The mornings were different when I was younger. The night was over and still, the smells of the places and the bars and the late night venues was still on our clothes. I was different then. So was the way I lived and so was the group of my friends.
I can remember beating the night until the sunrise came and then spilling on the street with an idea that sounded like, “Wow, the sun’s coming up.” We were young and we didn’t care. We didn’t know what we were going to do with ourselves. We had no ideas about a pension or a 401K. There was no talking about our future or future plans because let’s be honest, the future was for old people—and the term old is certainly relative. I mean, hell, back when I was turning the age and taking in the scenes, I can remember people at the night spots who were clearly out of their 20’s and deep in their 30’s and thinking, “Who let the old people in?”
It’s weird. You know?
I am on the verge of a long road trip, which is not to say this is a bad thing. This is a good thing. But more accurately, this is a much different thing than I have ever done before. Somehow, out of nowhere, I’ve become a grown up. No, really. It’s true.
My intentions have changed throughout the years. My views have changed. My politics have changed and my body has definitely changed. My metabolism is not as quick anymore. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be and neither is my hearing. My knees are bad. And my back is far from perfect. Yet, I am so young in this new world of mine. I am young and I am new and yet, here I am, feeling like I did back when it was the first day in school. It’s a challenge but then again, life is filled with challenges.
I turn 49 tomorrow.
I don’t remember my birthdays very well. I don’t remember ever having a birthday party. Although, I knew people who would throw a party for themselves— but a piece of me always wondered, “Is this a cool thing to do?” Or maybe I was more perplexed than anything. Maybe I was partly envious of one’s bravery to celebrate themselves. Or perhaps I was too caught up in my own insecurities to ever consider something like this. And do you know what? I don’t really think about this anymore. Only sometimes.
I used to dislike the sound of my own voice. I used to hear the last words of something I’d say repeat in my ears to the point where I’d feel so uncomfortable—and then I’d try to say something to redeem myself but the hole only went deeper. That’s the thing about a word—once it’s said, it can’t be unsaid; and that’s why I was always petrified and always second guessing myself. As a matter of fact, there were a few students who approached me after one of my lectures. They asked me about my social anxiety and fear of crowds. I laughed with them because in fairness, none of this makes sense. I just lectured in an auditorium and yet, here I am, telling the world I’m afraid to speak out loud and in front of people.
“How does one say they have social anxiety and stage fright and yet, they’re a public speaker?”
It’s a fair question.
And it’s true—none of this makes sense.
My answer to this is simple. I had to give in.
I gave in to the unfairness models of insecurity. I surrendered my attempts to “Be cool” and learned more about personal acceptance, which by the way, this does not make this easy. Not at all.
I have to do a few things to prepare myself.
I take my glasses off so that I can’t see faces in the crowd too clearly. I move with the intention that I have to keep going. I can’t stop. I move with a theory that is similar to “Don’t look down,” and while I’m on, I have to keep going.
I allow my feelings instead of contend with them. I allow my emotions instead of shame them —and since my goals are to speak about matters of the heart; or since I talk about mental health — and since I talk about our grips and battles with depression and the inaccurate assumptions we come to — and since my goal is to have people understand that emotions are not deadly, feelings are not fact, and thoughts are only ideas, — I allow myself to be myself and let the people see that it’s okay to think and feel and be who we are.
At no point did I ever think anything that I would ever do would have an impact on someone else’s life. At no point did I think I would take a class to be a specialist. I never thought I would be working towards my coaching and counseling degrees. I never thought I would create classes and mental health empowerment groups. I never thought that anyone would invest in me more than just a simple paycheck. But yet, here I am. I have my own programs now.
My friend and I went on a walk yesterday,
He told me, “You have to stop being afraid to be you.”
He told me “You’re not the underdog anymore.”
He said, “You’re the odds on favorite now.”
“You can’t be afraid to be that.”
I thought about this.
I thought about a fighter who was being coached by an old friend of mine. I remember hearing my old friend shout, “Don’t be afraid to be first!” because he wanted his fighter to engage.
And I get it . . .
See, I am like you and anyone else in this world. I have a heart. I have desire. I have dreams and worries that my dreams might not come true.
I suppose this is what I miss most about you, Mom.
Tomorrow morning is going to come but the phone won’t ring in the morning and you’re not around to sing Happy Birthday to me anymore—but I get it. I have to look for your words. I have to understand that you speak differently now. I understand.
I gotta go now, Mom.
I have to drive to a class down in Maryland. But don’t worry. I’ll drive safely.
I’ll be good and I’ll pay attention.