By Cynthia Toussaint.
Happy to report that For Grace’s November 2nd Change Agent Pain Summit was perfect. Our morning panel of doctors, researchers and professors was perfect. Our focus-group afternoon sessions were perfect. The ideas, action items and next steps were perfect. We were even asked by our excited sponsors to have a meeting just after to strategize about how to move this effort further. Like I said, perfect.
Well, almost perfect. The only thing that didn’t make the grade was… me.
This event was three, long years in the making – and when I took the podium to launch the “ready, set, go” mood for the day, I was high-energy and passionate about the work. As I looked out at the change agents in the room, they were grinning and applauding with excitement. I had them in the palm of my hands!
And that’s when I blanked. Just dropped my speech. As is my way, I write and memorize my presentations, working without notes. I’ve blanked a few times with speeches in the past, but have always quickly found my footing. This time, it was gone.
I stopped and acknowledged my “fibro moment” which turned into what felt like an eternity of moments, all the while desperately trying to pull up my words. I’d worked really hard on this call-to-action which I thought would give participants a deep insight into the world of high-impact chronic pain while energizing them to do the good work.
I finally had to let go of what I’d prepared, skipping over the meat and potatoes of what I was going to say. Still I didn’t recapture my usual sparkle because I was rattled and disappointed. This had never happened to me. What the hell?!
Afterward I sat down, certain I’d ruined the day. And my self-flagellation didn’t end there. For a week straight, I kept reliving the moment (I even had nightmares about it), thinking of all the things I could have done to side step this blunder. I really beat myself up – which is my way when I make a mistake. To me, the day was a total failure. I’d screwed up so badly I couldn’t imagine showing my face again.
I’m well aware that many of us women in pain are Type-A personalities and expect nothing short of perfection. In fact as I was just writing this, I got a call from a pain sister who broke-down crying because her doctor told her she HAS to slow down when she’s in a flare. Trouble is, Meg over-achieves to prove that she isn’t broken. And I’ve come to realize that I do the same, Wonder Woman cape and all.
I pride myself on being tough as nails. My partner John’s got me pegged when he comments “if you can put off something till tomorrow, you’ll always do it today.” Whenever I come down with the flu, I still make my morning swim even when my pale complexion makes the lifeguard nervous. I never cancel a travel engagement (work or leisure) due to a flare. I refuse to let a good opportunity fall by the wayside just because I have no idea how to do it, like when I ran for California State Assembly. And I NEVER use notes for a speech!
Trouble is, when I make a mistake, it’s incredibly hard to let myself off the hook. Yes, to give myself a break.
But this time, after a week of stewing, I starting listening deeply to my meditation guide, the voice that reminds me that we’re all perfectly imperfect – and that when we make a mistake, it’s a rich opportunity to learn something new about ourselves and to grow.
As I spoke to people about my colossal mess-up, I got loving comments like, “you’re not a machine, Cynthia” and “you’re always so polished, it was nice to see you be human.” Like my meditation guide, everyone else could cut me some slack. And while it’s difficult for me, I decided it was ripe time I do the same.
When all is said and done, it’s self-indulgent to think that my speech snafu could ruin a wonderfully successful day three years in the planning. And none of us have to be super-women to prove our value despite illness.
Letting go of perfect is my new mantra. We women in pain have already got way too much on our plates without adding to our struggle. We succeed masterfully everyday of our lives just by showing up in all of our glorious badassness. And we need to be easy on and good to ourselves, even have a laugh, when we take a virtual face plant. Our tumbles don’t stop the world from spinning.
That being said, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be using notes when next I take the podium 😉