As an author, the more books I wrote, the more I felt a pressure to maintain the expectations of people who read my books and came to my talks and workshops. As a self-help author, you’re supposed to be Whole, Healed, and have all the answers, otherwise, how can you justify lecturing people about how to improve their lives?
It was hard to admit that I, too, get scared, often feel insecure, am often filled with self-doubt, and that there are many times when I don’t know what to do nor where to turn.
I started to really think about this in September 2012. I was due to speak at Hay House Publishers’ I Can Do It conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The ‘I Can Do It’ events are exciting conferences, often attended by thousands of people, and feature many bestselling authors in the self-help and mind-body-spirit fields.
The first speaker of the day was Dr Wayne Dyer. I was up next. I was on home turf. This was the first I Can Do It event in Scotland, in the city where I did my own very first public talk 12 years earlier, shortly after I’d left my job as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. It was in 2000 as I led my very first one-day workshop called, ‘Create Your Own Life’.
I was so incredibly nervous before I spoke. I was lucky that just as I was about to open my mouth, my phone rung loudly in my pocket. At that point, I said “Oh, please remember to switch off your phones.” I hadn’t meant it to be funny but everyone laughed. It broke the ice and relaxed me … although when I say ‘everyone’, I’m meaning the thirteen people there, nine of whom were family and friends, three who I’d met in a café a week earlier who had agreed to come if they didn’t have to pay, plus the one person who had actually responded to my 8-week running advertisement in ‘The Big Issue’, the UK’s magazine created by and sold by homeless people.
The event was a financial failure. It had cost me the equivalent of a month’s salary from my previous job. But I was proud of myself that I’d had the courage to follow a dream of inspirational speaking and that I felt I’d communicated really well in the workshop. Even though I’d lost a lot of money staging the event, I was determined to make things work.
So here I was, twelve years later, standing at the side of the stage ready to speak to a crowd over sixty times bigger than the one on that first day, ready to follow one of the biggest selling authors in the world. You would think I’d be proud of myself for how far I’d come. I was now an author of 7 books and had spoken live to thousands of people around the world, and I was now doing a home gig to this mostly Scottish audience, many of whom were proud to have a fellow Scot among the line-up of international bestselling authors.
But I didn’t feel proud. I felt really insecure. I could have curled up beside the curtain and had a cry.
Growing up, I often felt like an outsider. I showed off a lot at school – academically, at sports – and talked about my achievements, all to get attention. As a child and teenager, I thought that if I could impress people they’d like me. But all that happened was that I earned the nickname of ‘Big Head’. I was trying to be liked by the cool people because it would make me feel a sense of belonging, but all it did was make me feel isolated.
I felt like an outsider in that moment standing at the side of the stage. The feeling suddenly appeared. It was like my childhood and teenage years all over again. In my mind, the other authors were the cool people – they all belonged to a gang – and I was striving to get noticed again.
We all have fears and insecurities, but we’re afraid to admit them. We think other people don’t have any. It’s just us. We fear we’ll look stupid, or small, or less than we were before, or worse still, that people won’t like us any more, or even that loved ones will start looking elsewhere for someone who is much more Whole, complete, and strong.
Deep inside we all crave belonging. To feel connected is an ancient human need. The fear of being cut off, to not belong, to not be connected is one of our deepest worries. It’s why being banished was one of the worst punishments dealt out in human history.
We hold back from being ourselves, from letting our guards down, from being vulnerable, because we fear that we’ll lose our connections. It’s more than just being worried whether people will like us or not if they see us for what we are. That’s on the surface. Beneath, is that deep need to belong. If people don’t like us any more, we won’t belong.
Pretending allows us to be as good, Whole, Healed, or as perfect, as everyone else. It lets us stay in the fold.
But we’ve got it the wrong way around. The only way to really be connected, to belong, and for love, then, to grow, is if we take off our masks, stop pretending that we’re perfect, and just be ourselves.
When we do this, we find that the connections we were afraid of losing actually become stronger. Deep or meaningful bonds are only forged when we show up as ourselves, when we allow ourselves to be seen for who we really are. All of us, without exception, have fears, insecurities, and self-doubts – about how we look, our abilities, our age, our intelligence, our sexual performances, our parenting skills, and so on.
Yes, it can be a scary thing to show up as yourself. There is an element of risk involved. Vulnerability raises to the surface these deep fears of being kicked out and no longer belonging. But it’s through being vulnerable that we obtain the connections and belonging that we so deeply crave.
It’s a lot of what self-love is. Having the courage to be vulnerable, to be yourself regardless of the risk involved, is one of the greatest acts of self-love you will ever make. Self-love takes courage, but it starts with being yourself.
I find that when I show vulnerability, like in admitting how I felt at the side of the stage, it doesn’t invalidate what I write about and teach. I used to fear that. But it enhances it. I have a much deeper experience of what I’m talking about and I feel stronger inside … like I really do belong.
And that’s because I remember that we really are all just the same.
Related Speaking Events
I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love (3-day intensive). Click here for info
Transition to Love. Click here for info