Style - is the stuff you get wrong!


During these last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of an annual subscription of Masterclass, the online learning portal that has amazing teachers. It is one of my many weaknesses. I’m addicted to learning. I feel so alive after learning new things, especially when they have been taught in such a polished and professional way. This is certainly true for the Masterclass series. What I’ve watched so far has been really well made. One thing that has stood out so far is the teachers. It seems that those most successful in their craft are just as human as us. They have had serious insecurities and learned how to overcome them.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been tremendously affected by the fear of embarrassment. In many ways, it is one of the worst things that could happen to me. I used to fear it like many fear spiders, heights or clowns (yes it’s a real thing and has a name – Coulrophobia!). Whenever I was embarrassed, I felt like everyone in the world was looking at me and my face just got redder and redder. It was torture!

It wasn’t until I got older and started to get my fear under control, that I realized what a huge impact it had on my life. I remember when I was at Primary School (Elementary school for those in the US) I was pretty fearless. I loved the arts and expressing myself. The school play was something to look forward to every year and I would always want to play the main character. During play time (recess), my group of friends and I played make believe. We had such great imaginations and our creativity had no bounds.

It seems that when I transitioned to Secondary School (High School) that my fear started to develop. There is no incident or major upheaval that I can remember that may have triggered it. If you exclude really poor fashion sense and a bowl cut haircut! Moving to a new school, with new people was just an unknown and I didn’t want to stand out. I was somewhat extraverted with my close friends but introverted in the general population. I was also very small for my age and didn’t want to give anyone more ammunition to make me feel insecure. The drama club was definitely a no-no for me.

What was really strange is at the age of 16 I started DJ’ing at a local bar due to my absolute love of music. I still can’t comprehend how I didn’t see this as a little extroverted and could maybe lead to embarrassment on a very high level. This then led to the love of making people happy. There was no better feeling than having a full dancefloor and knowing people were enjoying their night. But looking back, I always remember that when I spoke on the microphone, I would never make eye contact with someone. I would look up at an angle to avoid it like the plague.

My most vivid memory of my fear, and what was actually the turning point, was when I went back to University as a mature student at the age of 25. I had to take a class in communication as part of my engineering degree. Part of that class required each student to give a talk in front of your peers. My talk was quite interesting, and I didn’t fear that the content was poor. I had rehearsed what I would say. But….it did not prepare me for what happened. For some reason, I discovered I was severely afraid of public speaking. My mouth went dry and I couldn’t remember what to say. I was breathless, sweaty and panic stricken. It was like a sun lamp was pointed directly at my head and I felt my cheeks radiate a redness that hadn’t even been discovered yet. But do you know what? I got through it. It seemed that most hadn’t noticed my predicament and seemed quite interested in what I said. I passed the class with an A.

That is when I started to really get into learning. I read all the self help books I could get my hands on. I think the biggest influence was “Don’t sweat the small stuff” by Richard Carlson. The culmination of the learning led me to a mantra that I have to this day. It’s not very original but it is something I live by. “If you can’t control it – don’t worry about it”. So simple and yet so powerful for me. It has allowed me to lead a life that is rarely affected by huge stresses. I run nearly everything I do through this filter. It has allowed me to enjoy public speaking. So much so that it was part of my career for many years. I rarely get embarrassed anymore. I’ve realized that people care more about what you have to say and not the container that is saying it.

And Masterclass has led me to another learning revelation. It was during the art of storytelling lesson by Neil Gaiman. He quoted another gem that I have now incorporated into my life. Neil attributed the quote to Jerry Garcia from the Ungrateful Dead. “Style is the stuff you get wrong”. His analogy was if you played an instrument absolutely perfectly – it wouldn’t have any style. Let that sink in. It has given me permission to make mistakes and not be embarrassed. Embrace them, learn from them and allow them to become part of my style. Looking back on my life now and the multitude of mess ups I have made, it should make me one of the most stylish people on the planet!