
You see, I was always the shy kid at school. And, I mean, THE quietest kid ever.
I never spoke up in class. I hated presentations. I'd rather do 1,000 burpees than voluntarily put up my hand to answer a question.
I always got the same report at parents' evening:
"Jessica's a good student but she's far too quiet."
So guess what? I believed it.
I stayed quiet. I equated 'quiet' with 'bad'. With 'not good enough'. With 'not worthy'.
I squirmed and sweated my way through every presentation I had to give, even if it just meant being at the front of the class for a few minutes to help the teacher demonstrate something.
I dreaded being called on in lessons. I started hating going to school.
Honestly, the whole thing was my absolute worst nightmare.
I’d see people doing public speaking on TV and think, ‘Why are they doing that? HOW are they doing that?!’
Then, one day during registration, a guy in my tutor group told me:
“You'll never succeed at anything in life if you don’t even have the confidence to speak. Quiet people never get anywhere.” What a [insert swear word here].
What if he was right? What if my shyness was going to hold me back from having a good life? From achieving great things? From being successful at... well... anything?
But then, a miracle happened.
One parents' evening, my geography teacher – quite an introvert himself – told my parents:
“Yes, Jessica's quiet, but that's not a bad thing. It just means that when she DOES have something to say, I know it's going to be worth listening to.”
Massive mental shift.
And then, more miracles started happening.
I still got reports of being 'too quiet' in class, but that wasn't my focus anymore.
Now I started noticing the other things my teachers were telling me: She's brilliant at writing. She knows how to express herself, clearly and thoughtfully, through the written word. She could make a great living as a writer.
When I have something to say, it's worth listening to. And I don't HAVE to say it verbally; I can say it through the art of writing.
My career as an author, copywriter, editor and writing mentor started right there. And that's when I decided never to let anyone – whether it be a jerky classmate or a high school teacher – make me feel bad about being 'quiet' ever again.
I was ready to find my voice – even if it was on paper. I was ready to tell my story. I was ready to Write My Life.
Oh, and my terror of public speaking?
After university, I went back to that same high school with one of my friends, and in one of those same classrooms where I’d sat squirming and dreading my looming presentation, we did a talk about our experiences at uni, including a Q&A session.
Voluntarily. Without being forced to!
And, guess what? It was actually pretty fun!
It didn’t matter that I was quiet, or that I was an introvert, or that I wasn’t a born public speaker.
I did it.
I freaking did it!
I overcame my demons, even if my demons were just standing up in front of people and letting words come out of my mouth.
I'd faced my fears, and I'd come out the other side. It felt AMAZING.
Oh, and one more thing.
The talk my friend and I made was in the same building as my old tutor room; we’d walked past it on the way in, when I’d been feeling nervous and, honestly, a little sick.
As I thanked my old teacher and made my way out of the building, I glanced at that old tutor room.
It had a pane of glass in the door and I could see inside, at the rows of chairs we used to sit on every morning before our classes started. They were probably the exact same chairs from years before.
I pictured myself sitting there, listening to that guy telling me I wouldn’t get anywhere in life because I didn’t have the confidence to speak and because I was too quiet, and I told my teenage self that she shouldn’t have worried.
I shouldn’t have listened to that guy or given his ‘wisdom’ even a single second of consideration.
I'm not a great speaker, but when I do speak up, it means I have something important to say.
I'm confident in my own, quiet way. And it's OK to be quiet.
And hey, now I could do the public speaking thing too.
I smiled at the memory, walked out of the building, and never looked back.