“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman

I was understandably nervous the first time I spoke in front of an audience. There’s a reason the fear of public speaking is second only to death.

Another presenter spoke first, and I watched in amazement as she worked the crowd. They were like old friends within 15 minutes. She was funny, an entertainer. She was really good at this. My anxiety escalated.

I suddenly felt small. And worried. (Piglet, from Winnie-the-Pooh, would’ve looked serene in comparison.)

I was nothing like that speaker.

Not that I’m not funny. Actually, sometimes I’m downright hilarious. But not in an overt way. You’d have to be paying attention.

Then it was my turn to speak. And to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember much of what I said. I was so busy trying to figure out how to be like the first speaker, how to engage an audience like she did – that I wasn’t even present. I just got through it. My personality didn’t even show up. It was still sitting in the back of the room with Piglet.

Thinking back to that moment reminded me how often we chase coolness. Like I did that day, you observe or meet someone who enthralls you- maybe it’s her talent, her amazing wardrobe, her ability to decorate a room for $50 and a trip to the fabric store- and you want what she has. You want to BE her. And sometimes you begin to chase her coolness.

There’s just one problem: none of it feels right when you’re doing it. It feels like pretending. You feel bad inside because you can’t even pull off pretending to be like her. And in the mean time you’re telling yourself that you aren’t innately cool. Other people ARE cool. You must settle for chasing it.

I’ve learned (and practiced) a few things in the years since that first speaking engagement:

Your Spark Matters

The more I spoke from my own viewpoint, my own experience and my own heart, the more I enjoyed speaking. Like the quote above, I was more alive.

Earlier this year I spoke about a topic I thought may bring eye rolling and dismissal from a crowd of veteran health care workers. It was a step out of my comfort zone, but I was excited about it. I decided to stick to my message regardless of what I saw in the audience. I repeated this talk 4 times within a couple of days. I wondered if people would keep showing up. To my utter amazement there were people standing in the back of the room and sitting on the floor during the last talk!

So whatever your message is, know that it’s really that spark, that foundational joy and truth that people need. Just you, being totally you in the moment.

You, rocking your coolness.

No More Comparison

I stopped comparing myself to others. This is a tough one. But as I began to accept my own unique way of looking at things, it gave me the space to appreciate what others brought to the table. I gathered the energy I formerly used to chase coolness to work on my own craft.

Besides, their coolness did not by rule, negate mine. And if I paid attention to those speakers, they taught me a lot. No wonder I thought they were cool! I absorbed their lessons instead of grasping at them.

(Along the way you may find people who begin to tell you you’re doing it all wrong. This is a sure sign that you’ve stepped into yourself, your own coolness. Sometimes this triggers other people. But it’s not about you.)

Breaking the Mold

The world is saturated with sameness. Burgers, fries, reality shows. It’s numbing.

But there’s only one you. No one else can bring to the world what you can. Only you have your lessons from your past, your vision for the future and the presence to use it all wisely.

There are many speakers who cover topics similar to mine. This is great, because we can serve many people this way. What’s also great is that no one addresses those topics in exactly the way I do. I have to champion my differences. And it’s only taken me a decade to come to terms with this! 🙂

Consider this: you have an interesting life.

Small things, triumphs, flat out failures, pain, elation. Whether you run your own business or just want to run your own life, the world is begging for you to show up as yourself. YOU are begging you to show up as yourself.

The coolest people I know are unmistakably themselves. That doesn’t mean you have to magnify your personality, it just means you remove the barriers that keep you from actually showing it.

Stepping into yourself without fear is one powerful way to tell yourself you matter.

You’ll no longer be chasing coolness. You’ll be living it.

———–

Sue Ludwig is the President and Founder of the National Association of Neonatal Therapists. She is a consultant to neonatal intensive care units around the country, a national speaker, and a published poet. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.

33 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Lori Hamilton

    Christine, what an amazing message to parlay to people. I spent so much time in my life looking for a guide to follow and trying to do it like they did and it is not authentic. After many years I started to look for the map where it really was…on the inside. And, I found my cool factor!!

  • Becky Hunter

    Hi again… I just wanted to add that for the first time in ages, last month, I did what I really wanted to, which was draw (almost) every day… I wrote about it on my blog and even inspired some other people to do the same… it was hard work but it gave me a taste of turning my life into the artist-life i want, instead of the art historian/art critic life i have at the moment…

    Here’s the final post from July, showcasing some drawings sent in by readers of my drawing project blog: amazing! http://www.beckyhunter.co.uk/2010/08/saturday-sketchbook-your-fabulous-drawings/

    ChristineKane.com has been such an inspiration and a kick up the ass to start doing what I really want. Thank you both Christine and Sue!

  • paraluman

    thank you so much for reminding me to be just true to myself and just do it…im just so afraid of the unknown, but everyday, i just feel that i am being guided and pushed by my higher self , angels and guides to just jump to that unknown…either way, either i will find solid ground…. or i will learn how to fly…thank you so much sue for your beautiful spirit.

  • Sue

    Paul- Great story!!! That is awesome.

    All of your stories are powerful. I can see you totally ‘getting it’ in that moment – and then we just remind ourselves of that cool revelation each time we feel daunted!

    And while I do have my website (in the link below the blog post), and share free articles there, I do not otherwise have my own blog as some of you asked. I feel quite at home right here. 🙂

  • Paul

    Sue, absolutely amazing!
    First, for most of my adult life I have known that the people who I found most attractive (talented, cool, etc.) were people I wanted to be…if I could just crawl inside their skin. That particular awareness was an epiphany of sorts, but until I read your article today, I didn’t see the link — and man, I’ve been around a lot of years! Thanks for this lesson… Second, I work in a large corporate enviroment and was tapped a year ago to be the primary delivery agent for a 5 day management program to the “most senior” leaders. Someone saw a “coolness” in me that I wasn’t able to recognize. After a full year of top 2 box scores (which will only mean something to the trainers amongst us) and mind-blowing written comments from participants, I had a colleague/individual come to me with feedback meaning “to make me like everybody else” — in line with Kendra’s comment (thanks Kendra!). Mentally and emotionally I struggled with the feedback for a short period of time until I realized that I had little faith or trust in the source. Still it hung around like a hornets nest you wish someone else would take care of. But you’ve removed that nest now — and a thousand thank-you’s would never be enough.. I’m glad you’re blazing the “cool” path for the rest of us…

  • Sam

    Sue, thank you for this article. I recently came to a (rather painful) realization that I have lived the majority of my life just trying to “fit in” or meet other peoples’ expectations of who I should be. I would define myself as “uncool” because I could never gain the approval I had been looking for, and I realized that this was where my lack of self-esteem was stemming from. Since then I have been constantly trying to be true to my Self. This article was a confirmation that my efforts to define myself and stop comparing myself to others will allow me to live a happier and more authentic life and was just the support I needed, as the process involves moving beyond a lot of fear and pain. Thank you again, this is one article that I will definitely be pasting into my journal for inspiration.

  • Becky Hunter

    Thanks for this – I agree with everyone who got here before me… I’ll definitely be passing the link on!

  • Lisa

    Share |

    When I Met My Muse

    I glanced at her and took my glasses
    off–they were still singing. They buzzed
    like a locust on the coffee table and then
    ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
    sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
    knew that nails up there took a new grip
    on whatever they touched. “I am your own
    way of looking at things,” she said. “When
    you allow me to live with you, every
    glance at the world around you will be
    a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

    William Stafford

  • kathleen

    Sue, this is a beautiful post! I have suffered from the ‘I’m boring and completely lack personality’ belief for a long time, constantly comparing myself to others – and this seems to be magnified in my role as a yoga teacher – I compare myself to other (vastly more experienced) teachers and want to be more like them!! You’ve reminded me that being me is not only OK, its essential! THANK YOU!
    ..and I agree with Martina – where is your blog???
    x

  • Martina

    Hi Sue, where can I find your own blog? You always bring very deep and valuable content AND you have great writing skills. I really really want to read more of this.

  • Ursula Jorch

    What a wonderful post, Sue! And you are right, you have stepped into yourself, the lovely and authentic Sue – you are one of the coolest people I know!

  • Sue

    You guys rock. These comments totally make my day. Really really really, they do.

  • Kat

    Sue always sees.

    Grateful,
    Kat

  • w

    Recently a relationship ended and it devastated me. While I was in it I never felt that I was “cool” enough for him or doing anything even remotely close to what he would have been proud of or wanted me to be doing. I felt so small, inconsequential and not worthy of his love. Then when it ended those feeling were magnified by loneliness and heartache. Now I see that I was chasing what he wanted me to be and right now what I really need to do is realize that I’m enough and that I need to be who I am. It’s a hard, painful lesson to learn but one of these days I will figure it out.

  • Elaine Bailey

    What a cool post Sue! I love it!

    Thanks for sharing your inner Piglet with us. It’s so hard trying to be someone else and something you’re not. It’s actually easier to just be your authentic self – we don’t see this though. It’s taken me a long time to get this and be this.

    Thank you!

  • Kendra

    Fantastic piece. Made me think of one of my favorite quotes from e.e. cummings: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” I’m amazed by how we can hold ourselves back because of fear, but it is a hard battle. And you’re so right that I am begging for me to show up! 🙂 Thank you!

    what are you grateful for today?

  • Anna

    I grew up not being one of the “cool kids”…and spent way too much time after high school trying to be cool to make up for lost time. But quite honestly, it was exhausting 😉 Since I stopped trying, I attract way cooler people into my life…like YOU! Great post as always.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer

    “But there’s only one you. No one else can bring to the world what you can. Only you have your lessons from your past, your vision for the future and the presence to use it all wisely.”

    Powerful message in those words above. I am guilty of comparing myself on occasion. A reminder that we all have something unique to offer the world is something I try to appreciate more often than how I measure up, though. But those thoughts still creep in from time to time when I least expect it.

    About 30min or so before I read this post, a ridiculous thought/question crept up on me out of nowhere…..”Am I talented?”…..I don’t even know where it came from, the thought appeared out of thin air. I took a moment to think it over and I told myself…..”Yes, yes you are”…..

    I believe it.

  • Kimberly Graham

    Brava, Sue!

    It’s been a long time coming for me to realize that being a divorce lawyer saying that the old divorce model doesn’t work and isn’t healthy is going to be unpopular among some colleagues. And that I don’t care. What I’m saying comes from years as a lawyer, as the child of divorce, as a divorce mediator and as a mother and ex-wife. It’s my vision — and one I believe will change the world for the better and bring more love and compassion along for the ride. It’s been difficult to realize I don’t sound like other lawyers and I don’t want to. This is me. 🙂
    love & peace, Kimberly

  • Susan

    Sue, What perfect timing! Thank you for reminding me to show up as myself and stop comparing myself to others. You’re awesome!

  • Willy

    Wow. This could not have come at a better time for me. I see myself in your former Piglet personality and now I can’t wait to discover my own coolness. I can’t believe that all this time, all I needed to do was simply stop the comparison! Thank you so much for your insights!

    P.S. Oh, and just to let you know, I totally agree that you are downright hilarious!

  • Sue Sullivan

    Awesome!

  • jean

    Sue,
    Thanks again for a beautifully written, insightful post!

  • Mary L

    Sue, You’re one of the coolest people I know. And, one of the funniest. Mostly, though, you are one of the most insightful individuals I have ever encountered. Go SS.

  • Sue

    Lisa- You don’t even have to label youself as ‘abnormal’- just YOU. That’s just how you do cool. 🙂

    Thanks for your comments Allision, Kit, Tonya, Cristina! Glad this has meaning for you. Makes me happy! And Tonya ditto on the cool mama!

    Laura- I think it’s ironic too- it’s so tempting to want to be like someone else! And so fun when we find out that we have just as much to offer!

  • brojoe

    Another awesome post Sue. Keep doing what you are doing because your coolness is growing exponentially!

  • Laura

    Wonderful post, Sue! I think it’s ironic that the act of chasing coolness actually takes away from our natural charm, spark, charisma….BTW Would LOVE to hear you speak!

  • Kels

    Sue,
    You always hit me where I need it. Here’s to “rocking my coolness”:)
    Thanks!

  • Cristina

    Thank you for this, I need constant reminding that I’m fine as I am 🙂

  • Tonya Leigh

    Sue,

    Thank you SO much for reminding us that we are all cool, in our on very special way. It’s so easy to compare, criticize and conform to others, but it never feels good on the inside.

    By the way, I think you’re one cool mama!

    xoxo,

    t

  • Kit

    Thanks, I needed to read this, having just encountered someone e-mailing just to tell me exactly what was wrong about my recipes! I need to bookmark this, for the next time, to keep me going.

  • Allison J

    This is an amzing and powerful post Sue. I’m going to send the link to myfriends.

  • Lisa @ Grandma’s Briefs

    I’m not so much chasing coolness as I am seeking normalcy.But maybe it’s the acceptance of my non-normalcy that I really need to strive for. Genuinely abnormal will be my goal, I guess, as I’m tired of, as you put it, my personality not even showing up when trying to fit in and be like everyone else. Thank you for the reminder to be the best ME … no matter how abnormal that may be.