Outside the window prairie stretches for miles in every direction, wave upon wave of grass blowing in the breeze. In the distance, a large lake rimmed by trees reflects the sunlight, its ripples just barely evident from where I stand. On the horizon, the sun sinks below a cloud, streaming beams of light in every direction. A hawk flies by, its speckled feathers highlighted as it passes through a sunbeam. The beauty of the moment, of the place, takes my breath away. It settles my heartbeat, slowing its rhythm.
I relax my hand; suddenly aware I’ve gripped my papers so tightly they’ve crumpled into a mess of wrinkles. Chatter filters up from downstairs, a blend of female voices as they gather in the kitchen, the soothing cadence of their conversation occasionally broken by peals of laughter.
Outside a car door slams, signaling another participant has arrived. On the driveway below I see her reach into the backseat, pull out a striped bag and a pillow. Juggling both, she locks the car and heads towards the house. Soon after I hear the main door open and a series of greetings as she joins the group.
I look down at my papers, smooth them on my pant leg, read the opening lines printed there. Closing my eyes, I recite them to myself, trying to recall those that come after.
I’ve been invited to speak at a women’s retreat, to share bits of my story, and to talk about the freedom that comes when you build an authentic relationship with yourself and conquer fear. While I was honored to be asked, as the time approaches I realize the task combines two of my greatest fears: public speaking and groups of smart women.
“What have I gotten myself into?” I whisper to myself. “Who am I to speak with any authority about anything? I’m just a woman muddling my way through life, writing bits and pieces here and there to help process my thoughts. I’m certainly not an expert in anything. What if I bumble it? What if they reject what I have to share? What if I forget what I’ve planned to say?”
My inner critic is alive and well, ready to jump in with her two cents. Ten cents really.
And yet, I find as quickly as the negative thoughts come, I catch them. This journey to be brave, not perfect hasn’t eradicated the thoughts, but it has taught me to catch them faster. That awareness allows me to fight back, minimizing their damage.
“Shhh. You’re not welcome here. My story helps others. My willingness to share it vulnerably is rare. It seems to inspire people, encourage them to do the same, to dig in and live more authentically. Be quiet so I can do what I came here to do.”
Though they never disappear, the negative voices do fade to the background, something impossible even a few months ago. I return to the memorizing task at hand, picking up where I left off.
Before long I hear footsteps on the stairs as the women climb to where I am, journals in hand, settling into chairs and couches loosely grouped in a semi-circle. With a quick whispered prayer, I move to the front, as ready as I will ever be to share my story and what it’s taught me.
I focus on my breathing as I’m introduced, humbled by the words shared about me. I look around the room at the women assembled, curious what brought them to this place this weekend, what doubts and shames they keep hidden inside. I wonder if what I share will be enough to crack their careful facades and inspire them to welcome what the weekend will bring. I hope so. My pulse quickens as the introduction ends.
“Be brave, not perfect,” I whisper to myself as I stand, face my fear, and begin.