Many of us are afraid to be ourselves – to admit how we feel: that we get scared, that we feel insecure, that we are often consumed by self-doubt.
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
Hi and thanks for this article David. It’s just what I needed to hear right now. Also, while I have ‘finger to touch screen ‘, thanks for the link to tonights webinar. I feel supported. Alan Taylor. Peace.
I’m very pleased to have helped you feel supported Alan. 🙂
This is just the tonic I was looking for today. Thank you! 🙂
I just want to thank you for being authentic and sharing these words because I want to do my own workshops one day on Energy and creating your dreams. I sometimes get scared of becoming successful, then having the same kinda fears you had, however you have inspired me to keep working on this.
You are indeed a fantastic person.
This is the most beautiful article you’ve written. Love to you David 🙂
Fabulous article David that I can so relate to. Can we be coaches, guides, parents or leaders whilst showing vulnerability – don’t we need to be perfect? No absolutely not. It is in our vulnerability that we show our authenticity that will attract people who see themselves reflected back, giving a sign that ‘it’s ok’. That’s when the real work can begin. Thank you for your beautiful articulation of this. Kx
I can empathize with you. I personally find it hardest with my children because they have been to university and hold good well paid jobs. I feel they think there mother should get things right by now and be more confident in life.
What a wonderful article, very inspirational and it even tempts me to show more of my true self including the more challenging parts!
Thank you so much for this David as we’re all learning to be vulnerable. Even though it’s strange to us to feel like that every day is a school day ! Thanks for sharing light&luv Carol
Glasgow was the first time that I had heard of you. When you walked out on the stage you had an amazing energy, full of love, passion and inspiration. Really inspirational to hear of your first talk. I’m about to do my first workshop on 1st February and this has given me hope. Can’t wait till Glasgow on sun, flight over from N.I. on Sat.
Thanks Karon. I hope you enjoy your workshop on 1st Feb. You’ll be great! Just be yourself. 🙂
I love this article. You’re true light is brightly shining in this tale we all share. Thank you for saying it outloud…well in print. 🙂
Thanks Deb. 🙂
I experienced the transformation that occurs when you remove the layers, and yet like you have often found them popping by on again. Thanks for sharing this story here again. you are a great inspiration by keeping it real and authentic tts the gift of leaning into what I call our ‘ness’, and I really loved hearing you speak this year at Glasgow.
Ah, thank you for this David……I am in many ways not afraid to admit my weaknesses and vunerability, BUT I think it has always also meant I had little confidence and thought of myself as being somewhat inferior or not good enough…In other words it felt like a” failing ” in my personality, in me. For some time now I am trying to learn the art of self- acceptance and self-love and realise that even though I have failings, weaknesses and many anxieties I still have much to offer…..An ongoing learning process though, aged 57 now. Today I was having a conversation with my husband about Living Mindfully and in the moment (another on-goer!!!) and I realised something about myself I had never realised before. I have never been a good multi-tasker!….other women can cook AND talk, iron AND watch tv, read a book AND listen to music…etc etc. I always saw that as another failing in me until today when I realísed I am perhaps indeed BETTER at being in the present moment than I had realised!! If I am cooking I am cooking….. 🙂 Felt good about myself then! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your honest emotions with us X
Hello David, we met in Birmingham at Selly Oak. Just wanted to say how true your last email was. Always enjoy reading your emails. Love and Light to All.
Thanks Barbara, I’m glad the message resonated with you. 🙂
Thank you David so much for sharing that you still at times feel vunerable with deep fears and also how at times you feel an outsider – how we all crave a sense of belonging – not being the outsider. I can identify with these feelings and knowing you feel these emotions and feelings too enhances my feelings for you as an exceptional self-help author and speaker.
You are truly the best self-help speaker I have ever had the privilege to listen to. You bring so much humour and knowledge into your talks I have always felt rivetted to my seat from beginning to end.
I think it was a courageous act to admit your feelings – which are just the same as mine and many others. It gives us all hope that it is possible to love all of ourselves, not just the parts we like (and sometimes not any parts at all!) and give us all a sense of belonging.
I really like what you say about self love – having the courage to be vulnerable, to be ourselves regardless of the risk involved. Carry on the good work – it is appreciated.
Thank you for saying such kind things Julia. It’s nice to know that many of us have the same kinds of fears and concerns. 🙂
Thank you so much for writing this piece. I think it could have been made for me ! I’m about to host my first mindfulness taster this weekend. Like your first event, it’s for a few kind friends whose support has been amazing…but I’m still beginning to think, ‘what am I doing ?!’ So it’s so great to hear your honest and warm hearted reminder about how we all have to start somewhere. You’re a great inspiration of what can happen when you are passionate…and prepared to be vunerable. I’ll keep that in mind…and turn the nerves to excitment…I hope !