Finding your voice

Would you say that you are brave? Tough question, right? I’m pretty sure I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of spiders, public speaking, heights, being hungry on a long train-ride. I’m even scared of escalators! Though, actually I think that this fear is pretty rational, given that I was knocked unconscious on an escalator in ‘03 when my long, Stevie Nicks-esque cardigan got caught on one at Hurstville station and catapulted me back down to earth and left my back covered in escalator shaped tooth marks.

My partner, Allan is one of those crazy, calm people who doesn’t panic when everything falls apart. He does this really weird thing where he looks for a solution to the problem without attaching emotion to it (like I said; crazy). He’s also one of those mental patients who has jumped out of an aeroplane willingly, bungee jumped for the fun of it and continues to ask me to accompany him swimming with sharks (bless his cotton socks).

I am no thrill seeker, but there is one area where my bravery excelled as a child and returned with a vengeance in my 30’s after an unfortunate disappearing act in my 20’s; speaking my mind. Something that I believe young children and senior citizens are brilliant at. I remember visiting my nan in the nursing home the year of her passing, asking if she liked my new jacket; “not really” she replied. Ahhh, so refreshingly honest. What happens to us in those years in between dummies and dentures? Is it that deadly disease sweeping the globe; ‘caring what others think of us’? Imagine what the human race could accomplish in those wasted hours spent worrying about the judgement of others?

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My greatest flaw and biggest barrier to success has been my ‘people pleasing’ personality. That need for a pat on the head, to be told that I’m doing a good job. Every time I have needed external validation, I have handed over my power to someone else.

I have this theory, from carefully observing those I deem to be successful: that some of the most successful people did not do well in school. I was a straight-A student whom teachers loved. They told me to jump and I asked; “how high”? I then spent my early adult years in unhealthy relationships with basic jobs and financial debt. Could this be because I was a victim of a system that encouraged ‘sheep’ rather than independent thinkers? I’m not suggesting to stop reading or being interested in gaining knowledge, I’m suggesting that perhaps a rebellious streak could have been a little less punished by our superiors.

Richard Branson is a name known around the world, not just for being one hell of a flirt, but for creating a hugely recognisable and successful brand in various industries. In his autobiography ‘Like a Virgin’, Branson talks about his struggles at school due to his dyslexia and poor academic performance. Before dropping out at age 16, the mogul’s headmaster told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. I would like to question; in fear of ending up as the former, how many of us have been prohibited from becoming the latter?

Some may call me argumentative; fair call. I grew up in a family who could have brought home the gold, if arguing was an Olympic Sport. Though I’m learning to pick my battles and walk away from conversations that can’t be won, such as disagreements with people who are more offended by two men holding hands than holding guns. “I could argue with an idiot, but then there’d be two idiots”. There is a fine line between being argumentative and having a voice.  Having a voice is my finest quality and it continues to make me proud of myself. This doesn’t mean that I’m not kind or compassionate, this just means that I value myself and my needs, which in turn, makes me stronger to help others.

Kasey Chambers articulated this brilliantly as she was inducted into the ARIA Hall of fame last month; “being a bitch doesn’t make you strong, and being strong doesn’t make you a bitch”. Amen.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I adore Lady Gaga. Not just for her amazing vocal performances that have inspired me in my own singing career, but because she’s just plain smart. After having back to back success with her first two albums, Gaga felt immense pressure on her from her record label and media scrutiny to continue and expand on this success. Having been a songwriter from a young age, Gaga felt the emphasis moving away from her creativity and onto her being a money-making puppet for people riding the coat tails of her success. After being hospitalised with a broken hip and experiencing constant pain from fibromyalgia, Gaga felt quite simply; depressed. I watch a lot of Lady Gaga footage on YouTube; there are some damn fine performances on there, but my very favourite is of Gaga’s speech at Yale University, encouraging us to SAY NO. The multi award winning singer and songwriter shared with the audience, some of the questions she asked herself to return to a healthier state of mind:

Stephanie/Gaga/hybrid person, why is it that you’re unhappy? Why is it that you want to quit music? Well I really don’t like selling these fragrances. I don’t like wasting my time spending days shaking people’s hands & smiling & taking selfies; it feels shallow to my existence. I have a lot more to offer than my image. I don’t like being used to make people money. I feel SAD when I am overworked and that I just become a money-making machine and that my passion and my creativity take a back seat; that makes me unhappy. So what did I do? I started to say no. “I’m not doin’ that. I don’t wanna do that. I’m not taking that picture, I’m not goin’ to that event, I’m not standing by that ‘cause that’s not what I stand for.” And slowly but surely, I remembered who I am. And then you go home, and you look in the mirror and you’re like; YES, I can go to bed with YOU every night, because I know that person. That person has balls, that person has integrity, that person has an opinion…I check in with myself throughout the day and ask myself, do I really want to do this? And if the answer is no, I don’t do it, and you shouldn’t either.”

I believe this speech to be a very powerful reminder of who is in charge of our own lives. Especially now, that we are living in a society dominated by ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. We may not have the same financial freedom as Gaga to stay at home if we don’t feel like going to work that day. But if you feel stuck in a situation that is sacrificing who you are as a person in the effort to appease another, then only you have the power to say NO. To remove yourself from that situation and then try something different. Once you can do that without looking around for someone to tell you that it’s OK, you have conquered fear. And you will be free.

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When we were children, we all wanted to grow up. Surely it wasn’t for the bills and wrinkles; it was for the freedom.

I’m a work in progress. I know that times will arise throughout the day when I will worry what might happen, what someone might say, or doubt my talent and abilities. But that’s OK. As long as I am aware of this and keep bringing myself back, then I am moving forward. 

I recently did something for my career that the mere thought of years ago would have terrified me to my core (it is ongoing, and I will be divulge more information in the coming months). But no matter the outcome of this huge risk I took, I feel so good inside, knowing that I pushed through the shaking legs and achieved something I never had before. I was brave, and I am so proud of myself. I go to bed each night and look at Steph in the mirror and say; “I can go to bed with you”.

As we draw to the end of the year; my first year writing this blog, I would like to thank you so much for reading words that have meant a lot to me. I wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas filled with love, trifle and champagne.

My wish for us all in 2019, is that we say no to situations that make us unhappy, say yes to adventures that help us grow and have balls bigger than a rhino.  

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