I stood up last night in front of a group of entrepreneurs and pitched my business. I had just come up with a new idea for a way to package my product the night before. This shift is what I have heard referred to in my class as a pivot—a change in business plan, product, etc. I am familiar with changing plans, and this seemed like a shift that could bring in my first paying customer.
It did not occur to me that I had pivoted until one of my classmates raised her hand during the question and answer portion of the presentation and noted how much she had witnessed me change from the start of the class to now. My own inner critic had been doing such a good job of assuring me that I was never doing enough and that everyone else in the class was accelerating at a faster pace than me that I had not taken a moment to step back to look at what I had accomplished.
It was not easy to get up in what our teacher called the “hot seat.” I was a little surprised at how nervous I was and extremely thankful for my neighbor, who repeatedly assured me that I would do just fine and taught me a mantra to help me relax.
I have been speaking in front of audiences of all sizes for more than a decade. I can still remember my first time standing up in front of a large group of visitors at a forest service site in Washington State. It seemed like there were at least 300 people, but I am sure that time and memory has embellished those numbers.
It took years before I was able to stand up in front of a group without feeling nervous. And that was for my day job.
I grew up playing and performing classical piano. I don’t think I ever got over my nerves and butterflies. I would hide behind the security of the piano, close my eyes, and play. Performance required putting myself into an almost meditative state. If I ever started thinking about the audience or what I was doing, I risked losing my place in the piece, faltering, and being judged. In the classical world, I never felt safe, secure, or confident.
When I first began performing at the local open mic in Gustavus, Alaska, I was a nervous wreck. I could hardly eat the day of a performance. There was no piano to hide behind. I felt completely vulnerable and exposed sitting up there holding a guitar and singing. I had never performed like this before. I did not know what I was doing. I did not possess the skill on a guitar that I had spent years learning and crafting on a piano. I was a foreigner in an unknown, musical land. I did not yet speak the language.
Even in front of the most supportive audience in the world, I would shake through the entire set and immediately hear from my inner critic after the performance, going through a litany of mistakes I had made, ridiculous things I might have said, etc.
After six months of performing at open mic and playing at local gatherings in Gustavus, I had gained some comfort and confidence. I was beginning to write and perform my own music. And most importantly, I had met an instrument that I felt comfortable playing—the ukulele. I still did not possess much skill beyond basic strumming, but I no longer feel like a tiny impostor trying to play an enormous guitar.
When I first began performing at a local venue in Lowell, Massachusetts, it felt a bit like starting over but with some practice under my belt. I was shaky at first and unsure of my self. But I was soon welcomed into the music and art community. With each performance, I could feel myself standing a little taller and singing with more confidence and joy.
You would think that being chosen for an entrepreneur Accelerator program would help build my confidence, but that inner critic continues to voice its concerns about my capabilities. I constantly worry that I am not accelerating fast enough and living up to my own expectations and those of the course instructors.
Giving a business pitch, even in front of a group of fellow entrepreneurs, is a challenge. I am not well versed in the new vocabulary I am learning. Words like minimal viable product, customer segments, variable and fixed costs have not been a part of the language I have been learning through my day job and academic career. I do not possess a business or finance background.
But I am doing it!
I got up there last night and felt clumsy and ungraceful. The moment when I picked up my ukulele, closed my eyes, and began to play was the most natural I felt for the duration of the class. This may seem small, but it was a reminder for me that music is my passion and the path I am following is the right one.
I imagine that in the days, months, and years to come, I will learn more, build my confidence, falter, and pitch, pivot, and pitch over and over and over again. At least, I am not at risk of leading a dull life.