I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer’s panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.
It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie’s, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.
I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.
I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It’s lovely.
But I’ve started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.
This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.
The thing is, these days, we don’t see many woolly mammoths.
We see public speaking.
Or an uncomfortable conversation.
Or a group of strangers.
Or an opportunity that is unnerving.
Or a situation we can’t control.
Or an outcome that is unknown.
But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.
What if there was a third way?
This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.
Yoga is hard. It’s 90 minutes in 100 degrees.
But it’s not nearly as hard as life.
So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me – and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this – I hear my teacher’s voice in my head:
Meet resistance with breath.
Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I’m stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath – then decide how I want to respond.
So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak – the spinning started:
What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.
And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.
So, I said:
“Hi. My name is Lisa. Thanks for being here today. I’m a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it’s different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time.”
And then they laughed and then I loved them.
That’s what can happen when we don’t operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It’s not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run – the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.
Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we’re rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.
* This was originally posted on my other blog, LisaJakub.net *
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