I am so profoundly grateful to audiences who tell me that my words resonate with them, inspire them, and give them comfort and strength to move forward in their lives when crisis has kept them stuck. Last night I had an amazing group of readers who came to hear me talk about the concepts in my book “Lemons into Limoncello” at the delightful Burgundy Books in Westbrook CT. When I receive feedback like this, I know I am on the right track with my life, and that I am truly doing what I am meant to do: which is to write, speak, and reassure others that they CAN get even their most devastating challenges, just as I have done.
Ironically enough, I will never forget my first college public speaking course, when everyone was required to give a formal presentation for the professor and the rest of the class. I could barely get the words out of my mouth because I was so nervous. Would people like me? Poke fun of me? Disagree with what I say? Tell me what I say is wrong? Would they dislike me or judge me? Would they ask me a question I couldn’t answer? Would they fall asleep or even walk out the door out of boredom?
With knees knocking, lips quivering, and palms sweating profusely, I delivered what must have been the worst presentation I — or anyone else —has ever given in the history of public speaking. That was the last time I would ever let fear strip me of my sense of self worth.
You see, we all gravitate towards the cocoon of personal safety–a kind of comfort zone that insulates us from the zingers of the outside world (insults, judgement, rejection, etc). That cocoon can actually become a self-imposed prison of blandness—a state of being “on hold”, where we don’t venture out, we don’t try new things, we don’t test out our dreams. It is a a paralyzing state, which none of us can afford to waste our precious time on. The cost is far too great.
My dream was always to become an educator, but not in the traditional sense, necessarily, although I did enjoy over 25 years of teaching psychology to hundreds of fantastic college students. I also, however, wanted to inspire those outside of academia, by showing them how to help themselves to live more fulfilling lives, and to believe in their own abilities to make life better. If I stayed in my comfort zone, however, there was no way I was going to get back out to do a public talk ever again in front of an audience, never mind become a self-help author and public speaker.
My dream was scary, and my self-imposed cocoon was simply avoidance of having to risk the fearful unknown. Then I chose to break out. Finding a way to express what we are passionate about–whether that is through painting, writing, story-telling, public speaking or baking the best biscotti on the planet—helps to enrich our life in an extraordinarily meaningful way.
Today, every time I finish a radio show, or give a public presentation, or write my next article for my column–I get a sense of harmony, inner piece, and insight.
I wish the same for you.
So my question to you, on this beautiful start to a new week is this: What are YOU doing to break out of your comfort zone, and step into the zone of fulfilling your dream?
When I was a young woman studying in Italy I remember a merchant selling me—of all things—a red silk turban. “Ma Signorina, ti fa’ bellissima”, he gasped, hands clutched together as if a holy apparition had driven him to prayer. I had never worn a turban before—or any other hat for that matter, other than the woolen cap that kept the New England frost from biting my ears in the winter. But with a reaction such as his, I thought he might have been on to something important.
“How many lire did you say this costs?” Whatever it was, if it had really made me that beautiful , I was in, and here is my wallet.
“No need for a bag, just cut the tags, I will wear it out of the store.” With straightened spine, shoulders back, and a graceful proud sway, I strode out into the main via of the town I was living in and much to my surprise, I saw more heads turn than had ever happened to me before. My day began to suddenly get lucky. A local artist began frantically sketching me and then gave me the gift of his labor. A young Italian gentleman with eyes like the midday sky in June asked me if I’d like to meet him later on for a dance. A fruit vendor thought I looked as beautiful as the ripe apricots he was selling and insist I take a few, gratis, on him. It was as if I had put a genie’s lamp on my head. I began looking people in the eye and greeting them with a smile. I got the courage to go up to one of my professors and ask that he go over the parts of the lesson I hadn’t quite understood. Friends were vying for my company, offering me concert tickets or promising the gelato later on would be on them. What was going on?
Certainly when I found a mirror that night and looked at myself in the sky-high red turban, I couldn’t help but be mortified at how ludicrous I looked. Could everyone else have been putting me on, egging me along, making a joke out of me? Could they have possible seen me as more attractive with that monstrosity on my head? Or was I the one interacting with the world differently?
As it turns out, economists at the University of Verona actually studied the phenomenon of beauty and productivity. Research shows that students rate attractive professors as more effective, and more attractive students also seem to get better grades. Was it discrimination, or something else? We all know about the self-fulfilling prophecy—the fact that what people expect of others usually becomes a reality. A body of research also shows that more attractive individuals are seen as having a myriad of good qualities, and this “halo effect” drives how others treat them.
Researchers Cipriani and Zago, however, make a strong case for the effect of self-confidence on productivity. When a person feels more attractive, they behave more confidently, and people react to them differently. Because I believed that the red turban gave me elegance, beauty, stateliness—all of the qualities the merchant promised me it did, I carried that belief around with me all day, and the result was nothing short of amazing.
I often stress the importance of looking your best in my workshops and presentations. It is not about trying to impress others as much as it is about feeling good about the way you look to yourself. Why? Because doing so will make you confident, more productive, and each day now has the potential for a victory! Now go take off that turban (and I will, too)
Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D.
•2013 ACIM (American Italian Committee on Migration) HUMANITARIAN AWARD. OCT 27TH NOON AT ANTHONY’S OCEAN VIEW. For Invitations: RAELEENMAUTNER@GMAIL.COM
•National OSIA (Order of the Sons and Daughters of Italy in America) Summer 2013 Book Club Selection for LEMONS INTO LIMONCELLO: FROM LOSS TO PERSONAL RENAISSANCE WITH THE ZEST OF ITALY (HCI BOOKS)
•”Living la Dolce Vita:Bring the Passion, Laughter, and Serenity of Italy into Your Daily Life” (Sourcebooks)
•”Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy” (HCI Books)
http://raeleenmautner.com (linked to The New Haven Register Blog)
“The ITALIAN Art of Living Well” on WNHU 88.7FM or live stream http://www.wnhu.net, Mondays at 7AM
The Italian Tribune
MEETUP GROUP ORGANIZER for ITALIAN LANGUAGE AND CULTURE LOVERS: