I'm standing on the side of the stage ready to go on and play a song. I listened to the person speak before it was my turn. I thought to myself that looks easy, I'll be just fine. I felt relaxed and not at all nervous.
I was introduced by the MC and it was my turn to walk on stage and congratulate all the participants of the 2016 Youth Social Innovators competition. This is a yearly competition that fourth year students from Irish secondary schools participate in, to bring about real change in their communities. Youth Social Innovation can help address local, national and global challenges. Inequality, poverty, domestic violence, child abuse, racism, climate change, unemployment, suicide, mass migration, integration and loneliness are just a number of the issues addressed every year.
I was invited along to this years YSI Speak Out tour which was taking place in The Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick City. I was asked to speak about my own journey in life and then sing one of my songs. It was my turn to go on stage and speak a few words. I calmly walked up to the mic and I congratulated everyone for all their hard work they had put into their projects over the last few months. I told them that I was invited along today to say a few words about my own journey in life and to hopefully inspire you to pursue your dreams in life. I said that I was from Limerick city and that I was....(Nothing would come out of my mouth).
I froze, I couldn't find the words to tell the audience that I was placed in the Good Shepherd Convent at 4 years of age. I felt exposed on that stage. I suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of nervousness come over me. I was looking down at myself from above saying to myself "What are you doing you fool? no one wants to listen to you cry about yourself on stage". With that I preceded to force the words out of my mouth. It actually sounded like I was crying on the stage. I was so nervous that my voice was shaking uncontrollable and I found it hard to breath. But I got through it. I told my story to those young people in front of me. I explained to them that in life it doesn't matter whether you come from a wealthy family, if you don't have much money, if your grandmother looks after you, if you have just a single parent or you're raised in an orphanage. I told them that this is all irrelevant when comes to pursuing your dreams in life.
I told the audience that if you had told me when I was younger that I would go to University and obtain a degree as a Physiotherapist, produce my debut album with a Grammy Award winning producer I would have laughed in your face. My circumstance (at the time) would not let me believe I could come even close to achieving any of this. I have and this is proof that where you have come from in life does not matter. What really matters is that you find the strength to follow your own dreams, as no one else will do it for you. There comes a time in your life when you have to make a decision. You have to ask yourself do I really want this (your dream) and I am willing to work hard to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead and take the risk of heading out into the unknown. There your dreams, no one else's, so hold them in your mind's eyes until you get there.
I think I probably ranted on a bit and said a whole lot more on stage. I hope they could hear me because I think I sounded like a little mouse on that microphone (squeak). Maybe this was a good thing because you could have heard a pin drop in the theater the whole time that I was speaking. I guess they could all hear that I was very nervous and they just wanted to hear what I had to say. I then played them my song "Fairytales". When I put the guitar strap around my neck I felt very relieved and I told them I hoped I would not be as nervous singing for them all as I was speaking to them. As soon as I started singing I was completely at home and relaxed again. Looking back on this, I was pretty pissed off for a few days because I had a panic attack on the stage and did not feel as if I did my best up there. To be honest it felt as if I was up there saying look at poor little me and my life.
After the event I called around to visit my foster parents. I explained to them how my first public speaking event turned out. I shared how nervous I was speaking and telling my story. They both said that it is a great story and that I should use it to inspire others. I don't ever think I have seen them as proud as that day. That really made me realise that I should speak up and speak out with pride and confidence in my story.
Looking back now I realise that I was well out of my comfort zone that day. This was evident when I put the guitar strap around my neck and could sing an entire song on stage without any difficulty just immediately after having a panic attack on stage 5 minutes previously. Singing a song in front of a few hundred people is easy. But when it comes to actually talking about my life story, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I had no clue how difficult that was going to be and when I do it again I will have a sheet with bullets points on it in front of me to keep focused. Stepping out of my comfort zone was a great experience. If I just managed to inspire at least one of those teenagers on that day it was all worth it. For that alone I would do it all over again. Speak up and speak out. Everyone's story matters.