I can’t remember the last time I got nervous to speak in front of people; and mainly because I always make mistakes, which I’ve learned only endears me more to my audience. But this time, I literally thought I was going to freeze like a “deer in headlights” or throw up. What actually happened? I honestly don’t remember. What I do know is that Valeri Liukin; Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas; Madison Kocian; and a couple hundred guests watched me stand on a stage and rap a cappella.
Let me put this in context. I was asked to speak at Madison Kocian’s Olympic celebration and I knew there were other speakers who would give memorable praise to Madison about all of her accomplishments. I wanted to be different so I wrote her a rap ? I reworked it for a solid two weeks and practiced until it flowed. I was ready. It was different, but since I was paying homage to Madison in a respectful and creative way I was comfortable with my choice. That is until I entered the ballroom. Oh My Gosh!!!
I didn’t hear a word of what the first two speakers said. All I heard was my heart beating loudly and my inner voice having a dichotomous argument, “Don’t do it. No, you have to do it. Nope, I can just give a normal congratulation speech. Stop being a wuss. Who cares if some people think it’s stupid? You wrote it as a gift to Madison, to show her that her new adventure with you and UCLA Gymnastics is going to be just that… an adventure—filled with exciting and character-building challenges… No, I can’t do it…” And I walked up to the podium…
I took a deep breath and decided to take the chance, the leap into sheer terror. I couldn’t tell you if I read my lines correctly or if people applauded or booed. My heart was literally pounding too loudly.
What was I afraid of? What made me, a regular speaker and a person familiar with making a fool of myself—and a master of not caring—panic? I think it was the fear of the unknown. I had no idea how I was going to be received. I preach all the time that we should be able to say anything to anyone as long as we’re being honest and respectful. ✔️ I was being totally honest and respectful in my rap, it was my personal gift to Maddie. I was worried the mayor and/or Madison’s coaches wouldn’t feel I was taking the event seriously. But quite the contrary, I took it very seriously and prepared 10x more for this than I usually do for a speech.
I had prepared something that I’d intended as a special gift for someone I greatly respect. Why did I care what anyone else would think of my gift?
Because it was different. Because it was outside of the normal speech. Because I wanted a “sure thing.” Because I didn’t want to be made fun of.
Even though I don’t have any recollection of how it went, I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I gave Madison something unique. I’m glad I showed all of the young girls and boys who were there that you can take chances and be different than other people. That “different” can be awesome and fun. That even us middle-aged professionals still take chances that are really scary.
I do have one confession: I chickened out in asking someone to record it. I was worried I would be reminded of my humiliation. To rectify this, I’ve decided to recreate the moment and post it for all to see. Granted, there won’t be hundreds of live people observing, and I can do more than one take, but still… Madison, this is for you.
I realize it’s not perfect, polished, or even performed well. I am definitely not a rap artist, and I really can’t get away with acting cool. None of this matters, though, because this gift is from my heart.
I hope it inspires you to take a chance the next time your spirit feels like being creative and wants to dance, but your mind wants to chicken out.
My advice: Life is short ~ Don’t wait to dance.