Building Up Courage

Building Up Courage

Building Up Courage

Hello folks! Welcome back to The Green Swan. There are some things in life that I think will always be uncomfortable for me and require a significant amount of courage. For example, public speaking, asking for a pay raise, and politely dealing with customer service when I feel wronged.  It has never been easy or comfortable to do any of the above, and yet I recently and routinely find myself (or put myself) in these positions. How do I handle them? I over prepare, I build courage and I know that if I don’t ask I won’t receive.

 “Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts”

– John Wooden

Public Speaking

This has never been in my forte and I don’t think it ever will be. I’ve heard conflicting personal development advice in the past…One saying that I need to identify my weaknesses and improve them and, conversely, that the priority is actually identifying my strengths and continuing to focus on building them. Just life everything in life though, I believe in moderation. It doesn’t hurt to try to build on my weaknesses while also realizing that my strengths are my “money makers” and I ultimately need to focus on keeping these sharp.

Well, public speaking and presenting is easy for me to identify as a weakness. I’m not against trying to get better. I certainly pay intention to tips and advice on how to improve, I’ve taken presentation classes throughout my undergrad and grad degree programs and I’ve even taken a few in person coaching classes that were available for free through my employer. The one thing I haven’t done is become a member of Toastmasters. There is a Toastmasters group nearby. However, for various reasons I’ve never enrolled and at this point in my career, I don’t necessarily have any plans to do so.

But nonetheless, public speaking is still a very nerve wracking experience. At work, this comes up frequently when I seek approval to lend for various deals and transactions in front of the loan committee.

However, my most recent public speaking engagement came two months ago at my brother’s wedding where I served as Best Man. Of course I had to give the obligatory toast. And this would be in front of hundreds of people…a few more than the half dozen or so during loan committee meetings. Stressful to say the least!

I’m generally a pretty laid-back and fun-loving guy, so it is part of my personality to want to get a laugh or two, but more importantly I wanted my message to be meaningful and in honor of my brother who has meant a lot to me as a role model and mentor.

My approach…build up my courage and significant preparation. I watched YouTube videos with tips for best man speeches and videos of various best man speeches. Once I formulated a few ideas of what I wanted to stay, I began practicing with my voice recorder. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I spent countless nights up late due to stress and worry. That time lying awake in bed, I rehearsed over and over to myself different iterations of the speech…then in the morning trying to remember the best features from my rehearsals and the key points to mention.

For the whole week leading up to the wedding I had to make sure to buy a pack of Depends, because I was shitting my pants. I was so afraid to fail and embarrass myself. Ultimately, I harnessed the significant amount of worry and stress of failure to fuel my drive to prepare more and more which lead to an utter success. I’m actually surprised how many people came up to me that night and even days later saying how well I did. I nailed it.

The funny thing, I’m not even sure why I was able to nail it! Was it because I was so well rehearsed that I didn’t need any notes (people were pretty impressed I didn’t need notes which I didn’t expect…)? Was it because my message actually came across really well? Was it the liquid courage I consumed prior to the toast that helped shed away all visible signs of anxiety? Or was it because they had such low expectations that made it very easy to over-achieve? J Deep down, I think it may have to do a little with all of the above.

Nonetheless, it is over and I feel successful and more importantly I could tell my brother appreciated it! Moral of the story, quite simply, is to prepare, prepare and prepare some more. This helped me build up the courage to give the toast with confidence. That’s what I attribute my success to at least. And if all else fails, perhaps try a little more liquid courage! j/k

Asking for a Pay Raise

How to go about asking for a pay raise is deserving of its own post for sure and it may be worth a follow-up eventually. While this can be an uncomfortable experience for many (including myself), there are a few tips I would provide to help in preparation.

  • Know what your job is worth. There are various online resources to help guide you to average wages for you job, but these may not be enough to convince your employer you deserve more (they likely already know these numbers!). The most persuasive can be actually going out and proving you are worth more by getting an offer from a competitor for a similar role. Whether or not you act on the offer will depend on a lot of considerations, but having it to show your boss may be enough to persuade your employer for a raise. Still no raise…then maybe it is worth consideration to accept that offer.
  • Do things to deserve a raise. Go above and beyond in your tasks. Don’t do the minimum required to complete the task, do the max. Take on extra responsibilities. Generally what you should try to do is to help make your boss look good to his/her boss. That’s a surefire way to get you noticed at work and make you more valuable.
  • Make a move. If you feel stuck in your job with little prospects for growth, a promotion, or a raise, than it may be time to make a move. Don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone by entering a new career, moving geographically for the right job, or taking a job offer that you expect to provide new avenues for growth and personal development.

These three tips can help prepare you and justify your request next time you go to speak with your manager about a pay raise. It takes a lot of courage, but to do it right it also takes a lot of preparation.

Dealing with Customer Service

Although uncomfortable, when I feel unsatisfied with a product or service I bought I am not afraid to let them know it. I may be more willing to do so in part due to the fact that I likely won’t ever encounter the individual again. But it can still be awkward when I outwardly asking for them to make it right by providing a full refund or a discount on future services. It never feels good when the answer is “no”.

Sometimes it works and the company makes it right and that feels great, but often times that may not be the case and I have to just deal with the issue (and probably never pay them for anything again in the future). Even though it is uncomfortable, it is important to build the courage to ask the customer service to make it right.

I had this experience recently and I was very upset with this particular retailer. One of my other brothers was married earlier in the summer over Memorial Day weekend (yes, two of my brothers were married this summer!). While I won’t reveal who the retailer was, I will say they are a men’s clothing store that rents tuxedos.

Without going into all the gory details, there was confusion throughout the process from the time I sized my tux in February to when I paid for it in May. Ultimately what happened was that I was charged for my tux, along with another groomsman’s tux. I failed to realize this until mid-summer (when I was looking back on my records to see what I paid compared to the tux rental for my other brother’s wedding over Labor Day).

Good thing I looked back, and admittedly I should have realized it earlier. Due to a couple more mistakes dealing with customer service, my refund was delayed a few more weeks and I had to keep calling in check on the progress. Annoying as all get-out.

Finally I told them the refund wasn’t enough anymore and I deserved more for this hassle. It was uncomfortable asking for more, but at that point I felt I deserved it. What do you know, all it took was me simply asking and they gave me $100 in reward value to be used in their stores! And I was only hoping for maybe $50 in rewards…not too shabby. Five months later I finally received a check in the mail for the amount I was double-billed along with my reward certificates.


A lot of things in life take a little extra courage. Don’t shy away from these moments as they can be very rewarding. My toast at my brother’s wedding was a very rewarding experience, asking and receiving a well-deserved pay raise is obviously rewarding, and even talking with customer service to make it right can be rewarding.

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”

– John Wayne

So what are some of the things for you that require extra courage? Any tips that have helped you muster the extra courage? Share in the comments below.

Thanks for taking a look!

The Green Swan

Work Harder, Work Smarter, Retire Earlier and Find Your Beach


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  1. Nice post GS and good job on that best man’s speech! I remember making a similar speech at my brother’s wedding several years ago. I did the same thing, prepare, prepare, prepare – and a few drinks helped too! It was to a huge room filled with hundreds of people, but it went off without a hitch.

    When I was younger, having to make small talk with strangers or “networking” events always made me nervous. Now that I’m solidly in my 40’s I can say that thing that used to make me anxious don’t bother me much anymore. I’m definitely aware though that being bold, outgoing or extremely extroverted will never be a strength for me.

  2. I think people who are weenies about this type of stuff (myself included!) almost need a sort of desensitization therapy for this kind of thing.

    I too belong to the almost-shit-your-pants public speaking club. I was so afraid of it I almost turned down the opportunity to go to grad school, because I knew at the end I’d have to make an hour-long public presentation about my thesis project. It didn’t help that my thesis project involved debunking a lot of methods that some pioneering biologists in my field have been using for decades – most of whom would be in the audience (including a cranky former Vietnam helicopter pilot).

    I joined Toastmasters to help me prepare. Over time, I did better and better. You never lose the nervousness, but you gain enough confidence to overcome it. By the end, I did a brief research presentation at a state-wide conference and did so well they voted me as the Best Speaker.

    I wish there was a better way to do this in real life with retailers and such. There’s a book about a dude who did just this, though – 100 Days of Rejection, by Jia Jiang. He was a conflict weenie too and decided to desensitize himself to it by asking completely ridiculous things of people for 100 days to lose the fear – and it worked!

    1. Oh wow, that’s awesome Lindsay! Thanks for sharing all that. It’s good to know Toastmasters helped so much. I think having confidence is a huge key… Interesting to hear that the nervousness doesn’t necessarily go away.

      Desensitization is an interesting concept and I can see how that can work. Thanks for sharing the book recommendation!

      Sounds like you’ve done a fantastic job in finding ways to build your courage. And what an honor being named Best Speaker! Thanks again for sharing and such a great comment!

  3. When I was younger like Jon I tended to be nervous. I’ve grown out of it since. I like to think this is due to practice. My job requires public speaking daily so it’s become second nature. I recently took a refresher course on improving public speaking. Honestly it identified some minor bad habits I’ve picked up. In the short run I’m more nervous now the. I had been. So the key is make it routine and not think about it.

    1. Great advice, FTF. I can agree, that has been experience the more and more I’ve gone through my committee process at work. At first I was very intimidated but it’s gotten easier.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Nice job on the speech, that’s a tough one!
    Funnily enough Mr. PIE and I are both confident public speakers – what’s the chances of that? I attribute my confidence to a childhood spell in theater – so I’d recommend some acting and theater classes over Toastmasters. I tried that once and was sorely disappointed.
    Like Jon, I HATE networking and small talk, but I haven’t solved that one yet. I’d rather talk to a room full of people than to one or two folks I don’t know face to face. I know, I should practice!

    1. Oh interesting, I never thought some people would have no troubles to large audiences but not as much with small talk. I don’t know why I had such a narrow perspective on that.

      But that’s a good thought on theater. That’s something for us to especially keep in mind with our little one to help him avoid that fear as he gets older.

      Thanks, Mrs Pie!

  5. I love this post, GS! And congrats on a successful speech at your brother’s wedding. No doubt, you preparation paid off!

    I’ve put myself in a position to have more public speaking opportunities over the last few years (I was on TV a couple of years ago – that was a bit nerve wracking!). These opportunities put me completely outside of my comfort zone so I prepared, prepared, prepared for them. All the preparation paid off each time – I was always a little nervous (sometimes very nervous) prior to the gig and for the first couple of minutes, but then things just seemed to flow and my nervousness disappeared. Really pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do has helped me grow in so many ways.

    1. Thanks, Amanda!

      That’s awesome you’ve put yourself out there and did everything necessary to prepare and make it a success. That’s great, you should be really proud of yourself!

      Thanks for the great comment, Amanda!

  6. Best man speeches can be tricky. Nice job pulling it off. I was seventeen when I was tapped to be my brother’s best man. No YouTube available to do any research back then. I had to wing it, I did okay and I got some laughs. Practice makes perfect. I find the more I speaking in a larger or networking type setting the better I get at it.

    1. Wow I don’t know if I could have done it when 17, that would have been a challenge for sure. Kudos to you for a job well done!

      Thanks for sharing, Brian!

  7. Haha I can totally relate to the public speaking. In elementary school/middle school I was deathly afraid of giving presentations or talking in front of the class. Time would always seem to grind to a halt as I waited for my name to be called to speak. When it was finally my turn, I could barely talk and would literally say “um” or “uh” every three or four words!

    It got a little better in high school, but I got much better at public speaking in college. For some reason (still can’t explain it), I got less scared about talking in front of people. I haven’t really done any public speaking gigs since college, but I think I’ve matured enough where I wouldn’t have a breakdown haha.

    1. Yeah I know that experience all too well. It wasn’t easy in speech class in junior high or high school for me either. I guess practice made perfect for you. Thanks for sharing, Andrew!

  8. Courage and confidence is something I have in spades. I didn’t realize how much I have until I went to FinCon and everyone was really impressed I’d just walk up to someone and say hi. I think it will pay off in the future as I badgered people to get into a better position. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I didn’t like approaching people before I learned the worst they can do is say no. They say no, the world keeps spinning. It takes something like projecting a persona. Shove everything else out of your mind and focus just on that conversation. I can be nervous or get the shakes later 🙂

    1. That’s a great attitude, Gwen, and I’m sure that serves you well. Always good to mix and mingle and I’m sure Fincon wss a perfect event for that. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. My husband and I didn’t realize that we were supposed to give a speech at our wedding reception. So we did rock, paper, scissors…and I LOST! It came out beautifully, and I’m still not totally sure how or why! I do a lot of speaking, but speaking to dozens or even hundreds of kids is different than grown ups. I feel you!

    I wrote a post a little while back about valuing courage and positive risks more than perfection. As a perfectionist, I took so many safe bets in my life…and I’m much worse off for it. It’s definitely something I’m trying to fix in myself and in my students.

    1. Yeah that’s a good point, Penny. Sometimes it seems like the spontaneous speech speeches come of better and easier, but I’ve also had the experience of it going the other way… Just not prepared enough.

      Thanks for the comment!

    2. I think Penny makes a important point here about who you are talking to. I can get up in front of 1000 kids and never think twice about talking for a period of time. It took a long time to be able to do that in front of 20 of my peers though. Being prepared is huge. I have a hard time dealing with our tenants and problems. When we went into this, my husband said he would handle the tenants if I handled all the paperwork. He was a cop (retired now) – so he was used to dealing with problems and complaints. I’m not sure why, but I would need to really get some courage to deal with those folks if he wasn’t there to do it!

      1. Yeah I agree. Part of the problem for me with other adults is thinking how someone else in the audience could do the presentation or speech better which leads to self doubt and nervousness. That’s where the preparation and practice helps with confidence for me.

        Thanks, Vicki!

  10. Great post GS. I reckon your best man speech went well because of, as you said, a combination of all of those factors. But most of all knowing that should you actually shit your pants, your Depend wasn’t going to let you down lol.

    I use to do a lot of speaking in front of groups from just a few people in a presentation environment up to several hundred in industry forums. It’s definitely something that becomes easier the more you do it but I will admit that I never relaxed completely. Now that I haven’t done this for many years, the thought of doing it again leaves me reaching for my Depend. Good on you for cracking it though at the wedding.

    1. Thanks, Martin! Interesting to hear you say that you’re never completely relaxed. I agree practice makes a difference, but there is still the natural uneasiness to it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  11. Awesome post! I can completely relate! Asking for a raise and talking on the phone with customer service are two things I absolutely dread. Just thinking about them gives me the Heebie-jeebies.
    Public speaking got a lot easier with practice. Even better, in graduate school we had a student workshop where every week one person would present and the other students plus two professors would beat up the presenter (only figuratively). And afterwards everybody drinks beer and is friendly again. You live through the worst nightmare of public speaking, but in a controlled environment. With that experience, I’m no longer nervous before presentations and nothing unsettles me during presentations.

    1. Oh nice, sounds like a scary but ultimately very helpful workshop. We didn’t have anything like that at my grad school, but I did get extra practice giving more presentations in various classes. It wasn’t as helpful as what yours sounds.

      Thanks for sharing, ERN!

  12. I am a huge introvert and use to hate public speaking. I think like anything as I practiced I became more confident in my ability which bred comfortably. Now when it comes to customer service I let my wife handle that because she’s amazing at getting her way with companies. I wish I had her grace and firmness when talking customer service. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!!

    1. That’s great your wife is so wonderful with customer service. That reminds me of my Mother, she had a way with them also.

      Thanks, Mustard Seed!

  13. ha thats pretty funny about the depends. Yeah I had to speak at my brother’s wedding and got stuck with the toast last minute and it didn’t go too well. Oh well. But at work I generally over-prepare for public speaking times and afterwards when I think I barely survived and only succeeded in not embarrassing myself, I am always surprised when people mention “hey great job” or “wow that was good.” It is nice to get the positive reinforcement. It still doesn’t make me like it any better. At least now I have the confidence to know I can do it.

    1. Dang that’s too bad. There’s no way I could’ve done a good toast if I found it last minute. That’s a shame, but like you said, oh well.

      Although not easy, I’m sure it feels good knowing and having confidence you can handle the public speaking at work.

      Thanks for the great comment, Patient Wealth.

  14. I’m very nervous whenever I had to deal with public speaking, but I’ve been able to push through it. The most recent one was when I was on a panel at FinCon. I did pretty well so it was a positive experience. I would love to improve, though. Like most things, I think we just need more practice. I’ve been planning to join Toastmasters for years and I should be able to do it in 2017. More time now that our kid is in school.
    Great job at your brother’s wedding.

  15. Absolutely great points – laying the groundwork and foundation for success properly means the execution is more likely to go well. Could a speech or performance review go well without a solid foundation? Well, sure. But the smart money’s on doing the work up-front and taking pressure off the moment on stage.

    Glad the best man speech was a hit, and much continued success as you build that courage!

  16. Nice points JW! I too am not very good at public speaking and things along those lines. But I find just taking that half second longer, reminding myself that I know what I want to say and speaking calmly has helped me immensely compared to a few years ago.

    It is pretty awesome when you know you’re prepared and the speech just comes off well. Nothing to be embarrassed about – you nailed it! Think how bad it would be if you didn’t prepare and you stumbled / awkwardly paused.


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