Thoughts On: Public Speaking & Self-Compassion

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style. Maya Angelou

Last month I put my big girl boots on and put myself forward to do something I’ve really been struggling to do for the last year.

I offered to speak at a public event.

Not only was this a public event, but I would be speaking about something that is meaningful to me, and about my personal experiences and thoughts on the topic. I spoke about Compassion.

I’m no stranger to public speaking. In many of my previous work roles I’ve spoken to large groups of students, and people in my industry, at different functions on a regular basis. It never phased me and most of the time I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But that hasn't been the case recently.

I moved to Australia nearly a year ago from London, and I’ll admit, it’s been a bit of a struggle. I’ve found it difficult translating everything I was and did in the UK, to my new context. There are a lot of similarities, but there are also a lot of differences that I simply didn’t anticipate.

I’ve found, and I know many people are the same, that when any of our loved ones are going through a big change, personal dilemma, or even creative crisis, we seem to have a never ending well of compassion for them. That well contains all of the things we think it should - empathy, sympathy, support, guidance, kindness, our time - and even when those loved ones aren’t being the best versions of themselves, we still seem to be readily able to dip into that well for them.

Compassion is a very natural human trait, it’s something we feel innately, and it doesn’t end with our close circle of loved ones. If you put a group of babies in a room together, and one of them starts crying, pretty soon they’re all crying - and they don’t even know why! They just want to show some empathy and solidarity with their upset baby friend (which is pretty cute).

That doesn’t go away as we get older. For many of us when we see our fellow humans going through a crisis or struggle, we feel it, we acknowledge it, and we want to do something about it, to show our support and solidarity for what they’re going through.

I find though, if we flip this, and we start to think about the concept of self-compassion, it’s an entirely different playing field.

When I decide I might need to dip into that well of compassion for myself, it’s like my brain flips a switch. All of a sudden, all that good compassionate stuff I use with my loved ones, isn’t accessible. It seems my brain has decided that I genuinely do suck at life, and it’s simply not worth wasting any compassion on myself.

I’m pretty confident I’m not alone in this feeling.

Self-compassion is an extremely tricky thing to master for so many of us. We are so often our own worst critics, especially if we work in a creative industry or pursuit. Very rarely do I deem my work ‘good enough’. It doesn’t seem to matter how much professional success, or positive feedback I get, it seems as though my brain simply can’t get over the thought that I really do suck at life.

Challenging myself to speak at Creative Mornings was when I really realised how much I’d managed to beat myself down over the past year. I put off applying for days, and when I finally did send that email, I was instantly kicking myself. When I was accepted, impostor syndrome plagued me right up until I spoke, and afterwards.

Self-compassion is something I’ve found myself thinking more and more about recently. For me, self-compassion contains all of the things we think compassion is for other people, but there’s a much broader piece to it, around the ideas we hold of ourselves as an individual.

Sometimes we get so focused on what we were, who we were, who we think we're supposed to be or what we're supposed to be doing, that we completely dismiss the potential for who we could be. Change, and being in new contexts can be uncomfortable because it challenges our ideas of self - and invites all the things we’d rather avoid, including feelings of failure when we don't step straight back into the mould of what we expect ourselves to be. It's easy in these scenarios for that voice to creep in and tell us we're not good enough, and it's even easier for us to plunge into that well of self-doubt rather than that well of compassion.

It’s easy to forget that who we were doesn’t always equal who we are or who we're going to be.

There’s a huge self-compassion piece in acknowledging that we’re all on these weird, wonderful journeys and it’s fine if we don’t always get it right. In fact, getting it wrong is what so often leads us to those opportunities and experiences to become who we might be.

Perhaps the next time that voice is creeping in and telling you, you really do suck at life or that you're not good enough, you might find the courage to exercise a little self-compassion and respond with 'I'm working on it!'. I know the self-compassion muscle is one I've neglected recently, but I'm trying to strengthen it.

Speaking at Creative Mornings was me trying to show myself a little piece of self-compassion, albeit in a slightly odd and stressful way. It was about me acknowledging that I’m in a very different context right now.

And that’s okay.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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