Last December, as I embarked down south for none other than a Taylor Swift concert, I also had the opportunity to visit the hospital and chat with a few of the people from an organisation that I am fairly involved with. Toward the end of this conversation, these two women (both of whom I have admired for many years now), asked if I would like to speak at a Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Mini-Symposium in February.
I am still in awe that I was asked, that I spoke, and that I didn’t even vomit whilst talking to doctors, surgeons and nurses alike.
I flew down south to take part in this event and spent the night before wholly freaking out inside the guest room of one of the women who asked me to speak. I hardly slept. I spent the night sweating even though it was a chilly evening, and I checked my phone every hour just hoping that I hadn’t slept through my alarm. To say I was nervous was the understatement of 2016.
The mini-symposium started at midday. I wasn’t speaking until close to around 4pm. One could say this meant four hours of getting to listen to other speakers, to calm my nerves and to just relax before closing down the show. I however saw it (and experienced it) as four hours of listening to incredible and professional speakers who knew exactly what they were doing, checking the time every five minutes and trying not to be sick in front of the roomful of people I felt I had to impress sooner rather than later.
In between all this terror and fear that was suffocating me, I had my mother and my brother’s girlfriend holding my hand, calming me down and just being genuinely kind supporters. I had the two women who asked me to speak smiling at me every time they saw me, encouraging me that I was going to “kill it” and even had two Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses pulling me aside saying how they just couldn’t wait to hear me speak and of course-like they were so certain of my abilities-I was going to be the greatest speaker of the afternoon.
However, it didn’t matter how often mum looked at me and told me I was going to be alright or how often I told myself that my speech had been approved, that I was of no less importance than any of the other medical professionals speaking today-I was still absolutely terrified.
Moments before my name was called, I was sick-I even looked over to my mum and I’m fairly sure I whispered, “mum, I’m going to vomit.” Alas, I had to hold it in because as my name was called I felt a smile climb to my face and my legs were moving to the front of the room and suddenly, I had a hundred pairs of eyes belonging to medical professionals-whether they be nurses, surgeons, occupational therapists or cardiologists-staring at me, alongside the eyes of parents of children born with heart defects as well as the niggling voice in the back of my mind that reminded me there were other specialists video-linked to the room, just waiting for me to open my mouth.
But, you know, there was no pressure or anything.
The speech was over in 15 or so minutes and despite my thinking that 15 minutes was a lifetime in the world of public speaking, it felt like a mere seconds I was behind that podium telling complete and utter strangers about my life.
I want to keep a few elements of what followed throughout the afternoon a secret. My own little reminder that I am doing some good in this world, that I am making some change, that the way I live my life is no less than those around me, and so I’m going to keep them to myself and the people who were in that room with me that day.
However, I do want to share this with you: Do the thing that scares you the most, because honestly it may very well turn out to be the greatest thing to happen to you.
Even though speaking at a symposium like this had been something I had wanted to do for so long, when the opportunity arose, I was equal parts terrified as I was excited. A week before I was supposed to speak, I was considering cancelling. A day before I spoke, I thought it wasn’t too late to back out. Moments before I went on stage, I thought to myself “now’s my chance to leave” because I felt so sick at the thought of getting up and talking about something I felt I wasn’t qualified to speak about.
Reality check: I wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t been qualified. Not to mention, I live with a God damn heart defect, of course I am qualified to speak at a symposium based upon heart defects.
In the long run though, It’s not even about whether I feel I was qualified or not, it’s about the fact that despite my feeling that I wasn’t as qualified as another (or all) speakers, I took a chance and it’s like what Benjamin Mee said:
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
And Benjamin Mee was right; something great has come of it.