Dear Voice,

Your worth can never be measured in a mirror.

Nicole C. Ayers

It’s been a month since you stepped onto the Ignite Charlotte stage, and I think I’m finally ready to reflect on the experience.

The weeks leading up to the event were a predictable roller coaster of emotions as I moved through all the steps of the creative process. Because I cared so much about this talk, each stage was intense—the highs were high and the lows were low. I’m so glad I chronicled each part of the journey because I know it will be a shining beacon for our next adventures.

I want more than anything for you and me to have more adventures like Ignite Charlotte.

The day of the talk, Nerves made an appearance, of course. But I used every tool that I have to keep them in the back seat while I drove.

I pampered myself and did things, like painting my nails and getting my hair styled, that make me feel beautiful. I’m sure you’re wondering why I spent time beautifying myself when my whole message is about not needing to look any certain way to be worthy of self-acceptance and love. I get it, and I promise I’m not being a hypocrite.

I chose to do things that make me feel beautiful and cared for because I wanted to radiate my shine. Having fancy hair and wearing makeup and nail polish all help me tap into my sparkle. As did my choice to wear glitter sneakers rather than high heels. Heels make me feel unsteady, so I didn’t wear them. Choosing jewelry that made me smile felt as good as the playlist I blasted on my way to the venue.

Each of my choices was designed to help me FEEL radiant, not LOOK beautiful.

So what else did I do to prepare?

I prayed. I asked Divi (my nickname for the Divine) to use you to spread the message of body-loving liberation through the talk. I sang and danced on the car ride. I chatted with my fellow participants. As show time neared, I took myself to a quiet(ish) spot, plopped myself in the floor, closed my eyes, and breathed. I sweet-talked myself and soothed Nerves.

When it was finally our turn, Hand made a deliberate effort to hold the mic gently. I took one more grounding breath. And you rang out.

You were glorious and steady and strong. You said everything I wanted you to say, and you were magnificent. I am so proud of you, so proud of us.

You took every moment I’ve prepared for public speaking—starting with that speech in fifth grade about Mrs. Woods, the school cafeteria manager, and her chicken noodle soup that warmed hearts as much as bellies—and you announced to the world that you are ready for more.

I don’t know yet what more looks like, but I’m dreaming wildly about the possibilities. I envision us speaking to small, intimate groups of women and standing on brightly lit stages in packed auditoriums. And podcasts and IGTV interviews and opportunities that I’ve yet to even dream up.

We are going to change the world, one talk at a time.

Nicole C. Ayers