I thought I would take over my parents' multi-million dollar jewelry business in Los Angeles. Then, in the early 1990s, my parents factory burnt down and we went bankrupt. Then I followed my dad to post-communist Bulgaria to pursue new business opportunities. Needless to say, this was a very uprooting and challenging experience. In 1999, I took a month long retreat to live in a monastery in India and loved it so much that I spent six months there and then another 14 1/2 years as a monk in New York City. I thought I would spend my whole life as a monk. In 2014, I left the monastic life and became a motivational speaker on mindfulness leadership and resilience.
I can't believe that I speak publicly for a living for the simple reason that most of my life, I was absolutely terrified of getting up in front of people. I avoided it like one would avoid an overcrowded room with a bunch of people coughing during Covid. Even my parents can't believe I get up in front of people and speak. They knew, better than anyone, how shy I was growing up.
First of all, I lacked self-confidence in my ability to express myself in an intelligent and thoughtful manner. Secondly, I just didn't think I had anything important and meaningful to say. So, how was I able to overcome this?
Strangely enough, it was during my 15 years as a monk. Most are probably thinking that a monastery is a place to practice silence and introspection which is true. However, my monastery strongly encouraged teaching others while we learn. In the beginning, I was asked to speak in front of a few fellow monks in the privacy of the monastery. Even that was a very difficult and challenging experience. I was afraid I wouldn't remember anything. Gradually, I started teaching mindfulness to college students in New York City. Initially, I was a nervous wreck, but gradually I began loving sharing these powerful practices to reduce stress and anxiety. It was so rewarding to receive the gratitude of so many students because these techniques were helping them deal with the pressures of academic and personal life.
As a monk, I probably did over a thousand talks and little did I realize that I was developing the skills to become a keynote speaker. Six years ago, when I left the monastic order, I started getting invitations to speak at organizations and conferences to not only share my story of monk-life but on how mindfulness could help the corporate environment. It's been a wonderful journey of overcoming my biggest fear and it's been totally worth it because the messages have helped so many.
Have you struggled with speaking publicly and if so, how are you overcoming that challenge? Would love to hear from you and I'm sure all those who struggle with this will also appreciate reading about it!