A few weeks ago I spoke to 300 university students about marketing, branding and running a business. I was surprised and very humbled to be asked back again to speak to them last night. They asked their professor to reach out to me to see if I would come back for an hour long question and answer session. Great, I thought. I’m happy to answer any questions…I’m an open book!
As the class filed into the lecture hall and started filling the tiered seats I set up a chair in the middle of the stage. Once I was reintroduced and welcomed back, the floor was open for them to start asking questions. Dozens of hands were immediately raised and the onslaught of questions began. “How do you create a marketing plan?”, “How do you get your resume noticed?”, “What’s the best way to promote yourself on social media?”…the questions kept coming and I tried to answer them all as quickly and succinctly as possible.
“What if you are afraid to speak in front of people? What do I do? I’m not like you.”
This question was very different than the rest. This hit on a very personal level and I knew I was going to have to dig deep and be very honest with my answer.
“Firstly” I said, “thank you for the question…and for finding the confidence to ask it. I too struggled just like you at one time. When I was younger, I started my career as an actress. I could be on stage performing for a crowd and I had no problem; no fear; in fact I thrived. But put me one on one or in a small group and I was a mess. You see, on stage, I was removed from people. I was ‘performing’. In many cases I was playing a character, so I wasn’t being myself and therefore I felt protected. But, if I had to sit across from someone, be it an interview, an audition or even a date, I struggled to even make eye contact. I was so nervous. My mind would race with the thoughts that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough…and on and on until I would work myself into a lather. Put me in front of hundreds of people…GREAT. Sit me in front of one or two people…DISASTER.”
I could see her start to relax as she listened to my confession. I was connecting with her on a level very differently than I had up until now.
“I was so nervous one on one that I would buy packages of cigarettes, never taking off the plastic wrap and would flip the packs back and forth in my hands just so I had a distraction. I don’t smoke. I have never smoked…but if I was flipping packs of cigarettes then I had an excuse to not look up. To not make eye contact. To not really engage. How pathetic is that!? I had to work very hard at overcoming my fear. I learned to slow myself down and focus on what the other person was saying. To really listen and wait until they finished before jumping into the conversation and ultimately taking over. I learned that if I took the time to really connect, that my fears subsided as I was ‘in the moment’ and not all up in my head.”
I could see the class nodding, smiling and taking notes. NOTES? About this? What I was sharing was something they couldn’t find in their text books or in a Google search. What I was sharing was real life experience. I was letting them see me for what I am. A woman who has and still does struggle…just like them!
“It’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s hard to be open and vulnerable; but if you don’t, then what you are giving people is just a character, a role, schtick. If you are willing to be brave enough to let people see who you really are and what you have to give, then the connections you make, the experiences you’ll share will be so much greater. I am not saying you have to divulge every detail about yourself to everyone, but if you are honest and forthcoming you will find that it is easier to speak to others. That your shyness won’t overtake what you have to offer. If you are REAL then people will listen.”
I had just shared a part of myself that I don’t usually talk about. The part I’ve learned to keep pushed back in a dark corner but that bubbles to the surface more than I care to admit. I LACK CONFIDENCE! It’s always there…those voices that affected my younger self so often. The voices that told me I wasn’t good enough. The ones that told me and made me feel unworthy. Unworthy of success. Unworthy of happiness. Unworthy of love.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, not only did I have to fight through the fear and pain of surgeries and my own mortality…I had to fight back all the self doubt that came back as a result. I had to overcome those crippling fears that once again I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t worthy of people’s attention. That I would never be seen in a positive light. That people would desert me, exclude me, ignore me and write me off because I had cancer.
We all struggle with confidence and self esteem at one time or another. Some more than others, but it’s a universal issue. We are afraid to show our true selves. We are afraid that we will be judged negatively…that we won’t make the grade. We are afraid to be vulnerable because we are afraid of getting hurt.
It’s hard to be an open book in a culture that doesn’t read!
We need to slow down. To engage. To look each other in the eyes and to connect. If you listen carefully enough, someone will tell you exactly the kind of person they are. Read carefully…our books tell our story. Our books hold the truth and should be celebrated, treasured and handled with care.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.