November being National Inspirational Role Models Month, I thought it was appropriate to share the inspiring conversation I had with Hilary Billings. Hilary carries a mutual passion with sharing her endeavors with hopes of making a difference after #breaking free from her past traumas, moving from victim to survivor to the brilliant influencer she is today.
Hillary is building a brand called Red Carpet Confidence, she shared, “I help people overcome their feelings of inadequacy and feel authentically like a million bucks regardless of their life situation.” My vision for the #Break Free Movement is to learn how mentors, like Hilary, successfully lift the shame and isolation from unresolved traumas and embrace their journey with an assured confidence and celebration, and her journey of #breaking free models just how to do that. Hilary’s choices remind me of the motto, “pray when you feel like worrying, give thanks when you feel like complaining and keep going when you feel like quitting. (ilovepsalms.com)”, as these are the actions that landed her here today, a messenger of hope for how to take command of life as life happens to you. Hilary shares, “When I was in college, I suffered the loss of a friend of mine through suicide.” She emphases how this life-altering experience played a major role in her drive to live life fully and in the present.
Grief being a key component in managing the traumas of challenges,
disappointments and tragedies, its vital we recognize its invaluable and imperative aspect of our lives. Hilary’s trauma and its companion grief is no stranger to any of us, nor is the need for it to be witnessed. Our failure to share it can result in the pain remaining unresolved and it metamorphosing into irrational and distorted feelings of shame, guilt, and paralysis.
Instead of choosing paralysis, Hilary stepped forward and pursued her life, walking through her grief. As each person experiences trauma in their own way, the journey to resolving it is ofttimes uncharted and unique to you. Hilary’s steps in moving ahead with her life, was her way of reframing her trauma and grief to lessening it. She wasn’t seeking to put a silver lining to it, rather live her life with intention and purpose.
Graduating number one in her class out of college, Hilary shares how her celebration was eroded with messages of inadequacy, “… rejected from fourteen graduate school programs even regardless of the accolades that I received…I interpreted (the rejections) as there was something wrong with me.” And yet, Hilary refused to quit on life. She used the primary tools for #breaking free of reflection and writing , as she shares, “I started a travel blog documenting my international travels and feelings of inadequacy as I felt like my life was over at that point….” She continued, “I was blogging and gained an audience and readers from 120 different countries and I started to see this immense success.”
Science has found that the sharing of emotions binds us to one another, and bonding is key to our survival. We are hardwired to be relational. As supported in the EMBO report January 2013, “Love is deeply biological. It pervades every aspect of our lives… Love also has a profound effect on our mental and physical state… Without loving relationships, humans fail to flourish, even if all of their other basic needs are met… Emotional bonds can also form during periods of extreme duress, especially when the survival of one individual depends on the presence and support of another.”
We need each other. As our growing society relies on technology for productivity, success and day to day functioning, we also have turned to it for socializing. This, in turn, has created a society of armed length outreaches versus hand in hand, eye to eye, and heart to heart connections and support. This is the beginning of the fracturing I see in our communities today. We have lost the awareness of the need to be fully available and present for one another. We are dying early from broken hearts for a reason beyond our diet and lifestyle habits. We are failing to heal via connection and binding up the fractures from individual to community to society.
We know from birth we are not to be alone. Our brains have mirroring neurons, i.e; when a mother smiles, the baby smiles back. This doesn’t end with childhood, as adults we need this connection as well. As we grieve, we need to feel our grief acknowledged and reflected by others.
Hilary specified how, “people…were identifying with me.” She further noted how knowing she was not alone, strengthened her and readied her for her continual journey forward. As Hilary’s opposition and refinement was not complete. Hilary shares yet another life defining incident. She reflects, “…A friend of mine had invited me to a fourth of July party”. She explained about the lighting of the first firework, how it malfunctioned and exploded. “The fuse, which, was on fire flew through the air traveled thirty feet curved around came back and hit my sunglasses and went down my shirt and I ended up suffering second, and third degree burns on my chest and my stomach it also had burned my face.”
As occurs far too often with a traumatic incident, Hilary’s, like so many individuals, misplaced feelings of embarrassment and shame overrode the heartbreaking terror of such an experience. “I was really ashamed of the fact that it happened…I felt incredibly unfeminine and kinda like Frankenstein’s monster.”
Yet again, Hilary remained convicted in moving forward. She embraced these accumulating lessons she gained from her previous interferences and used them to strengthen her resolve. Hilary embraced her gift of sharing her vulnerabilities and imperfections with her audience. Hilary embraced this tragedy by turning into an opportunity. She exposed her loss of her unblemished body and her grief by sharing her scars and pain with the world. Hilary teaches, “I think it’s so important for you to constantly be immersing yourself in uncomfortable situations and getting used to that. So, I had to think of what could I do to push myself in this situation and nothing sounded more terrifying than being on stage in a bikini and having someone judge me based upon my appearance, so I decided to enter a beauty pageant.” Hilary’s personal growth strengthened her resilience and determination to persevere, as she adds,“ and you know that was my decision, I wanted to overcome my fears of inadequacy.” And this she did, she emphases, “I ended up winning, which, turned out to be an incredible blessing.’
Hilary’s choice to be uncomfortable and show up in life opened the way for her to serve others. She gifted the world with an opportunity to bear witness of her pain and grief, then used it to unite us all. She began her journey of joyous success through her work with the burn foundations, mentoring other burn survivors and advocating for them. She became free from the negative ramifications of her past trauma as she shares, “…its being able to use my platform that you don’t have to be flawless to feel beautiful and being able to say that as a titleholder!” In turn, Hilary models the power of vulnerability to bring you out of isolation and allows the darkness of trauma to be seen, acknowledged and validated. It is this act of mirroring that opens the way to healing. Loss ends some aspect of life, yet does not take away our relationships with one another, our love, or our hope. In fact, loss can become more meaningful—and more bearable—when reflected in another’s eyes.
By showing up, Hilary conquered her demons and created a paradigm shift for all, as she shares, “I was breaking their preconceived notions of what it meant to be a titleholder,” and this launched Hilary to where she is today as a celebrity interviewer and carpet correspondent. She elaborates, “I very quickly realized
that you know everyone, including top performers struggle with inadequacy and no one’s talking about it.”
As the vision of the # Break Free Movement is cracking open the silencer of loneliness, despair and hopelessness, by lifting the stigma of shame from our erroneous narratives and uniting in our victories of walking through the refiner’s fire; I’m reminded of the synergy of our desires. It begins with one individual at a time to burst through the minutia of societal ‘norms’ that are limiting, reinforcing sense of hopelessness and supporting untruths due to the confinement of silence.
Hilary reflects back on her own story, “But just by exposing your world to something else, you start to grow your perception and believe that maybe your thoughts and the beliefs that you hold aren’t everything…you may not be perceiving the world exactly as accurate truth…when I felt the hardest on myself, and when I felt the most lost in my trauma is when I believe there was no other way. And that, you know, this suffering was all there was to be felt. And, so even just by going out and having new experiences and seeing different aspects of the world and different types of people, and that I could engage and behave differently in different environments. It opened me up to believe that I didn’t know everything. And, that was a beautiful place to be because then you just get to be receptive. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’re the meeting makers of everything.”
Hilary’s experiences highlight the power of engaging with others. It is through this engagement that perception can evolve and new insight is gained. The insights Hilary offers us is a micro-view of her choice regarding the mishaps in her life as not really mishaps, any mistakes aren’t really mistakes and uncertainties are to be embraced. She showed up—over and over and over. She wanted with a burning desire. She endeavored with all her might for herself and for YOU. Hilary adds, “even as a burn survivor, you know, having to learn to go from burn victim to survivor, and it’s like, I’m not a victim. I live through this, I am okay. Everything will be okay, do not feel bad for me. I’m here to help and advocate for others.” She emphases, “the things that we’re struggling with are the things that we can add the most value to others…and I came through it, and I’m stronger from it, and I’m in control of my perception of it.” At the end to the day, Hilary ties it all up, “oftentimes we mistake our identity for the stuff that has happened to us…and that’s the biggest mistake… I’m Hillary…These are things that have made me better and cultivated my life view. But they’re not markers of my identity. And so often… anytime someone’s struggling with something, it’s because they’ve attached part of their identity to whatever is happening at the moment. And that to me is the ultimate power in recognizing that your identity is beyond those experiences.” Hilary’s modeling of victory is relatable as it is inspiring. I could not think of a better person to honor for National Inspirational Role Models Month. Thank you, Hilary Billings for living your life of perfection within your imperfection as an emblem of hope and a guiding light.
Check out her website hilarybillings.com and her Red Carpet shows. You are not alone in your journey ahead, and you too, can #break free, be free and BE-come all you can be.