Last week I had a moment of unexpected inspiration. I was seated in a group of would-be writers listening intently as a middle-aged man read aloud a story he had written. The man seemed quietly confident and somewhat proud of himself as he stepped up to address the small group, unfolding his papers and smiling as he prepared to share with us the fruit of his creative toil.
He began his story, excitement flowing through every word he had carefully written down onto the paper as he introduced us to his first character, a young Catholic Priest named Floyd McGregor. I am not making this up.
He went on to explain how the young Priest had found himself in a spot of financial bother and had devised a plan to travel to a local party and convince an old friend of his — a notorious drug dealer by the name of Mohammad Tyson — to ease his burden and pay for renovations to the local Church rather than continue to live a life of debauchery and sin with his fellow gang members — again, I am not making this up.
The expression on the man’s face and enthusiasm he had for his story did not waiver at all, even as many in the room began to break out into laughter, myself included. When he finished his short story, it was received with a roaring applause and more bouts of laughter from the room, each of us thoroughly entertained by where his unique imagination had taken us.
‘Oh man.’ I thought to myself, ‘I wish I had half the guts that this guy has to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and tell a story like that.’ I was surprised and impressed.
And although the man’s career as a novelist may still be some way off, his actions had communicated a powerful life lesson to me — don’t be afraid to stand up, be vulnerable and express your story, because you just never know how it could impact those around you.
It was clear to me that this man had found a way to move beyond the barriers of self-consciousness and fear that keep so many of us living in stagnation. It was also clear that being in the presence of someone like this was just as inspiring to me as it was entertaining.
I am constantly motivated by these types of people in life because of their ability to express themselves in the face of perceived vulnerability — whether that be in their work, their relationships or their art. It is a powerful character trait.
When I think of these types I am drawn to inspirational people like Bruce Lee who understood how to express this ability better than most. He once wrote, ‘The task of art is to state in aesthetic creation the deepest psychic and personal experiences of a human being so as to enable those experiences to be intelligible and generally recognised within the total framework of an ideal world.’ Bruce Lee was an incredible actor, a philosopher and one of the greatest martial artists ever to live. He knew the power of honest self-expression and how being comfortable with his vulnerability in his art could positively impact his life and the lives of others around him. This uncommon ability was instantly recognisable to generations of people who are still inspired by his life today.
I'm also inspired by people like Henry Miller, the American writer and painter who understood the importance of pursuing and challenging his vulnerabilities in the creation of his art. He expressed this by writing the following, ‘Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.’
When people like this allow themselves to be comfortable with their own expression and accepting of the vulnerabilities it may bring, they stop themselves from getting in their own way and they create beautiful work in the process. They are leaders who express themselves honestly while at the same time inspiring others to do the same. This ability is one of the most powerful assets we have as human beings.
When I reflect on what I learnt this last week, from the man in the writing group and his unusual story, I realised that he had also inspired me to explore more of my own vulnerabilities and question why I should hesitate or fear what others may think. It was a lesson which I wouldn’t have arrived at had he decided to keep his story hidden.