Being scared is brave

August 1, 2016
Lauree Ostrofsky on real-life monsters

Lauree Ostrofsky helps people love their lives, work, and each other more every day. As Chief Hugger & Coach at Simply Leap, she works with successful, mostly-satisfied professionals who feel ready for a career change but aren’t clear yet exactly what they want. Her memoir, I’m scared & doing it anyway, is available on Amazon/Kindle.

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I was tired of the pity on everyone’s faces. When people looked at me, they saw a sick person.

With a brain tumor making a home inside my head, I was for them a wake-up call: your life can change in an instant, too.

I hated it. All of it.

Long after recovering, I referred to the tumor only as a “major medical problem,” even though an epiphany I experienced in the hospital prompted the choice to upend my life again: Getting a divorce. Changing careers. Moving to a new city. Starting a business.

I was a different person, and yet somehow I wanted everyone not to notice.

That’s why I was so surprised six years later when an image popped into my mind of me standing behind a podium on the platform stage of a hotel ballroom. Speaking.

It was crazy how right it felt. Crazy for a soft-spoken introvert to feel so aligned, as if it had already happened, with an image that was so out of character.

In high school, I was afraid to walk across the cafeteria to throw out my trash. All of those unforgiving teenage eyes watching and judging. I had mastered being anonymous just about anywhere, and then the tumor happened. Even after hair had grown over the scar and I learned to hide my hearing loss and shaky balance, people still saw me for something I’d rather they’d forget, and I felt them seeing me.

Unlock the secrets of making a change — with Unstuck Life CoursesAnd now I was going to stand up in front of all of them to talk about “How My Brain Tumor Will Change Your Life.”

When that image of me behind the podium popped into my head, it hit me what a disservice I had been doing to others, and myself, by not sharing what had happened in the hospital.

How the scariest life-altering moments can become the most exhilarating and life-affirming.

How much power we have to change our lives; how we hide from that power behind obligations, guilt, worry, other people; and how if we can see beyond those, move through them, anything is possible.

A week later, I learned about an event called Ignite, where in the span of five minutes you can speak on any topic. It felt right. I applied without hesitation, definitely without thought of being in front of people.

When I was accepted, it started to sink in.

The day-of, I was a basket case. After four hours of practicing at home in flannel pajamas and heels, I arrived at the event feeling like I might throw up. I beelined for the ladies’ room and hid in a stall until my name was called.

It was one of the longest and shortest five minutes of my life. The bright lights. Silent faces. My voice cracking. Somehow, I talked about being terrified of my tumor — of hospital gowns, doctors, death, the unknown — and yet had still found a way forward that was my own, filled with joy and love. I shared the mantra I had invented for myself: “I’m scared and doing it anyway.”

Looking back, fear of failing was probably the only thing that got me through that speech. Ever the A student.

When it was over, I had to coax my feet to step down from the stage. That’s when the first person in the audience shouted: “I’m scared and doing it anyway, too!”

The rest of that night and after the YouTube video aired, I heard from people who were choosing to face their own fears. Creating their art. Trying a dance class. Jumping out of an airplane. Fellow introverts giving their first speeches because they saw I could.

In five minutes, words that were comforting to me became a rallying cry for others.

I never thought I had something to say, or that I’d have the guts to say it. I never thought being scared could be brave.

I never thought being myself could be enough.

And now, more than ever, I know that anything really is possible. I am proof.

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