Most of us, by nature, stay well within our comfort zones. We worry about what will happen if we don't. We worry about failing, looking stupid, being upset, getting nervous. It can take a huge amount of courage to do things we wouldn't normally do, and yet the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone are so enormous that they easily outweigh the alternative- which is that nothing different happens at all.
I have decided, now I'm in my fifth decade (!) to say YES to opportunities that present themselves, even if they are a wee bit scary. I don't want to reach my end days with regrets for things not done from lack of courage. It's good to push yourself, to do things outside your comfort zone, because if you don't, you never learn what you're capable of. It's healthy, see? Most of the time you come out smiling and your confidence raises a notch or two as a result. I always think: if other people can do it, then it can't be impossible, so I can do it too.
I'm toying with the idea of lecturing in conservation when I've finished my degree.
I often get mistaken for a teacher, which makes me smile. I figure the Universe is dropping hints, and I am listening.
To that end, I gave my first proper, solo, two hour lecture to the first years at college on Tuesday. It took me three days to prepare it and in the end I had a serviceable and reasonably thorough power point presentation on the Ecology of butterflies and moths, with life cycles, scientific terminology, flight seasons, larval food plants and IDs all listed.
I learnt some new things while I was writing it. For instance: did you know that Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) make up 10% of all known described species in the world?
TEN PERCENT! That's HUGE.
And did you know that a Blue Tit chick requires 100 caterpillars A DAY to survive? It's not uncommon to get 10 chicks in a nest- that's ONE THOUSAND CATERPILLARS A DAY!!!! SEVEN THOUSAND CATERPILLARS A WEEK!!! And that's just one nest!
I may have got slightly over enthused and amazed by those facts when I was telling the class about them.
Have you ever talked to a large group of people who are all sitting waiting to listen to what you have to say before? It's a strange experience.
It promotes adrenaline. It also apparently renders you incapable of producing certain words sensibly that you've spoken confidently for the entirety of your life. I blame my mate Harvey who calls 'Butterfly Conservation, Butterfly conversation, which is what I did. I've never called it that in my life before. In the end, I gave up trying to say it properly because the word just wouldn't come. I referred to it as BC after that instead, which worked, and everyone smiled. Mysteriously, I could say conservation perfectly well again afterwards. Funny thing, the Brain.
Murd Wuddling (see what I did there?) aside, I really enjoyed it. I had worried that I might not have enough information to fill two hours, and that the thirty students listening (ages 18 to late fifties or so) would be bored, that I might be monotone and mundane and dull to listen to.
I'm used to talking to the public about flutters in an informal setting, and I did do a bit of in class teaching about the transect to this group a month ago, but that was only 40 mins, was mainly me showing them pictures and talking about the logistics of the transect and it was also shared with one of the senior lecturers. I have never given a two hour academic presentation by myself that was part of a degree course before. I tried not to think too much about that and just enjoy talking about what I love: fluttery folk and why they matter, and hoped to inspire 30 people to do likewise.
And it seemed to work. There were questions, and answers, and some jokes, and suggestions, laughter in the right places, lots of writing down as I was talking, and even some offering of bits of knowledge from them too. There was a feeling of lightness in the class that doesn't always exist in lectures. I finished with an ID test and was amazed when two of the students got full marks and more than half the class got 15 out of 20- and this for a group who really don't have much butterfly knowledge.
They are a lovely bunch: when I finished, they all clapped. So I bowed. And they laughed. I gave the two with full marks in the test a chocolate frog each and we joked about which species it was (Common Frog, I said. Obviously).
They told me it had been great, that they now understood things about flutter ecology which before they hadn't, that it had piqued some of their interest to learn more and to go looking for flutters this summer, that the explaining of scientific terminology far from being patronising (as I had worried) was what they had wanted and needed, and (best of all) they assumed I was already a teacher used to giving lectures and expressed astonishment when I said I wasn't (they also said I should have got paid for it, which made me smile) :o)
Afterwards, a young girl I have never noticed in the class before because she is so quiet, told me she'd never done as well in a Test before as she had in mine. She beamed. I was so proud of her. I find that young girls don't use their voices much in lectures- too many older people in the group perhaps, who already have the confidence to speak and own their own words, so the younger ones worry that they'll sound foolish if they offer their thoughts. Three of the people who offered answers to my questions were from the young lasses part of the class. I feel very strongly about the education of women and encouraging younger women to find their voices and use them, so this too made my heart glad. Go, Girls!
And d'you know what's happened since then? Offers to give more formal talks have begun to find their way to me. Which means more people will know about butterflies and moths and why they matter and what they can do to help them. It's All Good, you see?
You know what I'm going to say don't you? If you've got the chance for a challenge but you're worried you might not be up to it- Go For It. What's the worst that can happen? If it all goes horribly wrong, you can go home, pour an enormous glass of wine, laugh it off and you need never do it again. But it probably won't go horribly wrong- it's much more likely that you'll discover something beautiful you never knew was there.