when there is nowhere left to hide

Have you ever felt raw and exposed as though your protective layers of carefully crafted social behaviour have been ripped away and there is just you standing there, naked and vulnerable for the world to see? I’ve been feeling like that a fair bit over the last week. And whilst I’m learning a lot, I can’t say the experience has been comfortable, or even welcome at times.

The cause of this turmoil is an 8-week course I have just enrolled in called B-School. It’s an online business school for socially aware entrepreneurs. You might be thinking that it’s unusual for a course to challenge its participants on anything more than an intellectual level. I certainly wasn’t expecting this level of personal and emotional challenge, however here I am and I suspect there will be a lot more of it as the course progresses.

You see, I have a dream of starting a business that helps people slow down the frenetic pace of their lives, connect with and learn to love themselves, and then to harness their sense of internal peace to interact with other people and the planet in forward thinking and sustainable ways. And whilst I know this dream is a worthy one, I am less sure of my ability or credentials to carry it out. Some of the internal monologue has looked like this: “That’s a great thing to do, love is what is needed to heal dysfunctional relationships with ourselves, others and the natural environment.” Then, “Who are you to think that you can do this? You don’t have a counselling degree or coaching experience. And by the way, you sound like a raging flower power rainbow hippy who smokes too much weed when you talk about healing the planet with love!” Then I think, somewhat theatrically with what I imagine to be John Lewis’ booming voice in my head, “If not you, then who? And if not now, then when?” And there is also the fact that I’ve already put a down payment on the course, so the “when” bit has already been decided…

And so the cycle continues.

However I know that I have a lot to offer. And when I launch my business and ask people to trust me, I’m going to do a kickass job. Because I wouldn’t have it any other way. But that negative nancy internal monologue keeps etching away like a particularly malevolent jack-in-the-box. It’s telling me I’m just not ready yet.

But here’s the thing. Successful people don’t wait to feel ready before they start. They go for what they want, even if they feel like a body bagged convict being thrown off a cliff, reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s funny to think that Obama probably didn’t feel ready to be President, nor would Gillard have felt ready to be Prime Minister (and Australia’s first female Prime Minister no less!). Hell, maybe the Dalai Lama wasn’t ready to lead a significant element of the spiritual world. I know for a fact that Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and a man I greatly admire, didn’t feel ready to be the face of the climate movement in the United States. He was a self-described introvert writer, who stood up and took action because he knew it was right, not because he suddenly switched his personality to become a confident orator. Yet, there he is, leading and inspiring thousands of people to take action on climate change to protect our communities, our livelihoods and the precious natural environment.

So yep, having my well-manicured image scraped off has been tough. I don’t remember feeling so wobbly since my Dad took the training wheels off my pink bicycle (with streamers on the handles) and pushed me up the driveway, telling me to “just ride” as he sent me peddling down our cul-de-sac.

[Full disclosure: about 20 metres down the road I fell off my bike and my best friend Jessie who lived opposite us rode her bicycle straight over my head. Thanks for making me wear my helmet Dad! However I have since had an enduring and mostly pleasurable relationship with bikes, with only two notable hiccups. Firstly when I passed out cold and acquired a minor brain injury when I went over my handlebars whilst mountain biking and then on another occasion when I came off my bike and broke my shoulder. No biggie!]

But the point is, vulnerability is good because it forces us to get real about who we are and what we’re doing. It also allows us to drop any bullshit pretenses that are holding us back and pursue the things we were put on this planet to do.

Have you ever felt totally exposed? What did you learn from the experience?