You have 30 days left to live. What message do you share with the world?
Updated: May 9
A little over a year ago, at the age of 28, I was asked to speak at an event called “One Last Talk.” I would spend 15 minutes delivering (to 200 people) the message I would leave if I knew I only had 30 days to live.
A month before the event, the organizer arranged a speaker’s retreat where all the speakers met to present and refine our talks.
At the retreat I sat and watched everyone else give their talks. Then it was my turn.
As I stood up to begin my talk, tightness crept into my shoulders and chest. I had nothing to say, so I froze. 11 sets of eyes stared at me.
It felt like it went on forever.
Then I heard something that created a small crack in the seal that held the bottomless chasm of feelings I had been tucking away for over two decades. “It looks like you just want to cry, when was the last time you cried?”
I broke down and sobbed like a little boy. All the pressure drained out of me.
Thankfully, the event organizer had the foresight to organize a speaker’s retreat prior to the live event so I only collapsed into a raw, emotional heap of tears in front of 10 other speakers, not in front of 200 audience members.
I left the speaker’s retreat an emotional train wreck. The event itself was approaching in less than three weeks and I didn’t have the slightest semblance of a meaningful talk.
When I was first asked to speak at this event I thought to myself, “Awesome! A room full of 100 people and all I have to do is tell a story for 15 minutes, this is not going to be a problem.”
I’d been in the real estate investment and private finance business for over six years at that point and had given countless talks, many to rooms much larger than 200 people. I thought this talk was going to be no different, if anything it would be easier because I wasn’t selling anything.
I arrived at the speaker’s retreat telling myself all fired up. I had done a lot of personal growth in the past and thought I was excited to tell my story.
As I listened to the other speakers share their stories I began tossing more and more ideas around in my mind about what I was going to speak about.
I would hear a speaker share a story about how they went through some emotional pain, were able to face and accept it and come out the other side in a more joyful place and would think to myself, “Wow that was really vulnerable, I can really empathize with this person’s journey and I want to get to know them and help them. I like this person. What story can I tell about my life to sound that vulnerable?”
I wanted to sound like the other speakers. I wanted a story where I faced great pain head on, slogged my way through it and came out the other side with a much happier and more joyful life.
I wanted anyone else’s story but my own.
As I stood at the front of the room fighting as hard as I could against the urge to panic and make a mad dash out of the room I gradually became aware of why I wanted to tell anyone else’s story but my own.
I wasn’t feeling. I didn’t want to feel.
I didn’t want to feel because I didn’t want to face the pain. I couldn’t begin to imagine that happiness could exist on the other side of the massive crater of pain I was holding back.
That’s when the pain overwhelmed me.
The pain of pretending to be the perfect boyfriend, pretending to love the business that I was in, pretending to be joyful and full of happiness, pretending to love myself and my life when inside I was holding onto deep feelings of shame, anger, and sadness.
My emotional perception of my reality was much different than the one I projected to the outside world. I thought I was a horrible boyfriend because I had cheated on every girlfriend I ever had, including my incredibly gorgeous and understanding current girlfriend.
I was working almost every day of the week on a business that I hated because I had made it all about making money. I had become addicted to quick fixes in an attempt to control the massive amount of pain I was feeling. I thought if I did more deals, made more money, had more sex, and partied harder that the pain would stop.
But these “solutions” never eased the deep underlying shame. They only made it worse.
Standing in front of that room I realized I’d been lying almost every day for as long as I could remember to the most important person in my life, myself.
The sadness, shame, and pain were at first quietly suggesting, and then violently screaming at me to wake up and listen to myself.
I realized, finally, that I could tell the truth on myself. I did not have to push the pain back and hold it inside. I could choose to reveal the shame, pain, and sadness – first to myself, then to those closest to me, and finally to the rest of the world.
At first I was terrified to do this. I thought, “There is no happy ending to this, all I feel is shame, pain, sadness and despair. If I truthfully reveal these feelings I’m going to be alone. Who is going to want to be friends with me or love me?”
I thought I needed to be able to wrap my story in a bow in order to reveal myself to the world.
I was in turmoil. I was ready to do anything to stop the pain. Finally, I reached out to a trusted friend and mentor for help. I revealed a tiny bit of the pain and shame of who I thought I really was.
It was terrifying to open up but when I did an incredible thing happened.
I actually felt something. Yes, it was painful and I cried like a baby, but beneath the tears I was deeply relieved to feel.
Something shifted inside of me as I stood in front of the room that day, crying like a baby. I began giving myself permission to feel.
I began to accept my feelings and listen to what they are telling me. Through this I began to have compassion for myself, accept more of myself and allow more of myself into the world.
This is now a process I work on every day. It’s a journey without an ending.
While things in my life are by no means perfect today, by giving myself the permission to feel and telling the truth on myself, I have a greater sense of peace and purpose than I have ever felt before.
On the day of the event I felt the strong urge to vomit due to an anxious knot in my gut.
I was about to tell the truth on myself in front of 200 people and it scared the shit out of me more than any talk I had ever given.
I was feeling and my mind did not want me to feel, it wanted me to run as far away from that stage as I possibly could, curl up into a little ball and hide.
I decided not to trust my mind and trusted my feelings instead.
Rather than pushing the fear away – as I had in the past – I wanted to meet it head on, get to know it and accept it as a part of me.
I was terrified to share my truth with the audience and potentially not be loved. It was not the audience I was scared of. It was the thought of feeling intense pain, shame, sadness, and despair again.
My fear wanted me to make giving the talk all about me.
It wanted me to paint me in the most perfect light possible, better yet it wanted me to not give the talk at all. When I leaned into this fear, stood on that stage and shared my truth I realized sharing my truth is not about me at all.
It’s about the impact my story and my truth can have on others.
The outpouring of support and compassion from the audience stunned me. Several people reached out to me directly to share their stories of pain, shame, and despair and ask me for suggestions on what I thought they should do.
After speaking my truth and sharing my story I realized I was not alone.
As human beings we all feel pain and my pain – while uniquely viewed through the lens of my own story – feels no different than anyone else’s pain. When we open ourselves up to sharing our pain with others we find that we all experience intense feelings of pain, shame, and loneliness through the lens of our own individual stories.
I believe that every one of us is uniquely equipped to share our truth with the world, no matter how scary it may seem.
In the same light each one of us are uniquely equipped to feel compassion for the pain our fellow humans are suffering.
When we share our truth, we allow others and ourselves the opportunity to feel the intense emotion we’ve been hiding. Then these feelings begin to lose their individual significance in our minds.
Sharing our truth provides an opportunity to ourselves – and more importantly others – to feel the pain holding us back, heal it, let it go and allow more truth to shine through and impact the world.
You do not need to be perfect to share your truth with the world. The world wants you and needs exactly as you are. Your imperfection is what the world wants, what the world needs to see.
Share you exactly as you are.
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