I just returned from the experience of a lifetime and checked off a bucket list item.
From the moment I watched with rapt attention the 2009 TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), called Your Elusive Creative Genius, I was hooked. I wondered what it would be like to stand on what I called “the Big Stage” and express an “idea worth spreading,” which is the tagline for TED.
The letters are an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and according to their website, “TED is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 110 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.”
By the time I watched Elizabeth on stage, waxing philosophical about the ways in which creativity captures us more than us capturing it, I knew a seed was being planted. I think of it as being seduced by The Muse who awakens me at all hours with inspiration and won’t let me sleep until I do its bidding. Sometimes I wake up to a fully formed article that I need only to type onto the keyboard. Sometimes my busy, buzzy brain is overflowing with ideas that I can’t always express in a timely fashion and they recede into the background until they clamor for attention again.
As I do with any goal I set, I began the process of “cultivating the garden,” which includes clearing the ground of rubble that could block out the growth, planting the seeds I want to blossom into beauty, feeding, watering, weeding, nurturing, and then (sigh) waiting for it to come to fruition. That is the most challenging aspect for me since patience is a learned skill that doesn’t always come naturally to me. In practical terms, it means talking about it, fantasizing about it, dreaming about it, praying about it, writing about it, and networking with people who are in the know about how to bring it about. Sometimes doubt would creep in and I would repress the desire for something that might never happen. Why set myself up for disappointment?
A bunch of life had to happen in between; that included a heart attack in 2014, the founding of Hugmobsters Armed With Love that same year, and the journey of discovery both took me on. Hills and valleys, triumphs and tragedies, love and loss brought with them fuel for the fire that was kindled six years earlier.
In 2021, I watched a TEDx offered by my friend Lisa Graham that inquires What Is Your Inspiration Date? and the flames lifted higher and I thought, “I want what she’s having.” I called her and asked the process she went through to land the talk. She introduced me to her coach Cesar Cervantes who has himself offered three TEDx Talks and is a stage performer. I made contact and heard an immediate yes in my heart and mind and goosebumps that are what I call my “truth barometer.”
I knew that if I agreed to work with him, I had to be “all in.” No wiggle room, no half-assing it. I had to be invested emotionally, psychologically, and physically since I would be invested financially. It meant regular 1:1 sessions with him as we crafted the talk that I called Overcoming the Taboo of Touch that combined a thesis I did in grad school, earning my MSW called “Counseling Practitioners’ Views on Using Touch As A Therapeutic Modality,” with my Free Hugs events and the lessons that came along with those. It included weekly group calls, applying to TEDx stages (regional licensees) within driving distance since I didn’t want to fly during the pandemic and then waiting for invitations to be offered.
In April, 2022, I received a life-changing email from TEDx Faurot Park in Lima, Ohio. The team invited me for a group interview with them on Zoom to determine if my talk would be a good fit for their October 1st event entitled Humanity. I thought so, since touch is an essential human nutrient. They thought so too, and hands were held out in welcome. Game on! And as is typical for me, the combination of holy sh*t abject terror was combined with orgasmic bliss.
I knew I had to look at this experience as training for a marathon, which I have never actually done and could never see myself doing. Most of all, I needed to build my memory muscles. I have been on stages large and small for 30 years, so that didn’t scare me. What was the most intimidating was the question, “Can I commit to memorize a 17-minute monologue and make it sound as if it was a casual conversation with an in person and online audience?” That was my growing edge. As a nearly 64-year-old woman, I have had more than occasional brain blips that having me scratching my head asking what I was going to say or what I was going into a room to retrieve. Imposter Syndrome waved its arms wildly and sneered at me. The Doubt Monster bared its fangs and roared terrifyingly. Perfectionista who looks down her nose at me over my glasses, telling me that although I have a master’s degree and “should know better,” it still won’t be good enough. Not coherent enough, not dazzling enough, not relatable enough.
I rehearsed with my original coach Cesar and my newly assigned coaches from TEDx Faurot Park 1:1 and in group form. I practiced with friends and family members. I offered the talk to the road when in the car, in the shower, and most impressively, in my sleep. I would literally run the talk through my brain when I couldn’t sleep as well. All of the coaches were phenomenally supportive. Aimee Bucher, Nora Beerline, and Margie Anich symbolically held my hand over the months.
In anticipation, I made reservations, planning out the nine-hour trip. My BFF Barbara said she wanted to come along, so road trip it was. The closer the day came, the louder the roars were. What if you let people down who are cheering you on? What if you get on stage and forget your talk? What if you get laryngitis? What if you’re ill?
I was able to confront those fears by reminding myself that from a cosmic perspective, I wouldn’t have been chosen unless I could deliver the goods, or as a friend who has done his own TEDx Talk, “Leave it all on the stage.” Two other friends had adages that felt appropriate. “It will be alright on the night,” and “The event will go as the event will go.”
A few nights before, I heard a voice (as I sometimes do) in my sleep that said, “You are doing this by the grace of God and for the glory of God.” What the heck? When did my mind become traditionally Christian? I decided that I would make it mean whatever I wanted it to be. I knew that the God of my understanding (to coin a 12-step phrase) would not have brought me to this point only to desert me now. I also invited the ancestors who had loved me into being and knew that all those on the Other Side were cheering me on.
On rehearsal day, I took the stage twice, ran through the talk, feeling as confident as I could be, slept sporadically throughout the night, and on October 1st when it was my turn to speak, there was a technical glitch and my mic had to be reset a few moments into the talk. One of my coaches came onto the stage to guide me behind the curtain to handle the oops. I recovered well and started from the beginning. I made it through the talk with ease, flow, and grace and felt a huge sense of relief and a deep, tear-inducing feeling of gratitude.
Prior to the talk, in the midst of fear, I reminded myself that what I was about to do was a BFD but not for the reason you might think. It wasn’t just an ego boost, even though I have to admit that it was pretty cool to be standing on that stage, looking out at the friendly audience who wanted us all to do well. Cool that within a month or so, our talks should be on YouTube where a global audience can view them and maybe even cooler that they could go viral.
It was more about knowing that the words that came through me could be world changing. What was awesome was being in the presence of other world changers whose experience and the expression of it elevated me as well. It was also the knowledge that I had set a goal, did what it took to achieve it, but even more so was the reality I had faced my fears and they went running scared themselves.
What I am delighted to remember is that I can achieve anything I set my mind and heart to.