And so to England, where I’m rifling through a pile of notes and a pile of mail. I had an intense and fabulous trip to California.
Three educational events in two months have helped me build something that matters more than ever. (Investing in your continued education: never a bad idea.) All of them blew my mind, catapulted me out of my comfort zone and demonstrated just how possible my plans are – IF I dare to keep moving forward, no matter what anyone else might think. The first two were joyous, but the last was challenging. It was a training for… public speakers.
Now I’m a teacher, so audiences don’t (usually) freak me out, but I’m a reserved teacher. I wheel out my inner extrovert for brief periods in safe spaces, so it was a culture shock being in a crowd peppered with its share of bombastic preachers, passionate motivational personalities, and a bundle of energy from Turkey who wants to make the world shinier (she had literally named herself Shiny, and wore skin-tight metallic fabrics all weekend to prove it).
Tell your story. Be more open. Stop holding back.
The contents of the training were challenging. Tell your story. Be more open. Stop holding back. The greatest gift of being in this profession, our teacher said, is the spiritual development. If you want to teach online, on video, on stage, you can’t fake it. You can’t even be “professional” any more. People want real. People want vulnerable. People want the truth. Give of yourself. (Buh-bye, comfort zone).
The story you need to tell (I was scribbling this down), the story that will truly inspire people and lead them to improve their lives, is not the story of your proudest moment. It’s the story you don’t want to tell, the one you’ve been hiding all your life. The more personal it is, the more universal it will be. You are here to honour people’s struggles and humbly share a fresh perspective.
I didn’t sleep much that first night. I have to relive that? In public?
The event became like Bikram yoga, the variation on your standard yoga class in which the room is really, really hot. You sweat like crazy, but you feel cleansed and rather badass afterwards. If you simply stay in the room all the way through a Bikram yoga class, you can call it a success.
So that’s what I did. I just stayed in the room and kept scribbling, and in the group exercises, you know, I did what I could. I found some stories. I began croaking out stuff I haven’t thought about in fifteen years, sharing how those events changed me, hearing other people’s stories, and how they were changed. Have you ever thought you knew someone, and then they came out with something that completely changed the way you perceived them? You never know what people are going through. The fresh faced teen who has had three heart attacks. The woman who comes across as one of the cool girls who never would have talked to you in high school, but has a background of addiction and extraordinary struggle. We are connected by our individual journeys.
I didn’t go to this event because I want to find my voice as a motivational speaker (although elements of that skill are certainly needed where I’m going). This event – for me – was about finding my voice at all. I hide behind an elegance that I can fake by staying quiet most of the time. My voice is sometimes not much more than a croak, because I just don’t use it very much. There’s plenty of over-sharing in the world, and my power is in the quiet. But then three great teachers on one stage proved me wrong. Sure, you can over-share your sob story… or you can choose to share a message.
But staying silent is not an option in a world that desperately needs leaders.
Putting it into practice
Because I’m an organised over-achiever, I had booked a session with filmmaker Nathan Friedkin (above) for the day after the event ended. I have tried and failed before to sit comfortably in front of his camera, under big bright lights, and emote about why I do what I do. So hey, surely if I booked him fresh out of a public speaking weekend I’d be on a high and full of energy, right? What better day to film?
In the event I came out of the weekend somewhat shellshocked, but I couldn’t have asked for a better guide. Nathan didn’t just put me in front of a backdrop; he took me to the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to talk about why the courage to be creative is important. I couldn’t have been more inspired. Just the choice of setting elevated my ideas on how important my little business course for creative artists and makers really could be.
(The two enormous stone angels helped a lot too.)
With my heart in my mouth and a lot of counter-intuitive knowledge fresh in my mind, I finally told my story. How soon I’ll have the courage to share it is another matter… but I’m certain that’ll be another thrilling ride. That’s really how I see these excursions into the unknown. They’re fairground rides. You’re scared out of your mind in the moment, but you get off dizzy and laughing at the other end, asking if you can go again.
So now it’s your turn. What are you doing to parachute out of your comfort zone this week?