The Sweet Success of Showing Up

Sep 24, 2015

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.

28 Comments

  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    Michele, it’s because of you that I joined a group of 7 at my brand new church where I didn’t know anyone to submerge ourselves in leadership training that will go for 8 months. I used to love meeting people for the first time…smiling…talking…laughing. Now, they are getting to know the “new” me. My smile is crooked, my speech a little slurred, I have to wear my glasses at all times because of double vision and when I get up to walk, more times than no I start out walking sideways because of balance issues. There is a part of me that is embarrassed and I know it’s pride. But because of you I am doing it anyway, and praying for each and every new person I meet, much more aware that all have struggles going on in their lives. These are my “new people” and I consider them a gift from God. I am so proud of you and CANNOT WAIT to begin to listen to Season 8 of This Is Your Life!!!

    Reply
    • Kathleen Thompson

      Linda, I am so glad to read this. I am encouraged by both you and Michele, and am reminded to bring exactly who I am and what I have now to the table. My brokenness doesn’t necessarily manifest itself the same way as yours, but it does sometimes make me want to hide too.
      Michele, I know you said in your video that social media is like the front porch, and our lives include the basement. I love that you are showing us your whole self, and not just the front porch. I am challenged to do the same. And that’s where real connection takes place.

      Reply
  2. Victoria Mininger

    Thank you for this word this morning Michele. It is what I needed to hear as I face my own setbacks and walls that seem insurmountable. So many times I am ready to throw in the towel and God sends a word to encourage me. Today, it was you. 🙂
    I am so very excited to hear you speaking again. We have missed hearing and seeing you alongside Michael Hyatt and I look forward to listening in when the podcast go live.
    Continue to press forward and keep the faith – and thank you for sharing your very private journey with us. It continues to give me hope in my own walk.

    ~Victoria

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      He’s so good to us. Love that He used this to encourge you today. Press on, sister.

      Reply
  3. Mary Ashton

    Yay!!! You are exactly who He wanted you to be, because of all of it!

    Reply
  4. Doreen

    Please, please don’t ever give up….we need you!!

    Reply
  5. Wayne Stiles

    Michele, you’re a model for us all. I’m standing and applauding! Thank you for leaning forward.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks, my friend. It helps to have good friends along the way. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Lily

    Just today on the way to work I remembered the words of my SCORRE coach: “Like Queen Esther, you have already been anointed. You don’t have to wait for God’s blessing.” I struggle with “what I do know is not what I would love to be doing” and fear comes in and paralyzes me, so thank you for the reminder that many of us feel like running and hiding. As far as getting back on a plane and getting back on stage, I think you are as articulate as ever because you have a message that is impossible to ignore. You may feel self-conscious but the rest of us cannot wait to hear what your beautiful heart has to share with us as you heal. So glad that you keep on showing up, Michele. Welcome back.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Gotta love Queen Esther. She gives us all courage! You have what it takes, Lily. Keep going. He is with you.

      Reply
  7. Sheron

    I’m reading your book and believe me it has so encouraged me. I believe my Father is speaking to me about starting a women’s prayer group in my area and yet I feel so inadequate to do so. Somehow I believe He is using your testimony to encourage me that I can do this in His strength and with His guidance. I can identify with some of what you have written in your book as my Father’s child. My life has not turned out as I had hoped yet I have tried to live a life honoring my Heavenly Father. The one thing that Father has taught me is that though all will fail you, He never will.

    Reply
  8. Tim Barton

    Awesome. So very awesome. Thank you for sharing this, Michelle.

    Reply
  9. Bruce Crosd

    Awesome words Michelle. PLEASE do not drop off the scene. God is using you in MORE ways than you will ever be able to count – including here!

    Please check out the video on my blog post today…it will speak to you FIGHTERS FIGHT!

    Reply
  10. Wendy

    I cannot tell how happy this made me. From the encouragement of your message to the fact that we get to hear you again — this made my day on so many levels. You know, I don’t care how you “sound” when you speak; I’m too busy learning from what you have to say. And you have SO much to say. Blessings, Michele!

    Reply
  11. Rayna

    I am so blessed by your story, your courage and our transparency! Keep on keeping on girl, God’s glory is being shown from the roof tops, good job!
    Blessings,
    Rayna

    Reply
  12. Rick Theule

    My insurmountable setback may sound trivial to some people, but it impacts me hard. It makes me want to quit and hide. I currently make one quarter of what I did 10 years ago. One half of what I did less than 3 years ago. Thinking of the numbers and the issues it presents at home, makes me want to hide. But, I’m trying to remember it can change. I can do things to make it change. I need to begin by showing up. One step at a time.

    Reply
  13. Lea

    I am so excited you’re back with Michael Hyatt! I have missed you so much (sorry Stu). I am so grateful I found you through Michael’s podcast, you have breathed faith into the fibers of my soul with every word in your book and your blog.
    Thank you Michelle for demonstrating that broken is beautiful!

    Reply
  14. Caroline

    Thank you for saying YES to the call God has on your life. You inspire deeply, and my life will forever be changed.

    Reply
  15. Caroline

    Thank you for sharing your experience of your courage. You are such an inspiration to me.

    Reply
  16. Sundi Jo

    I love seeing God’s glory in your story.

    Reply
  17. Jed

    Inspiring and real. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

    Reply
  18. Richard Graham

    Thanks for sharing, it is great to have you back hosting Michael Hyatt. Your bravery seen in your willingness to share your vulnerability and your tenacity in your fight with cancer is inspirational.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Deb

    I just finished listening to your book this morning. What an amazing story. Your courage in handling your life and in exposing it for all to read is inspiring, to say the least. I learned of you through the This is Your Life podcast. I knew that you were going through treatment again and eagerly awaited your return to the show. I’m so glad that you’re back. There are so many brilliant nuggets in this post. Your writing is beautiful. But you should know that you inspire others to work towards making peace with their unexpected lives just by showing up the way you do. I’m eagerly awaiting your next book and I’m a fan – of Michele the writer and Michele the human being. Beautiful…

    Reply
  20. Evona

    Very well said. It is nice to know that I’m not the only one who struggles to show up. Season 6 has been great. I have been helped and motivated. I’m glad you didn’t hide.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Definitely not the only one, Evona. With you.

      Reply
  21. Marcus

    Discovered you via the podcast with Michael Hyatt. Love your energy and optimism, and wanted to find out more. Found your story very inspiring, particularly how you’ve continued with your speaking career and podcast after your operations.

    Reply
  22. barb grams

    You GO GIRL! And thank you for osting, I just went through about 5 days of down spiraling again but I am up and running as of laast Monday. I was shocked to be diagnosed with early stage 2 A breast cancer last mid May. I went through the surgery, struggled with choices to be made and waited for pathology reports from the biopsy, surgery, other reports. I prayed and prayed for wisdom and direction and even though I did not want radiation I knew God told me yes. THAT made all of the difference. Now I am only 2 weeks out from my last radiation treatment and about to face an aromatase drug. This for a healthy woman who never even got a cold or the flu and who is very young at heart, thank 10 years old! I chose because I believed that God wanted it, to be honest and transparent with what I was going through and always try to point back to God and my supportive prayer partner friends.My life has been turned upside down and will never be the same, but like you I have seen God work good through it and His unchanging unfathomable acceptance , love, and understanding have knocked me off of my feet! I have been mad, stomped my feet, asked why, and then asked for His forgiveness and He has always picked me up, held me close and loved and delighted in me anyway! I love Him more and more! Who understands our heart more than He does? Our hopes and dreams, our fears?I have had so many Christians in particular tell me how much my transparency meant to them and that they felt it was good for them and others. I don’t take credit for that, I just think that sometimes Christians think we have to put up this perfect front and always be positive and upbeat and yet when we dare to be vulnerable, dare to be honest while always pointing back to God and sharing all that He IS doing for our good, even when we may not like it, that somewhere out there is someone who needs to know that even when we stomp our feet, bawl our head off and tell our heavenly Father that we are mad, disappointed, doubtful……that He will NEVER leave us or forsake us. He is big enough to handle us and pulls us close, whispers in our ear and loves on us no matter what. Thank you for your honesty. I have prayed for you and will continue to as He directs. He’s not done with you… <3

    Reply

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  1. Sow Good Seeds in your Life - 2 Hearts Desire - […] recently heard Michele Cushatt say, “Perfection doesn’t create very many opportunities for connection.” How […]

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