Why public speaking, people ask. Of all the hobbies, professional development, or Thursday morning options – why spend mine forcing myself to stand in front of a room full of people and face one of the most widely shared fears? Typically my answer is this: I value quality communication. That’s not a lie. I do. The bigger answer didn’t make it’s way into words until later and that truth is this: I have something to say. I have something to say and when those opportunities present themselves: I’m going to be ready.
Years ago when I took to blogging the heart behind writing was the same. It was my chance to bring a message. To share. To grow. I put myself out there and I loved what that did for me. It was a bonus when what I had to say made someone else step out in agreement.
As I was watching a TED Talk last week it really resonated with my soul. Reshma Saujani’s talk was titled, ‘Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection’. You should all watch it here. We are raising our girls to be perfect and our boys to be brave. Never the reverse. She challenges the norms and I literally cheered her from my bathroom as I curled my hair watching her on YouTube. Then I tweeted her a quick ‘I’m in for bravery’ as I grabbed my laptop and headed out the door to my technology related job and thought ‘she’d be proud’ (she teaches girls to code!).
I’m a little disappointed to say that bravery actually gets harder with age. Each year the pressures mount and being brave seems to take a bit more effort. As you get older your bravery has higher stakes. I don’t just have parents to make proud and a report card to answer to anymore. Now it’s the reputation of my company, the expectations of bosses, the spotlight of leadership roles. It’s harder now, to be brave.
A friend and pastor asked to meet with me a few months back. After agreeing I met him in the lobby of our church. He explained that he wanted me to be completely open with him as we spoke about what my experience working in a church has been like. I laughed and said something to the affect of ‘brutal honesty is my speciality’.
He asked me a few easy questions like ‘what do I love about my job’ and ‘how do I get along with my bosses’. I sat Indian style in the big leather chairs and I answered. Then he said, ‘what’s been the hardest thing for you about working at a church?’.
Um, knowing if I should actually answer this question honestly?
When people ask me questions I always wonder if they just want the token answer. When they say ‘how are you?’ should the answer always be good? That kind of thing. But he asked to meet with me because he wanted to know so I had already decided that might include vulnerability.
This job has made me self conscious. That was my answer. His surprise was obvious but I jumped right into my explanation…
This job has made me self conscious. I worry about what people think. I care what people are saying. I never use to do that. I want to make my parents proud. It’s important to me to excel at my job. I try to lead with excellence and to live with integrity. But somewhere between 25 and 30 I realized I was worrying about how people saw my actions. I grew up in the spotlight and somehow as an actual adult, miles away, doing my own thing – I got worried about rumors and reputation. Do you know that there was once a rumor about me at my place of employment that included me having a much older boyfriend? Turned out it was started because someone saw a picture of me and my DAD of all people and just kind of ran with it. Apparently they didn’t take the time to realize we are practically twins.
The last year I’ve really worked on this. I’m thirty-one years old and somehow that just seems to be too old to worry about rumors and opinions. Life is messy. Ministry is messy. Christianity is messy. What I desire most as I grow older is to embrace the dirty hands of it all. I want to love others well. Where they’re at. Mess and all.
Trying to conclude it on a positive note in the conversation I said: I’m done explaining myself. That’s what I’ve decided. For so many years I felt like I had to explain the way I’m wired and the gifts I have because they didn’t fit any of the boxes people were trying to squeeze me in. As 29 became 30 became 31 I realized: I’m done. I’m never going to be ‘normal’ so I’m just going to be wholeheartedly myself. Some people have really loved and embraced that and if I’m honest, some people really don’t like me. Overtime, I’ve become ok with that.
While I’m probably the farthest I’ve ever been from perfect I’m closest I’ve ever been to brave. After a few years of Toastmasters someone said: you found your voice. I responded: no, what I found was an audience. I always had a voice. A voice, a unique perspective, and a little confidence. Toastmasters gave me an audience of encouragers and I grew a backbone that I’m not sure I would have found other wise.
Note from 2018: I was reading through old drafts (of which there are many). I wanted to share this one today because I’m preparing to lead a Junior Toastmasters club at my local Dream Center. We all wish from time to time we had known as kids what we know now. I’m excited to help 6th-12th graders use their voices. I hope to teach each of them to be brave, not perfect.