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.
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.
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.