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Challenge yourself

I’m a Gryffindor – not by choice though. I took the quiz on Pottermore twice, and both times it put me into Gryffindor. I’ve never felt particularly happy with that, because I would have preferred Ravenclaw, and I’m really not much of an outgoing person, as some Gryffindors are characterized. There are some situations which I can’t really face1 and sometimes I have a hard time in social situations.

In some contexts, I’m starting to see why I might be a brave person after all. I recently went on a three week trip through Canada and the US all by myself. I’ve travelled by myself before, so this was nothing new for me, but a lot of people I’ve talked to have admired me for my bravery of travelling to a foreign country by myself, as a woman. Some people I talked to said they wouldn’t even manage to go to the Netherlands for some shopping by themselves, or that they couldn’t manage navigating a foreign city alone. For me, travelling alone is actually my preferred way of travelling… most of the time I like to have my freedom and I want to do whatever I want.

However, even for me there are situations that fill me with dread. One of those situations was when on my visit in Canada, I rented a car. I had never driven a car in Canada or the US before, and I’m generally not very good at driving in cities, so naturally the thought of driving in Toronto was really scary. Despite these fears, my brain seems to be fairly rational and pragmatic though… I always somehow manage to find the confidence to go through with these things, because how bad can it really be?! I have driven 6000kms through New Zealand, so a 80km round trip in Ontario should be manageable. And it was. I had a wonderful day in Cambridge, where I met a penpal I had never met in person before. Driving in Canada was actually quite pleasant for the most part, because unlike the insane Germans, Canadians have speed limits to which most people seem to adhere. Driving back into Toronto was a bit challenging because of all the traffic, but I managed that too.

Another scary situation that I threw myself into happened just today: I taught a class of 90 people for the first time. For someone who is super awkward and usually scared of speaking in front of an audience, that’s a bit of an achievement I guess. I have taught tutorials of 10-20 people before. It took me a little bit to get the hang of it, but eventually that went quite well. 90 people in an auditorium (as opposed to 10 in a seminar room), and teaching the actual thing instead of just a tutorial, is quite different though. I was super nervous most of the morning and tried to calm myself down. Eventually I think I did quite well – I didn’t even use my notes for most of the session, though some things could have gone better. I made it! Yay! Only 13 sessions to go!

By doing things like that, I force myself to overcome my fears. I booked a car – I had to drive it. I signed up to teach the freshmen class – I had to teach it. Doing things like that is a really great way to boost confidence. Of course I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had experience beforehand though. It took me 6 years of studying to get this far. Especially during my master’s studies, I held a lot of presentations, learned a lot about being a good presenter, and I also took didactic classes. Without all that, I think I wouldn’t have felt as good about teaching tutorials. And teaching tutorials gave me the experience to now teach an actual university class. My next challenges will be to present at actual academic conferences, and to travel to more ‘adventurous’ places by myself…

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