Breaking a Leg

Age 9

I decide to bear my testimony every Fast Sunday so that 1) I get extra blessings and 2) to get over my fears of speaking in public.

Age 11 or 12

After years of being the first to go up every Fast Sunday, I decide that I’m just as scared as I was the first time I went up. I give up. The first Sunday where I had to stay sitting in the pew was horrendous. I felt the eyes of the whole congregation waiting for me, expecting me to jump up and bear my testimony. But I didn’t. So there.

Age 14

I try out for the school play Cheaper by the Dozen. I do not make it. Intimidated by the other thespians, I give up and never try out for a play in high school again. I try speech team, and as a freshman am assigned the most boring event, Oratorical Declamation, for which I deliver an Anna Quindlen commencement speech as dryly as is human possible. I rarely place in my event. I do not continue to do speech team after my freshman year.

Late teens

I start giving talks in sacrament meetings. They are either amazing or terrible. There is no in between.

I give piano recitals and if you look closely, my legs visibly shake every time.


I decide to try out for a comedy troupe. I write my routine. I practice it. I do it for my roommates. I get to the try outs and intimidated by the other 70 people trying out, I decide to go home.

I present my math research at a couple of conferences. My presentations are good, but because my advisor is so technologically behind, he has me use the blackboard and chalk presentation method while everyone else uses Powerpoint-like presentations.


I am asked to give various talks on cultural acceptance of breastfeeding as well as the mechanics of breastfeeding. I present to college classes, high school classes, nursing students, churches. I’m not too shabby.

When Lady Gaga becomes a thing, I wonder to myself, “We’re the same age, how come she has so much stage presence and I don’t?”


My husband and I go to many improv shows as date nights. I keep telling myself, “I could do that. I could. It doesn’t look that hard.” At a birthday party my daughter was invited to, I run into one of the improvers that we see a lot and tell her about my desire to do improv. She acts encouraging and tells me I could even go up on stage with her troupe if I took some classes.

Last Sunday

After taking an intro class in May and a performance class in July, I perform in an improv show, featuring my class. I didn’t try the skits that were more difficult, but I did go up twice and did well at least one of the times. Many of the students have taken the performance class multiple times and I’m afraid that it’s obvious I haven’t. I had 17 friends and family in the audience and felt very supported. I think I’ll take the class again in the fall.

Breaking a Leg


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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8 Responses

  1. Emily U says:

    Way to go, TopHat! Thanks for sharing this. I have some things I’d like to do, too. Things that by my age (35) people are either professionals at or don’t do at all. At least that’s my sense of things. I’m probably wrong. Anyway, it’s great to hear about you proving it’s never too late to try stuff!

    • TopHat says:

      Thanks! I know what you mean about feeling “too old” to get into something new. Funny thing: my class ranged from a 13 year old up to a woman in her 50s. Good range!

  2. Rachel says:

    I loved reading this today, because I spoke in front of 40 or so other people. And I felt very nervous. Even though I have spoken on the same topic before. And many other topics before. At more academic conferences, with bigger audiences.

    Every time I caught myself thinking, “I am so scared,” or “I am so nervous,” before I presented, I repeated instead, “I am so brave.” I am so brave for doing this. I am, and you are.

  3. Caroline says:

    Way to go, TopHat! I love that you are taking a risk and stretching yourself. I’ve spoken in front of audiences many times, but I still nervous and queasy every single time.

  4. Melody says:

    This was wonderful and a little sad. (Like life.) And, just so you know — doing this stuff when you’re older is so much more fun than when you were young. That’s the way I feel, anyway. Sometimes I grieve the lost opportunities, because, well, it is a little sad.

    I’ve also felt the freedom that comes with re-visiting childhood challenges as an adult. And I love it! It’s like the grown-up you gets to go along with the little girl or teenage you and offer all the support and encouragement and wisdom you didn’t have then. Totally awesome! Congratulations, brave girl. I bet you’re hilarious.

    • Ziff says:

      I love this thought, Melody, about the adult version of you being able to be supportive of the less confident teen version. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

  5. Corrina says:

    I can relate to this post in many ways. Thanks for being such a great example of getting out of your comfort zone to reach your passions!

    I highly recommend watching this TedTalk by Amy Cuddy. It’s awesome. Her research has shown that by changing our body language immediately before having to perform (like giving a talk, doing an interview, going up on stage etc), we can actually alter our brain and thus perform better. I am definitely going to use her “Wonder Woman stance.”

    Make sure to watch it to the end b/c she shares her personal story which is touching:

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