Here’s one way I could tell this story. A few months ago, I was accepted to TEDxBirmingham’s All Star Salon. I worked hard and delivered my 5-minute talk, You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction, on September 13, 2016.

In the talk, I addressed concerns over my viral blog post of the same name. I discussed how, in this age of hyper-connectivity, we can still give to others without getting burnt out. Today, I’m thrilled to share the video with you!

That’s one version of the truth.

But there’s another version that I want to entrust to you.

There are a lot of overly simplistic success stories out there. According to these triumphant narratives, all you need to do is work hard and believe in yourself and eventually you’ll live your dream and never doubt yourself again.

But what if that story doesn’t ring true? What if you give your best effort and you still don’t feel good enough?

What if the spotlight reveals your weakness rather than your strength?

You Don’t Owe Anyone An Interaction

Part of me that always knew that this TEDx talk was not going to be easy. When I let my intuition speak, it said, Buckle up.

From the moment I arrived at the dress rehearsal, it was a wild ride. The dress I’d packed didn’t work with the backdrop, so I had to devise a different ensemble, which involved wearing another woman’s top. (She has my everlasting gratitude.)

Then I couldn’t get my microphone to stay put. The pressure mounted. Still, I chatted with the other speakers and rehearsed my talk backstage. I never missed a line.

They announced my name and I stepped onstage, hoping I wasn’t sweating through my borrowed top. This was the moment I’d worked for, so I took a deep breath and began.

Everything was going great until my mind went blank. One moment my brain was online, and the next it was off. One minute I was in control, and the next I wasn’t.

The only thing I could do was to repeat my last point until the connection came back. Then I launched into the next section and prayed that the transition made sense. This took just a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.

Those hours of memorization paid off: Had I not known that talk by heart, I would not have been able to skip ahead while in a panicked state. Aside from a few lines’ deviation, I completed the talk as written.

In hindsight, I see that it was not a disaster. While I was standing there on stage, though, I was sure I’d crashed and burned.

I do not know how I managed to say my final lines, how I forced myself to pause and receive the audience’s applause. It took every ounce of energy for me not to sprint offstage.

The Shaming Furies

In her book Diana Herself, Martha Beck talks about The Furies, the voices of doubt and fear that plague us all.

Beck writes, “They’re all-purpose demons, vicious little bugs in the software of everyone’s mind. They all shriek variations of the same tunes: You’re useless, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re failing, you’re so screwed.”

When I blanked in the middle of my TEDx talk, my Furies rose up strong: “You are failing completely. All Star? What a joke. You have totally f&*k#& up.”

Fortunately, this inner turmoil isn’t obvious in the recording. But that’s life, isn’t it? There’s so much going on beneath each other’s surfaces that we don’t see.

Your Imperfect Effort

One of the most powerful lessons I learned this summer – specifically, one the Principles of Spiritual Psychology – goes like this: “The issue isn’t the issue. The issue is how you are with yourself as you go through the issue.”

In other words, the issue isn’t blanking out; the real issue is what your inner interaction is like when you blank out. Do you beat yourself up, or do you offer yourself kindness?

We all know that it takes courage to falter and then finish the race anyway. We even admire other people when they do it!

But do we praise ourselves when we stumble and get back up again? Often, we just berate ourselves for tripping up.

If you have tried for something, if you have gone in the direction of your dream, give yourself some credit. I know it’s hard, but try to trust that your imperfect effort might be exactly what someone else needs.

Heck, it might even be exactly what you need.

Yes, I had a hard time on stage. But when I went backstage, I connected with my fellow speakers. We swapped war stories of our worst speaking “fumbles”, and suddenly I didn’t feel alone in my mistake anymore.

My fellow speakers’ compassion was enough to help propel me out into the reception, where I shook hands and hugged people who said that – surprise! – my talk was exactly what they needed to hear.

What You Have to Offer

Isn’t it astonishing how much our perspective matters? From the vantage point of my own perfectionism, this TEDx talk felt like a failure. But from the perspective of service to others and personal growth, it felt like a success.

I get to choose which interpretation I accept, which story I tell. And so do you.

You can cling to that same old story our Furies tell, the one about how you have nothing to offer. Simply put, that story is death.

Or you can listen to another story, the one about how you are worthy and beloved. It’s your choice, always.

But for my part, I hope that you choose life.


Ever faced down your own Furies? Join the conversation in the comments section below … and please share the talk if it spoke out to you!

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