A few months ago I spent some time writing an abstract for a talk I wanted to give. It was my next challenge on my journey. I wanted to do a talk. I was really proud of the effort I’d put in to the abstract. It was a million times better than the first abstract I submitted (for a different conference), the first one was rushed and minimal effort was put in to it, I just needed to submit it. This time I planned it all and I got loads of help and advice off some amazing people. The planning paid off this time and my abstract was picked! I was going to be doing a talk at Leeds Testing Atelier. I was absolutely convinced that I’d be able to do it. I already had part of the talk because it was an expansion on a micro talk I gave previously. What could possibly go wrong…
‘I’m never going to be ready on time’
As the conference kept getting closer, my nerves got worse. I took myself to a meeting room to plan out my talk once and for all. Armed with a sharpie and Post-it Notes I started writing my highs and lows down. I tried to link a low to a high so my talk flowed. I couldn’t link them all, I had random lows and random highs. I sat and stared at the post it filled wall for a solid 10 minutes. My mind was at a loss. I called in some help, I’m lucky to work somewhere that has people willing to help at the drop of a hat!
‘Go back to school, what do you need for a story? A beginning, a middle and an end’
Within two minutes of being in the room Adam, the BA I’d called in to help, had made my Post-it Note nightmare in to a Post-it Note story. With a talk now emerging he suggested I get people’s opinions on what they would be interested in hearing about. I sent out the topics I had to people in work using funretro.io (we use it for retros but it also did what I needed it to do), they had 5 votes on the topics they would like to hear about. So, I had my story, I had my topics, I was all set for the talk right? Apparently not.
It took a while for me to realise but I hadn’t been sleeping well for weeks. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about my talk. I spent every spare minute of free time I had trying to write down some examples for my talk topics. When I got home from work my laptop would be out. A full weekend was spent sat at my laptop, just staring at it because my mind was blank. I was fixated on this talk yet it would seem I was making no progress on it.
My stress levels where through the roof, my anxiety was skyrocketing and I had crippling back pain, which I didn’t realise at first was related to my anxiety and stress. I was making myself ill.
My breaking point was in a meeting at work. It was a meeting about the upcoming TestBash. A conference that I had been looking forward to since I first went last year. But I hadn’t even looked at the line up for it, I hadn’t had time. I cant tell you what was said in that meeting, not because it’s a secret but because I have no idea. Physically I was in the meeting, mentally I was somewhere else. Leeds.
‘I cant do this for another two weeks. I wont make it’
I started to question if I could pull out of doing my talk. What a failure I would be though, how disappointing I would be to people. However with the realisation that the anxiety and stress was starting to effect my health and my work life I made the decision to message the guys who organise the conference. I told them how I’d been feeling and asked if I could pull out of the conference. They were amazing about it (as I knew they would be). I felt like a huge pressure on my chest had been lifted, I slept without waking up in the middle of the night for the first time in a long time. I then woke up with minimal back pain. It was the right decision for me.
After having a few days to reflect I know now that I shouldn’t have jumped straight in to a conference talk without building up to it with other smaller talks. I also now realise that my mentality of ‘Always say yes to opportunities you will regret’ probably isn’t the right attitude to have. I learnt that the hard way. Don’t get me wrong my talking career isn’t over, I’ll just be taking it in small steps from now on.
Thanks so much to everyone who believed in me and supported me along the way! I really do hope I haven’t disappointed anyone! My biggest thanks go to the Leeds Testing Atelier gang though for being such amazing people, firstly for choosing me to talk and secondly for being so amazing about me not talking.
I know I’ll regret my decision in a few weeks/months but I’m proud that I had the balls to hold my hands up and say ‘I’m not okay’.