What does it take to prepare oneself to speak in front of millions of people? I realize many people never face such a prospect and most decline to speak before even a small audience. I learned recently that the notion of such a presentation must be extremely intimidating to many because the most common question I received after my appearance on Today was, “You seem so relaxed Meg. Weren’t you nervous speaking in front of so many people?”
What a difference a week can make. Last week I was on Today. This week? Jury duty. All lawyers (including this one) share a secret fantasy about jury duty. We imagine that the minute we arrive to the courthouse, we would announce that we are practicing attorneys and the court clerk would respond with apologetic surprise, “Well, why didn’t you let us know that before making the effort to come? We will be happy to excuse you immediately.” Alas, the reality is somewhat different.
And so, as I sat with a crowd of similarly summoned people listening to the Assignment Judge welcome us all to our civic duty, something in her speech got me thinking: “I know that receiving a juror request notice is only slightly better than receiving a bill after the holidays, and that unlike your typical routine, the obligation to be here is out of your control, so you might as well make the most of it….”
There was that word: CONTROL. I had always thought that the notion of having control was the equivalent of having freedom: I could choose what friends I wanted, the schools I wanted to apply to, the profession I wished to have, and the town in which I wished to live. Having control meant also that I could hide my hands in my pockets or shove them behind my back before taking a photo.
But somewhere along the way, I realized when it came to how others viewed me, I didn’t feel free. I couldn’t control others. I couldn’t make someone date me who wasn’t interested, couldn’t deflect the stares, and certainly couldn’t stop others from taking one look and pitying me. Sometimes I used to believe that if I stared back at someone intensely, I could somehow force them to turn their attention away from me. How ridiculously naïve! One thing was certain. I realized that the more I cared what others thought of me, the more miserable I became. During this period I was asked to run some live training sessions at work for the first time. Not surprisingly, I crumbled, painfully consumed with how I was being perceived by the very co-workers I was supposed to be instructing.
And then one hot and humid summer day, a few years before I met my husband John, I was walking to work in New York City. Two young men were walking together in the other direction, seemingly friends. As they passed me, the taller of the two said in a booming voice, “Hey, Mike. Did you see that girl’s hands? What a freak!” At this point, his friend said, just as loudly, “Yeah, but who cares. She’s really pretty.” I had to duck into a coffee shop nearby and sit down to catch my breath. It was an important, revealing moment for me. I reflected on the exchange, and became newly enlightened. Worrying about what others thought of me was pointless. I am who I am, and no matter what I look like, people will make their own impressions. Without any input from me, even two friends could have polar opposite opinions of me. There was nothing I could do about that; it was out of my control.
From that point on, I changed. I was able to travel the country for work and speak to any group, large or small. I stopped worrying if someone I was meeting was overly focused on my condition. I found my freedom not through control, but by letting go. And when given the incredible opportunity to appear on Today, I could accept because I had long ago let go of being concerned with what others thought of me, two fingers, two toes and all.
The day of the Today interview, as I walked from the Green Room to the studio with Lauren, the NBC producer, at my side, she turned to me and asked, “Meg, how are your nerves, are they in check?” “I am looking forward to this!” I replied with a smile. After all, I knew that the only person I could control once I arrived on that couch was me. “And we are live….” I heard someone say. “Bring it on!” I thought.