"I exist as I am, that is enough". A guest blog by Abi Horner

Abi came on my two day public speaking course in March 2016 and has written this guest blog.

abi horner's tattoo

 

30 was a big milestone for me. I had a “before 30 to-do list”: get to director on the career ladder, visit 30 countries, get on the London property ladder, find “the one”, get in shape… After a lot of stumbling along the way, I finally got to 30 with these boxes pretty much ticked. Now what?

I put a lot of energy and attention into this stuff. And I was having a great time, but… it didn’t feel like enough. I, personally, felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I never felt like enough, no matter what I did, I always felt that I was falling short, not good enough, needing to try harder, do better.

I was running fast, and I kept running – but after this milestone, I had no idea where I was running to. Every time I tried to fixate on a different goal in the future, it just felt wrong. Another promotion. Maybe some kids. Move north of the river. New York. Maybe be an MP. Prime minister. CEO. Save the Children. I couldn’t see my next goal, nothing seemed to fit.

Turning to Walt Whitman for inspiration, I spent a good few months immersed in his work – Leaves of Grass. My favorite passage is quoted above, and I got “I exist as I am, that is enough” tattooed on my arm because I was so drawn to the emotion it created in me. I really wanted it to be true.

To me, it meant that I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything to be enough, I didn’t need a new goal to be completed, I could just be. It was a quiet truth, a small voice, a personal triumph that I was beginning to recognise and trying to live.

I’d been carrying this tattoo for about a year, trying to be true to it. But I did not fully embody it,  until I went on a 2 day public speaking course led by John Dawson.

So what has public speaking got to do with all of this? Well, everything – actually. This inner work of accepting that you are enough, is foundational for public speaking, because it enables you to simply put yourself out there without freaking out, without feeling the pressure to be more.

The whole 2 days, was about being comfortable in your own skin, comfortable being you and taking your place in the world. Very simply, giving yourself the permission to take up space without apologising for it or feeling the need to perform or trying to “add value” immediately. Stop running so fast and trying so hard, and bring your attention to your existence in the moment. You have a right to exist as you are, and take your space.

The theory was already familiar to me. But it was not until the physical, and public practice, that I actually embodied the meaning of the words. It was no longer just a personal tattoo on my arm for quiet reflection, I could express it to other people, publicly.

Standing in the room (taking a lot of deep breaths), physically taking my space in front of an audience and facing the reality of my experience – I realized: I exist as I am, that is enough.

My heart can be racing, and its ok. My palms can sweat and that’s fine. I can pause for thought and stay connected to theindividual human beings in front of me. I can make a mistake and still be impactful. I don’t have to be profound every time I open my mouth to speak.. and people will still listen.  Physically experiencing and practicing the philosophy was a breakthrough for me, not just for public speaking, but for being. Because “being” is ultimately a public experience.

Instead of feeling awkward and sorry, ashamed or disappointed, it felt ok to be self-compassionate in the moment. It felt ok to be looked at, and to just be me, as I am.

Public speaking is just a by-product!

This is going to sound strange.
Sometimes I think I don’t really teach public speaking. It feels that I teach people to not be afraid of who they really are – and public speaking is just a by-product of this process.
The fear of public speaking, in a way, is a reflection of our negative thoughts about ourselves and the chaos within. Public speaking can dramatically magnify that inner chaos of course.
But often people have been avoiding not just public speaking events but avoiding meetings, not going for promotion, not singing or dancing in case they get noticed and not doing the things they want to do because the fear of being seen. And the fear of not being good enough.
“My overly self critical nature, self doubt and lack of confidence is the nub of my problem with being the centre of attention,” wrote one participant who had a very senior role.
What this can mean is that we stop ourselves. We lead quiet lives. That is fine if you want to lead that life. But maybe you don’t but you are still letting fear win. Life is short and life will pass us by unless we learn not to be afraid of who we really are.  (I was reminded of the shortness of life only this year when my appendix burst in May. Without the wonderful help from the NHS I would have not been writing this blog)
Another participant wrote to me about her regrets about not living her life to the full
“I want to step fully into my shoes, I’ve had them for years – but I’ve never put them on.

If we learn that it is fundamentally ok to be you. We can learn that we can take our place or space in the world.
Oh, and by the way, you may have also learnt some public speaking as you go!

Our time here is magic! It's the only space you have to realize whatever it is that is beautiful, whatever is true, whatever is great, whatever is potential, whatever is rare, whatever is unique, in. It's the only space.
Ben Okri