It was 3:57 a.m.
The yellow lights of my alarm clock seemed to taunt me. I awoke from a deep sleep to an anxiety-filled mind. Remember to make copies of the handouts. Did you fix that typo on slide 12? Look up more info on the subassistant commissioner. Crap. Crap. I need another day. You don’t have another day. I know but I can still wish for one.
Months of work and 3 days of preparation and it was the night before my first official National Archives genealogical workshop. Let me preface by saying I’ve done workshops before but for the Education department. While those can be nerve-wracking (which they usually are), this was a different beast. I was talking about our records and not only that explaining how to access and search these records. Records which I knew about for years but I had to actually know them.
I like to consider myself a people-friendly introvert. I’ve found my desire to be around people has increased with age. In fact, to my surprise, I discovered I am an ambivert. In certain situations, I thrive on my interaction with people. Until it hit me that I would be doing this workshop on the Records of the Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedmen Bureau). I had known about it for almost a year. But things don’t seem so scary when its far way. The months flew by and then it hit me, in 5 months, I’m giving a workshop on the Freedmen Bureau. Eek!
But then those 5 months flew by.
There were quite a few late nights at the office as I plugged away in my research. Before I knew it, I only had the weekend. Now I was in prep mode. Prep mode was running through my talk as many times as possible. I’m not the type of presenter to make notes and read from the notes. I’m strongly in favor of a conversational style of presenting. I move. I talk with my hands. It makes me seem more approachable. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I move around and talk with my hands so you don’t see the nerves. My hands shake when I’m nervous. And, my foot gets to tapping all its one. I call myself Thumper (from Bambi). But hey, this works for me and it engages folks and it puts them at ease.
I prepared as much as I could. I felt confident that I knew the material. That didn’t stop me from waking up at 3:57 am on Wednesday morning. It’s my lot in life. When I’m really excited or really anxious about something, it disrupts my sleep. And like clock work, that’s exactly what happened.
Cut to the minutes leading up to my workshop. I double-checked my essentials. Water: check. Mints: check. (Neat little trick. If you get dry mouth during a presentation pop in a small mint and it keeps your mouth from going completely dry). Ipod: check. You may ask why my Ipod? No, its not because I incorporated music into my workshop…which would be pretty cool actual. (Must stick a pin in that idea, hmm…). I always find music to be quite soothing. Or, at least pump you up. There’s nothing like a song to give you that temporary boost of confidence.
I posted this photo on Facebook:
At that point, as the attendees started to trickle in, I felt like I was going to pass out. My heart was racing. My right leg was thumping away. The dry mouth started. And then, I opened my mouth to speak.
You know what happened? Everything I prepared for came tumbling out in a nice, conversational flow. My heart slowed down. My leg stopped thumping. My mouth was still dry but I was talking. I was moving. I was connecting with my audience. What really clenched it for me was afterward. One of our regulars, a really sweet man in his 90s came up to me, gave me a grandfatherly wink, and said “Excellent.” Just that small gesture touched me in more ways then I could have ever imagined.
Sure, I’ll always get nervous and anxious. My heart will race, my leg will thump, my mouth will dry but that’s part of life right? It’s life’s way of reminding you that you’re alive. It was the calm that came in the moment, as I gave my talk, that the light bulb in my head shinned a little brighter. I heard that voice that said, “Yes, this is who you are and this is what you do. And you are awesome at it.”
Like a true archivist, I like to document everything. Group photo with attendees.
Thanks to everyone who believed in me, encouraged me, and supported me throughout this process. Thank you to the people attended I hope you learned a lot.
Just call me the people’s archivist. Movin’ forward and rockin’ on.