Stepping up onto a stage is scary, an experience feared more than death by the majority of people. This past weekend I stepped onto not one, but two stages, and it was so much more than scary.
Stage 1 – Out of the Closet
On Friday evening I stepped onto a small stage at the historic Memorial Park library here in Calgary. I was accepting the Brenda Strathern Writing Prize and reading my writing out loud to a group for the first time in my life. You see, I’ve been a closet writer for my whole adult life. Even my husband has barely read any of my pages. I write in my spare time, I read voraciously, study authors, work as a structural editor for new authors, take courses and fill journals. One thing I don’t do, is share my work. Almost never.
Until, that is, when last year I learned from a friend about a local writing prize which you had to be over 40, never published and live in Calgary to apply for. I looked it up and there were many past winners who have gone on to publish and the prize was affiliated to my dream event – Wordfest.
My deepest inner voice gave me a very stern message that day –
“If you don’t do this, you’re an idiot.”
I couldn’t deny how true that was. So I did it. I brought my family on board to help me carve out time to write so I could meet the prize application deadline. A few days before it was due, I rented a room in a house on the other side of town to be able to write all day and all night to get it done. I fell into sleep with pages all over the covers, crumpled take out food containers on the floor and a deep feeling of satisfaction. A few hours before the application cut-off, I sent in my memoir-style novel excerpt called “Fertile Ground”. 15 pages that, albeit still a work in progress, I was proud of. At the push of the submit button, I already felt like a winner; I had finally come out of the writing closet.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, I got a call that felt like a dream. Darlene from the Calgary Foundation told me I had won the prize. Literary judges had chosen my piece among many others as the winner. Have you ever imagined what you’d do if you had a dream-come-true moment? I always pictured myself calm and serenely filled with joy and rightness. Well, my real moment was more snot and stammering than serenity and composure. When Darlene gave me the news, a wet wail burst from my throat and I was instantly transformed into a blubbering Betty. Poor Darlene had to repeat herself several times before I truly believed I’d heard her correctly.
Fast-forward again to last Friday evening. Accepting the award and reading the start of my piece in front of a room full of local literati, friends and family. I was nervous to give my thank you’s, so much raw emotion wanted to overwhelm my words. Then, the most amazing thing happened. While reading my piece, my vulnerable secret words, I became deeply calm, a bird settling its wings after a long migration. It felt like home, and purpose and strength. What a surprise – to find that the fear that had kept me in the closet was so minuscule compared to the rightness of putting my work out there. Goodbye closet, you served me cruelly and I shall endeavour never to return.
Stage 2 Self-Kindness
Then on Saturday at the Courageous Self Care Festival, I stepped onto the largest stage of my career so far to share my coaching work on the power of self-kindness. From last November to this, I have been working towards this moment. Having a chance to serve more people, bring more self-love and ease the suffering of the givers among us.
Normally when I do a talk, I can feel my heart beating like a gong right down to my toes. Tremors ripple through my whole torso, as if I’m shivering from a fever so hot it’s cold. My hands usually get more than damp, they get wet. My throat tightens and my already high voice gets higher and thinner.
On Saturday, almost none of these things happened. First, my eldest daughter Sadie stood up to read my bio to the crowd. She was calm and sure of herself and read more like a seasoned pro than a ten-year old. Her bravery, and my awe of who she is becoming, washed most of my fears away.
Then it was my turn. I stood and looked out at the audience. So many supportive familiar faces. So many new faces, curious and open. My coaching mantra came back to me – “It’s not about you.” Every reason I was there on that stage was not about me. I was there to bring a possibility to people who can love a stranger with more frequency and ease than they can love themselves. I was there to bring a ray of hope to beautiful souls who live in a perpetual swirl of inner darkness. I was there for my daughters to see their mom step into her purpose and face her fears. I was there for all of them.
I didn’t realize until after, that there were no tremors, no throat tightness, my hands were cool and dry. My high voice had felt mostly resonant and sure. I had been filled with purpose which left no room for fear. I wanted only to reach them, to ignite a flicker of hope and help them feel less alone.
Two stages, one weekend, and the reasons I am here become clearer and clearer while the fears fade away.