I’ve done a lot of scary things in my life.
I’ve jumped out of a plane. I’ve roamed some of the most dangerous streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I’ve spent two months traveling alone in Australia. I’ve been inside a pen with two cheetahs. I’ve given speeches in front of hundreds of people. I’ve hiked in the Rocky Mountains in a snowstorm.
I even came to business school with no Excel skills.
So it’s a testament to how much my life has changed that the scariest thing I’ve done in the last two months was sit in front of 62 friendly people and give a five-slide Power Point presentation.
It was in Decision Analysis, a class that is, to put it mildly, a bit difficult for me. For you non-MBAs, let me lay it out for you. For each class, we’re given a complex problem. (Should a developer buy that piece of land that may or may not be a swamp? Should a car company risk going into a potentially lucrative (and volatile) Asian market?) Using Excel and some scary risk analysis software, we build complicated economic models — full of distributions, assumptions, future cash flows, decision cells — to predict all the possible outcomes of all the possible decisions. And then we have to make a decision and defend it.
It’s really, really, really hard. And I’m not naturally good at it. Often I make these models and they’re very, very wrong. Usually I look at other people’s elegant solutions and think, I could never do that.
Last night our assignment was a former exam case. Long. Complicated. Multi-faceted. And we had to make a Power Point presentation because one of us was going to be asked to share it with the class.
Yep, that was me.
When my professor emailed me before class to ask if I’d be willing to share, my stomach dropped and my hands started shaking. I was terrified and felt ridiculously … exposed.
In my head, I knew the reaction was overblown. My classmates are nothing if not supportive. I like talking in front of people, even big crowds of hostile people. I’ve jumped out of a plane, for goodness sake! This should be nothing.
And yet, getting up in front of my Decision Analysis class felt like a huge risk. The experience had the potential to expose my intellectual weaknesses, to lay out all my faults where everyone could see them clearly.
I hate not being good at things. I hate it even more when people see me being not good at things.
But I did it anyway. And it went … OK. Probably better than OK. And since I didn’t leave the room in tears, I considered it a success. Most of that’s due to the fact that I spend five hours a day with an extremely kind and generous group of people who did not grill me about every cell in my spreadsheet. And part of it is due to the fact that I know more about decision analysis than I thought. Not enough, but more than I had given myself credit for.
It was such a small thing and, yet, such a big success for me.
I always liked that Eleanor Roosevelt quote about doing one thing every day that scares you. Doing risky things can force you to stretch, to grow, to realize you are capable of far more than you imagined.
Sometimes those things that scare you involve parachutes and cheetahs and huge crowds of people.
And sometimes, they just involve Power Point slides.