This story is part of How to Get Better at Public Speaking, the Forge guide to talking in front of a crowd.
I like to tell people that I got my first job at the age of 30. The truth is a little more complicated. I spent most of my twenties as a full-time freelance journalist and eventually became the boss of a couple of online magazines at the same time, managing teams of contractors mostly from a home office in my pajamas.
When I found myself a potential escape hatch (that is, one single job that would pay me enough to live on), I leapt at it. Little did I consider that, there, I’d have to participate in meetings. Real meetings. In rooms, with other people, and the added bonus of even more people piped in by video from a conference room across the country.
For a person unaccustomed to presenting with authority in a professional setting, the expectation to do so on a weekly basis in front of the person signing my paychecks was a real-time, waking nightmare. My awkwardness at talking to a roomful of colleagues became a constant preoccupation. I lost sleep. I clenched my jaw with such routine force that I broke a tooth into the shape of Mississippi.
I’d uprooted my entire life for a job I wasn’t sure I was qualified to have. So I did the only thing I knew I could: I quit everything and joined a subsistence agricultural commune in Tahiti.
Just kidding. I got a therapist.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a mode of skill-based psychotherapy designed to help people regulate their moods and communicate effectively with others — basically, to make it easier to both listen and be heard. It was designed by the psychologist Marsha Linehan to treat severely emotionally distressed and suicidal patients, but I knew enough about DBT to suspect that its methods could also help me with my problems at work.
My DBT therapist was a cherubic, tattoo-covered New York City native who’d gone to high school with Nicki Minaj and taught me the difference between Bronx and Brooklyn accents (Brooklynites talk…