At the last TEDx COS event, I went to the after party and met one of the speaker coaches, Bob. I confessed to him that I aspire to be a public speaker and to give a TEDx talk.
He asked me very poignantly, “Did you make it to the stage tonight?”
I paused and looked at him with confusion.
“You know, to visualize yourself on stage,” he continued.
This past weekend, when I attended the second TEDx COS event, I made sure to take Bob’s advice and get on stage, to look out at the sea of seats and envision what it would be like to tell my story to a large audience.
It was a tad intimidating, AND embarrassing, walking past the TEDx production crew, speakers and volunteers to get to the red dot where the speakers stand and look out at the empty auditorium. Cue my self-doubt : you’re intimidated now, the seats are empty, just wait until they are filled with people watching you! My heart beat faster.
I took a deep breath and told my negative committee to sit down and shut up. I’ll ensure I’m more than prepared to give a talk about my story, I thought. After all, shouldn’t I be the expert of my own story?!
For an introvert, the possibility of speaking in front of hundreds of strangers does continue to make my heart palpitate abnormally fast, yet at the same time, I’m intrigued with the idea. Mainly, I want to overcome my fear of public speaking and I feel that my story is worthy of sharing.
I’m going to apply for the next round of speakers for the spring of 2020, and I’ll see what transpires. But for now I’m keeping that vision of speaking on a TEDx stage in focus, bringing my story to life and speaking my truth to inspire others.
Special thanks to the staff, speakers and volunteers at the September 2019 TEDx COS event who put on a wonderful event. I’ll be seeing you next year!
And to those of you reading who have a dream: speak it into words, tell someone trusted and safe, then tell strangers. Visualize your dream happening. Feel like it has already happened. That’s when the universe will reward you with what you’ve been speaking and visualizing, bringing it to life!
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu
For the last few years I have been on an inadvertent journey of self-discovery and reflection. I’ve spent an embarrassing number of years avoiding those topics out of fear of what I might find. What little I did know about myself, I didn’t really like because it would mean confronting some hard truths that my insecure sense of self and pride might not be able to weather.
I can write that now with the spark of clarity that comes from two years of various forms of therapy: licensed therapists, self-help books, Youtube videos, journal writing, and most surprisingly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
BJJ is a martial art that focuses on grappling maneuvers and the magic of physics and human anatomy to apply joint locks and strangulation to subdue sometimes larger opponents. When a person concedes the roll (sparring session), they will tap.
I started training a little over two years ago, when a friend, who was a competitive purple belt, and who taught and trained BJJ, suggested I check it out. I was immediately hooked. The physical demands were challenging but what kept me coming back was how BJJ reflected my personality back to me in ways I couldn’t ignore. I learned more about myself in training than every personality quiz, test and assessment I had ever taken combined (and I’ve taken them all). Seeing how I reacted when I felt cornered, what I resorted to when I got desperate, and most importantly what I was willing to put my body through just so I could win was truly eye-opening.
I realized that I had lived many years of my life not knowing what I wanted. I approached my rolls with no plan. I just spazzed (technical term) and grabbed whatever I could and tried to hold on for dear life. Unfortunately, that didn’t work against anyone but the least experienced opponents. BJJ taught me that if I wanted to win, I needed to know what I wanted first so I could develop a plan to get there.
This was the first of many lessons BJJ had to teach me. BJJ became an outlet for me to prove to myself and others that I was tough. I harnessed my emotions, and used them as fuel for my training. I pushed myself, increased my pain threshold and my ability to withstand and adapt to all kinds of situations. I learned to breathe, and to approach my training with plans and goals in mind. And I learned that sometimes to gain a better position, you have to let go.
Even though BJJ is an individual sport, you can’t train alone. You need partners, ideally a community of people who push each other to work hard, support each other and improve. The people I trained with became my community. These people have helped me through some tough times and for that, I will forever be grateful. It’s a strange sport where the same people who tried to break my arms and strangle me with my own clothing were also my teammates and teachers, who helped me grow both mentally and physically. Though it might hurt for a while afterward, each injury taught me a valuable lesson and I’ve accumulated a few.
Sadly, my body doesn’t bounce back the way that it used to when I was younger. As I write this, I’m still nursing an injury from a dislocated finger from several months ago and a reverse cervical lordosis diagnosis. Training now would mean pushing past the limits of my body and mind only to satisfy my pride. Of all the injuries I’ve sustained or gotten since starting BJJ, my ego is the one that takes the longest to heal, and it’s been the hardest lesson for me to learn.
In addition to the physical limitations I’m confronting the fact that the anger I used to feed my training is now scarce. When I first started in the sport I was working through a lot of personal challenges and trying to figure out what I wanted. As I learned to spazz out less on the mats I have learned to spazz out less in life too. I’m identifying more of what I want, which has led to a less angry version of myself.Brazilian jiu-jitsu taught me about myself in ways I never would have imagined. I learned many hard lessons along the way, not least of which is that progress is rarely linear. Sometimes moving forward means taking a step back. In my journey to better understand myself and keep myself in balance, I need to respect where my body and mind are at right now. Which means that for now at least, I’m tapping out.
Sunday was my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting I’ve ever attended. I felt honored when a good friend asked me to accompany him to a meeting celebrating his six month milestone. I expected to sit back and be a fly on the wall, supporting my friend, instead I was brought to tears by one woman’s story.
The topic of the meeting, forgiveness. The young woman helping to run the meeting was one of the last to share, but what she shared resonated with me long after I left the meeting.She said a patient she worked with at a recovery house (the patient now deceased) had created a painting for her with the words:
“Forgiveness is losing the hope that your life would have been different.”
That quote hit me like a punch to the gut. I teared up because it was exactly what I needed to hear.
For too long I’ve been wondering how my life would have been different without the difficulties of my childhood. What if my parents didn’t get divorced, what if my dad wasn’t affected by a mental illness, what if I didn’t go through a crippling stint of depression. I’ve expended extensive amounts of my mental energy supporting the what if’s, the dreams that my life could have and should have been different.
Losing the hope that life would have been different -It’s detaching yourself from the what if’s, from the blame, from the judgement, from the shame, guilt, and ultimate hurt that’s been a heavy burden to carry for 20+ years.
Losing the hope that life would have been different- it’s the acceptance that I’m exactly where I need to be and couldn’t have ended up here without experiencing all that I had, the good, the bad and the down right gut-wrenching.
I can say without a doubt my experiences have allowed me to develop and employ empathy. I can now look into the eyes of another soul and acknowledge their suffering, saying with a just look “I’ve been there too.” It allows me to acknowledge but more importantly, validate feelings. I’m able to sit with someone in their most uncomfortable moments, because I too have been forced to make peace with my darkest shadows.
Losing the hope that life would have been different – it’s offering forgiveness, not just to my parents but to myself. Truly understanding I did the best I could, given the circumstances and my cumulative knowledge at the time.
Losing the hope that life would have been different – It’s living life with an unburdened soul- the ultimate freedom.
I’m grateful to have been asked to attend that meeting. My friend, conspiring and working in conjunction with the universe, lead me to the medicine that I needed to taste.
“So Why Are You Afraid of Intimate Relationships?”
Those were the words a friend asked on Sunday that have still stuck with me since spoken. The question hit me like a punch to the gut. I broke down immediately.
It was a topic my therapist had also sneakily asked when I was separating my fears, a visualization exercise to help me separate my own fears and my mother’s fears that she instilled in me growing up. I was taking stock of my fears and packing up ones that no longer served their purpose.
“Fear of intimacy?” She asked. It took a second for me process, as it wasn’t a fear I had identified on my own prior to the sorting exercise.
“Keep,” I responded, my therapist glancing at me with a smile, both of us knowing it was a short term protective measure I’d be revisiting soon.
Why the fear of intimacy? Intimacy requires a high degree of vulnerability and trust. It requires Opening myself up, all of myself, the light and the dark, to be seen and deeply understood.
Maybe my fear stems from opening up and being hurt in the past. Maybe I’m afraid because my models for intimate relationships were completely dysfunctional, whereas instead of equating intimacy to trust, compassion and respect, I equate it to abandonment, loss and rejection. Maybe I’ve felt safest keeping those I love at a distance. Maybe in order to be intimate with another I must first love and illuminate the darkest parts within me, to make peace with them.
Since Sunday I’ve been ruminating on this. Since Sunday I’ve known this is the next fear I need to tackle. Since Sunday I’ve been an emotional wreck, waiting with anticipation to unpack and process this fear in therapy.
Last night I had the privilege of hanging with my two climbing partners Adam and Greg at Go Vertical in Philadelphia. It had been at least 7 months since I had climbed last and even longer since I had had a regular climbing routine in the gym. Walking into Go Vert, I set my expectations fairly low, thinking I’d start at 5.6s and maybe I’d be able to complete 5.7s by the end of the night. I was trying to avoid disappointment by my inability to achieve the 5.9/5.10s I was once tackling before I decided to step away from the climbing scene. Nonetheless, I was excited to get back on the wall and see how far I could push myself.
Shooting up my first 5.6 route of the night, I was impressed that I could remember certain techniques and control my body positioning. I was also surprised at what great shape I was in despite my long hiatus. After belaying Greg on his 5.7 arete warm up route, he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I exclaimed, “why the fuck not”, my new life motto, and gave it a try.
The first few holds were jugs, making it fairly easy to climb, although a quarter of the way up the holds became smaller and foot holds were non-existent. Previously, this scenario would have flustered the hell out of me. My breath would shallow, my mind would lose focus, my fingers and forearms in pain, the overwhelming amount of stimuli would be enough to make me give up. But this time was different. I steadied my breath, focused on the problem, shook out my arms one at a time while resting steadily, trusting my feet. With a deep inhale I positioned my left arm on the arete, anchored it by shifting my weight to the right, stuck my feet on the wall and victoriously reached up for the next hand hold. I was determined to climb the route cleanly, without falling, just to prove to myself that I could. Getting past that one tricky spot, I climbed the rest of the route with ease, tapped out on top and was lowered to the ground with a smile on my face. I was in disbelief that I successfully completed the 5.7 cleanly, exceeding my previous expectations. With that climb under my belt, I was aching to see what level I could max out on.
Following Adam and Greg’s climb, I challenged myself to a 5.8- route with an overhang. In my climbing experience, overhangs have always been my nemesis. Just the anticipation of tackling an overhang has filled me with anxiety, usually stifling any chance at true success. But as I did with the 5.7, I thought, why the fuck not, and gave it a try.
As I had anticipated, just at the point of the overhang, my progress stalled and my shallow breathing kicked in. My mind went blank while my arms and fingers ached, and I let go, swinging out from the wall. Adam who was belaying me asked if I wanted to stay for another attempt. I replied, “fuck yea!”
Kicking off the wall and swinging myself back towards the route I grabbed a jug and pulled myself back onto the holds. I tried to recall how I had scaled overhangs in past climbs. Get your feet high, I told myself. Feet high, hips into the wall, and swing like a pendulum to get to the next hand hold.
After two failed attempts, and some recovery time to regain energy, I planted my feet high, swung my body up and grabbed the hold letting out a loud grunt, with cheers from Adam and Greg below. I completed the rest of the route, not cleanly, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t given up, which was a success in itself. Before my hiatus, I would have abandoned the route on my second failed attempt. Tonight though, I had a fire burning inside, determined to push my limits and exceed my own expectations. Defeat was not an option.
The rest of the night I stuck to 5.7s and completed one more 5.8 before doing a quick 5.5 to top out, leaving all of my energy on the wall. When the night was over I had nothing but a large grin plastered on my face. I felt exhausted yet empowered, reveling in my personal success.
Coming back from my gap in training, I mentally prepared myself to expect failure. Realistically, There was no way I was going to be able to get back to the 5.9s/5.10s I was working on before my time off, and I knew I had to set realistic goals for myself in the gym. I also relied on self-compassion, allowing myself to be disappointed that I’m not at my best, but I was enough at the moment. This mindset helped me to remain positive when I experienced a set back or challenge, and allowed me to enjoy my time with my friends. I truly enjoyed my time hanging with Greg and Adam, living in the moment, shooting the shit about life, cheering each other’s successes and supporting one another through our personal struggles on the wall.
Returning to the gym and being not far off of my personal best has renewed my resolve to get back into the climbing routine. It’s my hope that I can cultivate this wild flame of willpower to overcome and surpass all of my own expectations, reaching above what I think I am capable of achieving in the climbing gym and beyond. I implore you to also think beyond your own comfort zone and ability. When you reach beyond the limits you set for yourself, the possibilities far exceed anything you may be able to ascertain.
As 2015 winds down, it is only natural for people to reflect on the year that has been and gear up for the year that will be. Many of my friends who have been following my adventures have seen my Year of No Fear hash tag. What most people don’t realized that what started out as a simple hash tag, was actually first a mantra/promise I made to myself in early 2015.
During the Winter of 2014/2015, I was going through a depression that crippled me both mentally and physically. Although I was able to keep up an act at work, on the weekends my act crumbled around me, as I succumbed to the pain, sadness and emptiness that permeated through me. I secluded myself from friends and family who were worried about my wellbeing. My once adventurous and out-going attitude faded behind my ever-growing self-doubt. One day, at my worst, doing everything in my power to overcome a vicious urge to take my own life, I made a promise to myself. “Stop living a life of fear,” I told myself. Fighting back tears, I wrote those words on my mirror with crimson red lipstick. I strategically placed that mantra in a place where I could see it from my bed. I repeated it over and over, growing louder until I was screaming it at the top of my lungs, as if trying to expel the pain and sadness from my bones. It was in that moment that I promised myself that I would live without fear, or “Live Fearlessly”, my final edit to the mantra on my mirror.
It wasn’t until February 16th, 2015 that my #yearofnofear made it onto my social media page. I had used the hash tag as motivation to help me get over my fear of biking to work. Although I became a bike commuter in the winter out of necessity, not choice, I knew that this first triumph over one of my fears was just the beginning. While biking home that night I contemplated how my life would change if I forced myself to do everything that scared me.
Looking back, I can say that my life as I knew it changed that day. I made a conscious effort to change my attitude, which in turn changed the way I decided to live my life.
One thing that changed during my #yearofnofear was the amount of things I was able to accomplish. Whitewater kayaking. Sailing. Rock Climbing. Biking. Backpacking. Making new friends. Traveling with strangers. Traveling to Iceland. A month long road trip. Visiting Texas, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Utah. Visiting Shenandoah, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Reestablishing a relationship with my father. Online Dating. But the biggest reward wasn’t the amount of things I was able to check off on a list, it was the amount of confidence I gained while doing things I had otherwise thought was impossible.
Learning to roll my kayak. Punching through Cucumber Rapid on the Youghiogheny River. Ascending a 5.9 route with an overhang. Solo backpacking for a week. Traveling without plans in an unknown city. Traveling alone. Being homeless for a month. Living on a boat for a weekend. Biking to work for 4 months. Having a one night stand with no guilt. Making peace with my father. Solo Snowboarding. Applying for a new job. These were all examples of things that I considered impossible for me to accomplish. Yet, as I was able to overcome each one, an overwhelming feeling of confidence would come over me. Slowly, as my accomplishments added up, I began to own that confidence. Soon I felt more comfortable in social situations. I was able to hold more meaningful conversations and I noticed the type of person I was able to attract into my life. These were people who also had some ambitious plans, goals, or were just down for more spontaneous adventures. They were more genuine, wore their emotions on their sleeves, more willing to help you out with little to no expectation of having the favor returned. I was becoming the person I had always imagined, and that was the biggest accomplishment of all.
Along with the accomplishments and the confidence, #yearofnofear allowed my friends to follow my adventures, and to even keep me motivated. I had a lot of fun talking with you, answering questions, hearing your admiration, and even being heckled for some of my decisions. “Come on, Bigs, it’s your Year of No Fear,” as I was being called out by my roommate for not confessing my crush on a male friend, was one of the best heckles of the year!
Even though 2015 is coming to an end, my Years of No Fears just began. I’ve decided to continue conquering my fears as it’s become my way of life. My list of things to accomplish has grown. Singing in front of a crowd. Skydiving. Hang gliding. Ice climbing. Exploring my sexuality. Posing for pin-up photos. Dating. More sailing, backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking adventures. Hosting house parties. Connecting with friends on a more personal level. Allowing myself to become vulnerable. Overcoming my emotional ties to my parents’ divorce and my father’s abandonment. Living in a foreign country. Finding my sense of home. These are the things I hope to experience in 2016, and you will see it posted with #yearsofnofears.
So what’s next? In addition to #yearsofnofears, I have decided that this will be the Year of the Empress (#yearoftheempress). It’s not as catchy as Year of No Fear, but it has a deeper meaning. The Empress refers to a chakra archetype, one that relates to pleasure, well-being, abundance, sexuality and a strong emotional sense of life. These are concepts that, for the longest time, I felt unworthy of knowing or experiencing. With my increased self-confidence, I now feel that I can and should experience abundance, well-being and pleasure, and have it come easily.
What will the Year of the Empress look like? It will be deeper connections with friends and strangers. I will allow myself to enjoy life, unrestricted and uninhibited. It will be opening myself up to opportunities to experience abundance in material, financial and emotional forms. It will also be a time where I will focus on what I need most, quiet the distractions, refine my character and hone in on what I am meant to do in this life.
This is also the year where I will be telling my story. I will be divulging the unknown chapters of my Year of No Fear, I will be compiling my stories of the road and of my adventures both from 2015 and years previous. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I’m hoping that my friends, family and visitors to my page will concur.
As I begin to prepare for the new year and new adventures, I will leave you with this lesson that I have learned from my Year of No Fear in hopes that it would inspire you:
Fear is but a mindset. Fear is singlehandedly the thing that will hinder you the most in your lifetime. In trying to overcome it, you’ll learn so much about yourself, and when you do conquer it, it’ll lead to a feeling of ecstasy and self-confidence. Anything is possible, especially when you change your mindset. That is exactly what I did that day, in January 2015. When I wrote those words, “Stop living life out of fear,” I made a decision to change my mindset. And in changing my mindset, I changed the entire way in which I continue to live my life.
Happy trails and adventures to you, where ever they may lead you in 2016!