When I was a little girl, I was painfully shy, socially awkward, and deeply sensitive. Every morning before school, I woke up with a tummy ache, anxious about the day ahead yet without words to explain how I felt. My goal for most school days was simply to get through without drawing attention to myself. I flew low under the radar until I could get home, to go my room, and finally let down my guard. When I was alone, I could breathe.
Yesterday, I stood on stage at TEDx Greensboro in front of over 100 people and a live-streaming internet audience and spoke my truth from the deepest recesses of my heart. I don’t think anyone who knew me as a little girl would ever believe I would grow into a woman who actually enjoys public speaking. But somehow I did. Speaking at a TED event has been a dream of mine for years, and yesterday felt akin (I imagine) to one’s wedding day. It was a non-stop roller coaster ride of joy and affirmation that yes, the words that come from the heart are truly worth sharing.
This morning I drink my coffee and reflect on the last few months, from first learning about TEDx Greensboro last fall, to the weeks and weeks of preparation and practice, to yesterday and my 16 minutes on stage. It has been one of the most transformative experiences of my whole life. Here’s what I learned:
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
The three weeks prior to TED were three of the most nerve-wracking weeks of my life. I woke up and fell asleep practicing my talk, my apartment littered with stickie notes, outlines, and ideas. Every spare moment I practiced. Even though I speak for a living, teaching 3-hour classes and all-day workshops on a regular basis, I knew this talk was different. This talk demanded not just my mind and professional credentials, but my soul. TED talks are not about hiding behind facts, but pushing the boundaries and edges of comfort and stepping beyond, into the unknown of the human heart. I knew, even in the midst of my fear, that my own boundaries were being pushed further outward, and I grew enormously from the experience.
I don’t have to come back down.
Yesterday, after TED was done and the reception was winding down, I turned to a friend and said, “I don’t want this to end.”
“It doesn’t have to,” she replied. “Instead of coming back down, why not pull the rest of your life up to meet this experience?”
Damn, she’s wise.
I, like most people, suffered for years under the delusion that work should be hard and fundamentally unfulfilling. I began changing my perspectives in my early 30’s, yet many of my old patterns remain: taking jobs simply because I need the money, or compromising myself in ways small and large to fit a job description. Yesterday taught me, boldly, that my Work in this world can match my talents, interests, and abilities and provide me a good living. Work can feel amazing. Work can come from the heart. And when it does, everyone benefits.
It’s more than just luck.
I felt so fortunate to be on stage yesterday. In fact, I felt lucky. At the same time, I know my presence on that stage was far more than simple luck. I spent 10 years training and teaching at the university level, honing my skills in the classroom, at conferences, and in board rooms. I planted a seed of hope years ago that someday I might give a TED talk. I have an incredible community of friends and co-creators in the Imagination Installations movement here in Winston-Salem. We worked our butts off to make this dream happen. If you have a dream, prepare to roll up your sleeves and do the work. Find friends who dream like you. Be ready to feel afraid, frustrated, doubtful, alone, lost, and confused. And then, when your dream finally becomes reality, you’ll know that luck was only the smallest part of the equation.
Collective dreaming changes the world.
Remember that shy girl I was? I spent a lot of time in my room when I was little, playing games by myself and creating imaginary worlds in which I might inhabit. I longed to speak, loudly and confidently. As I grew, I found people who wanted to listen, and I began to discover I had something of worth to say. When we dream collectively, sharing the tender, vulnerable dreams of our innermost hearts, we begin to find the courage to start taking baby steps toward them. It is a tremendous act of courage and faith to speak a long-awaited dream. But once spoken, the dream can never be put back in the box. It begins to come to life.
When a dream take its first breath in the waiting world, as its heart begins to beat, we create the spark necessary to light the world on fire.
Your dreams matter. Yours. They are waiting inside of you. Longing to be spoken. Ready to come to life.