Success doesn’t always look like you think it does.

When, ten months ago, a team of surgeons removed two-thirds of my tongue and rebuilt it with tissue from my left arm and thigh, I knew my success as a speaker hung in the balance. How in the world would I ever be able to do what I loved again? How would I read a book to my children before bed, let alone address hundreds or thousands from a stage?

My doctors said things like “It will get better, for the most part” and “You’ll adapt.” These so-called reassurances didn’t make me feel better. In fact, they sounded more like back-door bad news. No one wanted to come out and say it, but I knew they whispered it behind my back:

Her career as a speaker is over.

This powerful little narrative has been niggling in the back of my brain for nearly a year now. I’ve fought through hours of speech therapy, practiced talking when it was painful, struggled through exercises and stretches to get my mouth to work like it’s supposed to. All the while, the questions nagged:

Am I finished? Washed up? Useless? No one wants to listen to speaker who can’t talk, right? I’m a walking anethema, a reminder of all we fear. 

These questions caused me to flirt with a massive temptation:

To hide.

To lock myself up at home. To fulfill my primary role as wife and mother, of course. Always. But to shut down my laptop, disable social media and email, and swing closed my office door. Forever. The prospect of putting myself back “out there” again—scarred, altered, different—terrified me. And shamed me. I was embarrassed of my new self, and didn’t want anyone to see what I’d become.

I toyed with this temptation up until last week.

No. Scratch that. I toy with that temptation still.

Even so, over the last few weeks, I’ve fought it.

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First, I spoke at all three weekend services at Mountainview Christian Church in Highlands Ranch, CO.

Then I started coaching a handful of new clients.

Last Thursday I boarded a plane and flew to Chicago where I spoke twice to 500 women at Community Christian Church (Yellow Box).

And then, as the grand finale, I flew to Nashville where I rejoined Michael Hyatt for Season 6 of This Is Your Life podcast. Over the course of two days, we recorded thirteen thirty-minute episodes {insert a moment of silence here}. When every word comes at a cost, that’s no small feat.

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Yes, the past two weeks have been hard. Yes, there were days when everything in me wanted to run. Yes, it took all my willpower to force myself to be exposed.

But you know what else?

It was also mind-blowing beautiful.

To be seen. And to discover I’m loved, exactly as I am. To do what I love to do, even as a broken and changed women, and find the darkness also surprisingly full of light.

Why am I telling you all this? 

Because you, too, know what it’s like to want to hide. To face an insurmountable setback and consider hanging up your gift or calling or dream. Success is too far out of reach. Why even reach for it?

Perhaps we’ve misunderstood success.

If my goal is to speak with perfection, to be the articulate woman I was before, then I am finished. That option is no longer on the table.

But success isn’t displayed on a stage or in obvious demonstrations of perfection.

Real success is the battle you fight and win inside. When you muster the courage to face down the very thing you fear most. To square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and run hard toward it when everything in you wants to run away.

I’m not the same speaker I was before. I sound different, I spit often, and I struggle with words that used to come easy. Some predict it will compromise my success.

Perhaps.

But they don’t know what I know.

My greater success was climbing on a plane again. Walking up the steps to a church stage again. And allowing a video team to capture me doing what I love, in public and not in hiding.

Success is no longer about performance. It’s about showing up. 

If you’ve experienced a setback, don’t be surprised when you feel the temptation to hide. To slink back into a corner and avoid exposing yourself to risk once again. It’s to be expected. And it’s certainly an option. You can play it safe and protect yourself from further loss. I get it.

OR.

You can fight for your life. You can face down your fear and allow yourself to be seen, as you are. You can do what you love and, at the same time, turn a deaf ear to performance-driven definitions of success.

Because you and I both know the truth: Showing up requires far more courage than showing off.

Face forward, my friend. I’m raising my cup to you. Here’s to us, being who we are, in all our glorious imperfection.

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