I’m a classic over-preparer. When I was a teacher, if I had to be absent, I’d spend hours crafting careful sub plans so everything would go perfectly in my absence. When my kids were little and I hired babysitters, I wrote detailed instructions, cleaned the kitchen, and meticulously laid out any supplies I thought they might need. When it comes to my work now, I can exhaust myself with preparation, rewriting speeches, tweaking slides, and rehearsing the perfect things I’ll say to impact my listeners.
This is exhausting, but it’s always resulted in praise, so I’ve kept doing it, believing this level of effort is necessary to make me “prepared.”
Recently, though, I’ve realized that being Boy-Scout-level prepared for any professional contingency is misguided and, ironically, leaves me less prepared than I thought. Yes, I have beautiful slides and handouts. But if that’s all I’m doing, I’m missing one crucial element of preparation: my heart.
When I strive for perfection, I’m focused mainly on myself and how others perceive me. I’m measuring my success by my performance, not my level of connection or presence. And when I show up in this way, I’m only half-prepared.
Sure, I’ve got killer slides. But I’m not really “there,” present and focused and connecting with the people I want to serve.
So I’m learning to prepare my heart.
What does this look like?
Last week I gave a big speech at an eco-minimalism conference in New York City. I was the featured speaker. They were paying me a lot of money. As I anticipated this event, all of my insecurities popped up. I feared I wasn’t good enough, professional enough, knowledgeable enough to pull this off. In the weeks before the event, as I sat with my fears, every bone in my body wanted to rush to my default coping mechanism: overpreparation.
I wanted to spend hours researching, crafting slides, rehearsing transitions, inserting subtle-seeming jokes that were actually carefully crafted moments of humor.
But I realized that if I did that, I’d only be half-prepared. If I focused just on myself and how I wanted to impress this audience, I would fail them.
I needed to prepare my heart.
So while, yes, I made slides and practiced them daily, I also took a lot of walks, got 8 hours of sleep, sat and breathed, and focused on the energy and emotion I wanted to bring to the event, not just the knowledge I wanted to impart.
When I arrived in New York, I kept my journal with me and regularly jotted down my feelings, my fears, and my hopes for the event. I didn’t hide from my nervousness. I faced it, felt it, and allowed myself to relax into the not-knowing.
Life is not-knowing. We cannot know all the things. We can never prepare for all the things.
But we can resolve to be there with them, to allow ourselves to receive what comes, and to bring our love to whatever that is.
The morning of the event I woke up and felt the energy in my chest… Excitement! I rehearsed a few of my slides, but didn’t run through everything. And then… I danced. I turned on some 2000s pop music and turned my hotel room into my own personal party. (I also figured this might come in handy in case someone interrupted my speech by playing Usher’s “Yeah.”)
The dancing connected me to my heart. It was a physical expression of my love and excitement. As I walked to the conference, I felt that love inside me and resolved to bring that—more than anything else—to my audience.
The speech went great. There were a few weirdnesses, as there always are with speaking events. In the first few minutes of my speech, I realized my large earrings were clicking against my over-the-ear mic, so I said, “My earrings are hitting the mic. I’m just gonna take them off. See? This is minimalism in action!” Being present and bringing my heart allowed me to turn something I couldn’t have prepared for into a moment of lightness and spontaneity.
The event was a success, not just because the audience seemed happy and the organizer sent me a lovely thank you email afterward. It was a success because I prepared my heart. I brought my whole self: my fears, my love, my energy, my excitement. I didn’t try to appear perfect. I tried to be present. And this is the type of preparation that will help me make my greatest impact on the world.
How could you practice preparing your heart in your life? I’d love for you to email me personally at [email protected] and let me know.