Whenever I go speak to a group or at an event, I never take any new material. I’ve learned the cleverer or more authoritarian I pretend to be on a subject, the bigger a wanker I appear, and the harder it is to keep on pretending to be wonderful when I get down from the platform. When it comes to my subject of choice, I’m no expert. I don’t bring anything new to the conversations I have or the stuff I write about cancer. Its all been said and done before.
The only thing I can bring people which they haven’t heard before is my story, truthfully told.
The other day, I was having a particularly hard time at my job (I work as a sales assistant in a dress shop). Christmas shoppers can be particularly belligerent. I know why this is – everyone is spending too much money, and feeling the weight of expectation to make Christmas into some kind of joy orgy – but it doesn’t make dealing with the cold, judgey glares and icy rebuttals from customers any easier to deal with. I was feeling particularly dispirited, when a lady who was trying on a couple of dresses poked her head out from behind the curtain and said to me, “I know you. Didn’t you speak at a cancer advocacy conference a few years ago in Sydney?”
“Sure did.” I replied.
“I thought it was you! Hey, I just wanted to tell you, that was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard in my life. Honestly.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. My self-esteem, which had been stuck like dog poop to the sole of my shoe – wafted back up and seeped back into my heart where it belongs like sweet, warm honey.
I thanked her for making my day.
I was thinking about what it means to be inspiring on the way home from speaking at a cancer support group this morning. I’m often introduced as an “inspiring speaker”, but a long time ago I stopped thinking there was something special I could be or say to make people be inspired. I didn’t set out to be an inspiration, although it can be a little bit addictive having people tell you you are.
It’s much nicer than having people eye you up and down judgily, snicker behind your back, try on a dress you tell them looks nice to which they reply “Surely you’re joking – this is fucking horrible.” before throwing a mess of screwed up clothing at you and exiting the shop whilst also talking loudly on their mobile phone throughout the entire experience.
You can see why I’d like a lot more speaking engagements.
According to my dictionary, “inspire” means “to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something”. It literally means “to put the spirit in”. We can try to inspire with stunningly innovative information or wild tales of our derring do. But what happens when someone is inspired has little to do with what we say. It happens because of what we are. We inspire others whenever we truly reach someone’s spirit with our spirit.
I’ve come to the conclusion people will not be inspired by our specialness, our greatness, our peculiar talent, strength or courage, or even by our interesting story. People will be inspired when their heart has been accessed, and they believe they have truly accessed our heart. This is what I know – honesty, authenticity and a willingness to simply tell the truth about ourselves absolutely changes others’ lives.
Don’t seek greatness, expertise or uniqueness in the hopes it will inspire others. Your knowledge is useless if they don’t feel you’re accessible. Don’t seek to know more on your topic than anyone else, simply seek to grow your capacity to be honest and authentic, and expand your willingness to be vulnerable.
When your listeners or readers feel they have connected with your true spirit, it will bring them to life in ways both you and they cannot even imagine.
Nobody was ever encouraged by a lie, or a liar.
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