Last week I was honoured to be one of the speakers at the Telegraph Festival of Education. This is a key event in the education world, where thought leaders and academics come together to present seminars and sessions around learning.
When they asked me to speak this time last year, I was beyond excited (and a bit flattered, I'll be honest), and I kept the date in the back of my mind for the next 12 months as I carried on with the other things I needed to do.
It wasn't until the weekend before my talk that the nerves suddenly hit. And oh my goodness did they hit hard! I woke up on Monday morning and the minute I remembered what I was due to do that week, my teeth started chattering, and my hands were shaking like a leaf. ALL DAY! Never have I had such a bad case of the nerves, and I've done some pretty exciting high profile things. This was, without doubt, the most nervous I think I've ever been.
A friend of mine was surprised, and said that - given I'd spoken at lots of events before - surely I was used to them by now. And, actually, why was I even nervous.
Because speaking at events, and having the spotlight on me, takes me so far out of my comfort zone it might as well be another universe.
Despite being quite confident, and more than willing to speak to people I don't know - and about things I don't always know much about (that's a whole other story...) - having the spotlight on me, and being centre of attention in a room full of people ostensibly hanging on my every word, makes me feel hugely inadequate.
Even though I know my stuff, am properly prepared, and have done it loads of times before - every time I step up to speak, I wish I was somewhere else. On the M25 (my idea of hell), even at the dentist; anywhere but in that room, at that precise moment.
Of course, once I get started I'm fine. But for the few days beforehand, and the first 5 minutes, I wish I was someone else, and somewhere else.
So why do you keep doing this to yourself Ali, I hear you think.
Well, I am also a believer in doing things that take you out of your comfort zone. Doing things that make you on edge for a bit. Doing things that you can't believe you would do, until you do them
Going out of your comfort zone brings creative thinking, innovative ideas, and new ways of doing things. It develops skills you didn't even know you had, helps to develop confidence, and helps you to grow as a person. It seems like a terrible idea at the time but, trust me, when you do it you reap the rewards.
If I hadn't carried on and done my talk, I'd have missed out on meeting the people I met, hearing their views on my subject, and getting validation - and feedback - on my thoughts. I'd much rather be nervous for a bit, and then engage with someone, than not try at all.
They say that magic happens outside comfort zones. I'm inclined to agree.