Jason and I just returned from our annual trip to MisfitCon, an event held in Fargo, ND by two of our most creative and inspiring friends in the world, AJ and Melissa Leon.
We actually affectionately refer to this event as our Creative New Year because it always feels like a fresh start as we return to our daily lives inspired, excited and deeply changed by the experience.
MisfitCon is unlike any other event I’ve ever been to. Every detail is carefully thought of, no moment or experience too small to consider. There is always a balance between quality, hand-crafted, refined art and wildly imaginative, no-holds-barred experiences. For example, you'll be sipping on a cocktail that was carefully created and concocted by an award-winning mixologist just for the event, while you find yourself in an about-to-be-demolished high school, custom Misfit-inspired graffiti covering every inch of the walls, watching a talented local break-dancing crew show off their moves up and down the halls. And that's just ONE PARTY. All five days are filled with magical moments stacked end to end just like that. (For some visual reference, feel free to flip through my friend, C.C. Chapman's Flickr photos from the event.)
The speakers are what really get me though. The inspiring stories of other people - most of whom I didn't even know existed in the world - that's what I really come for year after year. They tend to be the most eclectic group of change-makers I’ve ever seen grace a stage. This year’s line-up included: Breifne from Pedal the Planet who went from the brink of suicide to cycling around the entire globe (18,000 miles so far); Katrin, founder of Projects For All, who travels the world bringing accessible technology and education to those who need it; Akala, artistic director of the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and one of the most passionate people I've ever met, who educates young people about historical, racial, and political issues by combining Shakespeare's works and hip-hop music. Musicians, web developers, investors, teachers, policy-makers, actors, authors, artists, the list goes on...
…oh, and then… little old me.
I was shocked (and of course beyond delighted) when AJ and Melissa reached out to me, asking if I’d be willing to share my story with the crowd at MisfitCon.
It's no exaggeration to say that attending the event in 2013 changed my life in a profound way. Quite simply, there would be no Made Vibrant without MisfitCon, and I wanted to share the story of my journey to becoming an artist with people that I knew could benefit from hearing it.
But, as I sat in the audience, waiting for my turn to stand before the crowd, my heart began to race.
I watched speaker after speaker blow the audience away with their commitment to impacting the world and tales from their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. They all seemed so strong. So powerful. So clear in their mission and purpose.
And, like any human, despite my best efforts to stay present, I began to wonder how I might stack up. I could already see my hands trembling, my voice losing its resolve.Hold it together, Caroline, I said to myself. Just get up there and tell them your story.
I got so nervous and insecure about my place in all of that magic. I felt weaker, less prepared, more out of place with every speaker that went before me.
That’s when last week’s email newsletter shot into my head. Draw strength from your core, I said to myself. Your true self is where you get your power, not your weakness. If you stand up there and own your truth, there’s no fear to be had in that.
As AJ called me up to the stage, my knees nearly buckled.
I could feel the emotion within me rising to the surface of my somewhat composed exterior. Here I was, standing on the very stage that had changed my life two years prior, talking to the very people that had changed my life two years prior. Of course the significance of that was overwhelming. In that moment all I could think to do was acknowledge the feelings that were no doubt going to show themselves any second anyway. To bridle my fear, I simply told the truth:
"Fair warning: I'm a highly emotional person, so if I start spontaneously crying throughout this talk, nobody panic," I said. "We're going to get through this together."
The crowd chuckled as the tears already began to well into my eyes, but I wasn't fearful of what that might mean anymore. I was there to tell the truth, whatever uncomfortable emotions might accompany that truth.
See, I've come to understand something about my true core being. My heart is like a magnet for deep, stirring energy. It's like an exposed nerve, sensitive to every emotional impulse that comes my way. As a result, when something moves me, I feel it in every fiber of my body and that emotion has to go somewhere. There's no use in trying to stop it anymore.
I don’t remember that much about what I said, but I do remember looking out into the audience and seeing the faces of those that were clearly being affected by what I was saying. There were nods of validation and tears of resonance.
In the neurotic inner battle that led up to my talk, I told myself my emotional nature would hold me back from communicating effectively. I convinced myself that if I didn’t appear stoic or confident, that my message might be lost in the shuffle of the rest of the speakers.
What I found instead was the complete opposite.
Throughout the course of the four days after my talk, person after person would tap me on the shoulder or stop me at a party and simply say “Thank you." (To my complete disbelief, some of those people being the exact speakers I was comparing myself to earlier.)
They understood my message because they could feel my message.
It wasn’t until then that it occurred to me that showing that kind of emotion (we’re talking streaming tears here, people) on a public stage is rarely seen.
That exposed nerve part of me - the part I was convinced would be my greatest weakness on stage - actually turned out to be my greatest strength.
The point is this:
We all have our insecurities. The things that we fear will make us feel different or rejected.
But in many ways, to be different in this world doesn’t have to be a liability; it can actually be an asset. To stand out is to be unmistakable. To be memorable. To be yourself.
And being memorable is the first step to creating connection and impact, especially if you stand out for being unapologetically authentic.
I had no choice but to share my emotions with that crowd because that emotional sensitivity is what makes me who I am. I’m realizing more and more that to feel and to share is part of why I’m here on this earth.
Consider the fact that what you count as a flaw might actually be your greatest gift.
This week, I want you to take one aspect of yourself that you're insecure about, and I want you to think about how it can be an asset for you.
In what ways can you leverage a perceived weakness and turn it into a strength?
I’m sad most of you guys won’t be able to experience the life-changing five days that I just had, but I encourage you to seek out those transformational experiences in your own life.
You never know where they will take you.