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What Happened When I Allowed Myself To Be Vulnerable In Public

Carré Otis
January 31, 2014
Carré Otis
Written by
January 31, 2014

When I was asked to present a TEDx Talk, my immediate reaction was pure terror. I had been inspired by many TEDx and TED Talks. I knew they were well organized and often distilled many important ideas into one overarching message.

I thought about how vulnerable I’d be up on that stage, trying to share my life lessons and my most heartfelt messages within a 15-minute time limit. Sure, I’m outspoken about what I’ve learned from and what I’ve overcome. I’ve written memoir. I’ve fessed up to some dangerous truths I once hid about the beauty business. And I continue to be passionately committed to sharing my story and my ongoing healing in a way that will make a difference for others.

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But how was I going to effectively do that in just a short little talk? The opportunity was amazing. But the pressure I was putting on myself to maximize the opportunity was overwhelming.

“I can’t do it," I said. “I have no idea where I would even begin!”

But even as I said this (both aloud and repeatedly to myself), I knew this was a fear worth facing. With all the work I’ve done in my life and all the difficult moments I’ve navigated, I've learned to be on high alert for that which makes me most uncomfortable: FEAR.

I found some excellent reasons to say no. I'm a busy carpooling mommy to two young daughters. I’m scheduled to construct and present two training workshops on two different topics within the next three weeks. I have only four weeks to construct this TEDx Talk, which would be presented in San Francisco and I live two hours away. My husband travels and will be out of town that day.

Yet I kept circling back to this nagging feeling, this singular truth I’ve consistently tried to honor: Being frightened of doing something is not a good enough reason not to. I knew that doing the talk would provide much more than “visibility” and “getting myself out there.”

I intuitively knew that it would provide me with a lot of room to grow simply because it would require me to do something I thought I couldn’t accomplish.

My friends and family kept telling me that I would be great. “You soooo have this!” they told me. “You've done so much public speaking and you’ve spoken about everything in interviews and on your book tour.”

And while they were right, a deeper concern was stirring. I hadn’t really done anything like this before. I had held the stage with others, in an interview format, quick to answer questions, dodge a ball and throw one back when needed. I knew how to put on a show, to be a polished and witty spokesperson on a myriad of subjects. I even knew how to talk about the hard things in my life with grace. But speaking and writing about something is very different than sharing it from a place of raw vulnerability.

I have never shrunk away from stepping into the fire. In fact, in the most challenging times, my general attitude is “Bring it ON.” It’s the spirit I was born with. I prefer a fast and furious lesson to a slow and gradual one. It’s a courageous way to approach life, but my stubbornness in this area has sometimes given me a good ass-kicking.

So I said yes, knowing that as painful as the process might be, the fear was an indication of growth to come. I moved through November at a crazed pace—juggling the trainings and workshop preparation and presentation, commitments at my girls’ school, harvesting olives from our farm and throwing a huge harvest party at our home.

Finally, on November 29th, I was able to sit down and focus on my talk. I had just a week to prepare. At first I just sat at my computer, thinking, wondering, wringing my hands in agony. I couldn’t get my head around this thing. It was like a riddle I was trying to solve, a math problem too far from my capacity to comprehend. But slowly, as I paced back and forth in my home, I began to speak, putting words to my story, honing in on the important aspects of my message.

What did I want to convey? What were the key points? If I could leave my listeners with one gift, one specific gem, what would it be?

As my TEDx angel had asked me, What would be my call to action? So many teachings came into view—from my Buddhist practice, from therapy, from my ever-evolving understanding of where to find meaning and contribute to others. How had I made it to where I was today despite some of the deep dark labyrinths I’d made my way out of?

I began to extract these pieces and found that my story did indeed have a beginning, middle, and end. It could be presented linearly and consolidated into 15 minutes.

The anxiety began to lift as I felt more and more prepared for my December 5th "due date." It really did feel like I was about to give birth to something. As I drove into San Francisco for the TEDx Women’s event, I was able to keep somewhat calm and collected. I knew that I was as ready as I could be.

I knew that all I could do was my best, and that would require me to simply tell my truth. But life doesn’t always go as planned. When I stepped out onto the stage, fear hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never felt so paralyzed in front of a public audience.

With all my meditation training, I was able to observe my fear and call upon a well of resources—breath and inner mantra—to steady myself and move through it. I took many pauses and many deep breaths. After a few stuttering starts, I was able to move along, sticking with my key points, sharing my truth and standing in that very real, very naked reality. I delivered.

As I stepped off the stage, my tears overcame me. I had been messy, emotional, spontaneous, scared. I wept backstage, my body shook, and I collapsed into the warm hug of my friend. What I said wasn’t what I had intended to say. The message I conveyed wasn’t the one I’d planned on. But I slowly began to realize that it was what the room needed, it was what I somehow sensed I was meant to share in that moment in time.

My message was clear: The wonderful experiences and existence I’ve created in my life all began with a path of self-love and self-care. The sense of freedom and power I have in my life today came when I was able to identify myself as the one true source of everything I want and need. I have realized in the days and weeks that have passed that a part of me felt so exposed because there was no performer on stage that night. It was just me.

And I have not let ME, the non-performer, authentically be seen publicly before. My TEDx Talk wasn’t as shiny and polished as most I’ve seen. It wasn’t as perfect as most of the media presentations I see or have been a part of. Those pretty packaged pieces are often so devoid of humanity, rawness, and the messiness that life actually IS.

My talk was so very far from perfect. My voice shook. My PowerPoint clicker didn’t always work, and when it did, the visuals didn’t always match my words. I heard myself saying things I’d never once revealed in public.

But I’ve discovered that it was perfectly imperfect. To be human is to be all of these things—full of emotions, nerves, tears, sweat, fear, vulnerability. It is actually like BIRTH ... nothing pretty or neat about labor but it gives way to a perfect miracle.

As one of my precious teachers, Guatama Buddha, so wisely said, “You can search through the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserves your love and affection.”

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Carré Otis author page.
Carré Otis

Carré Otis ( published her memoir, Beauty Disrupted: A Memoir, in 2011. She is on the advisory board of The Model Alliance and is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association. With clinical psychologist Sarah Spinner, Psy.D., Otis is currently writing a book for women about positive body image, seeing your body as your home, sexual intimacy, and cultivating wellness.