Growth through Discomfort: My Learnings through Preparing for a TEDx Talk
Updated: Jan 21, 2019
In the Fall of 2018, I saw a call out for speakers for TEDx Valparaiso University — as an avid TED talk listener (there are so many ideas worth spreading!), I toyed with the idea of submitting an application. I thought it would be a great opportunity to further my impact in the community while sharing my insight on a topic that I’m incredibly passionate about: continuing to pave the way for women to occupy important leadership roles in organizations and politics. And, of course, highlighting the female leader's edge!
With support and coaching from a few good friends and colleagues, I took the leap and submitted my app.
First, I described the central focus of my talk:
Women are drastically underrepresented in positions of power and authority. My talk will focus on addressing this reality and sharing ways in which we can continue to blaze the trail for women to ascend the leadership pipeline through challenging our own unconscious biases and assumptions. I’ll do this through encouraging the audience to reflect on and ask important questions to drive dialogue in their families, communities, and organizations.
What stereotypes and hidden biases guide our behaviors and actions?
How can we stop ourselves in the moment when we’re making inaccurate assumptions based on traditional gender roles?
And importantly, I’ll discuss how we can advise and influence organizations to promote inclusion through targeted organizational change initiatives.
And then, I described why I’m inspired to talk about this topic:
As a young, ambitious mother, I was immediately struck with the challenges that women face when trying to advance their careers while also building a family. In fact, when applying for graduate school, I was told I should avoid mentioning that I have a child, despite the fact that being a young mother shaped my work ethic, drive, and mindset. These experiences led me to pursue a research path focused on better understanding and minimizing penalties that working mothers face. The deeper I dove into the literature, the more I recognized the systematic and human flaws that underlie these penalties. Change must be pushed from all directions and importantly, must be supported by the top of the house – with strong, progressive leaders and role models guiding the way.
My personal experiences as a young mother trying to build a career and family, combined with the continued scarcity of women in critical leadership positions, has driven me to action. Consider this: In S&P 500 companies, though women make up roughly 45% of personnel, only about 4% of c-suite roles are occupied by women and even fewer by women of color. Women are simply not present in roles where important decisions are being made (Catalyst, 2018). Why? How? What gives? Interestingly, research suggests that women have traits and skills that make them uniquely well-suited for people leadership positions, and I plan to do everything in my power to drive the dialogue forward, while continuing to support and elevate women in the process.
Well, my application was accepted (!!) and on February 1st, 2019, I will be speaking at TEDx Valparaiso University!
This, naturally, led to a series of emotions: excitement, enthusiasm, nerves, and the good old emotion of — fear.
Will I be good enough?
What if my talk falls flat?
What if, gasp, I fall while going on stage?
How can I make this talk resonate with everyone in the audience? (spoiler alert: I CAN’T. NO ONE CAN. No one is for everyone.)
And then, I quickly allowed my conscious thoughts to take over:
I am SO passionate about this topic — I’m constantly reading and researching (hell, I did my Master’s thesis on this topic), I could do this in my sleep.
Yes, preparation is critical, but I’m confident in my abilities to get up there and do the damn thing.
And if I make a mistake, stutter, or have to redirect myself? That’s okay, too. In fact, I’ll be the better for it because I’m human, damn it, and that means I’m far from perfect. So, why would I ever expect otherwise?
It’s funny how our brains work. Through this whole process of, well, me versus me, I kept coming back to the fact that we don’t grow in our comfort zones. It’s an overused cliche, yet, it’s so very true.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve thought of my talk, spoke out loud to myself during my long commutes, and expressed my anxieties to others. Full transparency — I even considered scenarios where I backed out of the event altogether — that would be easy, right?
This all came to a precipice when, this past weekend, I spent many hours writing, editing, and rehearsing my talk. I had to submit a12-minute video to get feedback from the TEDx team, and it propelled me to action (as deadlines typically do).
And let me tell you: this creation, revision, rehearsal, revision again cycle was downright exhausting.
It was uncomfortable.
I critiqued myself and I asked for feedback from my family.
And then I dove in again.
I spent all of Saturday in this cycle, and when I finally hit “send” on that video, I felt a huge sense of relief.
I still have more work to do, and I’ll be rehearsing and continuing to ask for feedback over the next week and a half, but a lot of the front-loaded work is behind me.
Here’s my point: this process was uncomfortable for me because this situation is completely new. I’ve never done a talk like this, and certainly not on a huge stage, while being recorded, to boot.
I want to get up there and be proud of how I represent myself, my community, my beliefs, and the firm I work for. I truly want to help people learn and if I impact even one person in that audience to make a change to think twice about the barriers that women continue to face, then it will have been worth it.
It feels like a lot of pressure, but ultimately, it’s pressure I'm putting on myself. We’re our own worst critics, and I pushed past what could have been a downward spiral, by channeling the pressure and the fear into action. I’m making it sound easier than it was — it’s a process not an event — but you get the point.
I annoy the hell out of my teenager with the fact that I love to turn every single life scenario into some type of lesson. I can’t tell you how many times he simply walks away from me when I go down that path… it’s like he can sense the beginnings of what he would call a “lecture” (haha, that’s something I’ll have to explore another day).
But this situation, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone in a way that I’ve never done before has really taught me many lessons — here they are.
Comparison is the thief of joy. As a I originally starting prepping for my talk, I had the grand plan of watching other successful TED and TEDx talks — I thought I could glean some tips and tricks from those who had been on that stage before. While this might be helpful for some, this led me to question myself more. Could I be as funny as X? Would my talk be that inspiring? Will my transitions be that smooth? Sometimes, when you’re tackling a tough challenge, you have to start with you and ignore the noise — what’s the unique contribution that you’ll bring to this challenge? For me, my unique contribution is my personal story, and the reason why this topic became a passion. Anyone can look up some statistics and report out — but not everyone can share this from a very personal place.
There is such a thing as "productive procrastination." Hear me out on this one. I am a procrastinator through-and-through — in this past, I’ve tended to overload myself with way too many priorities (working on this for 2019 though — my year of focus + discipline) and then I procrastinate on the big things. That’s what I’ll call unproductive procrastination. BUT, productive procrastination is the process of thinking, reflecting, and planning without actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I’ve thought about my TEDx talk SO much, that when I sat down to type out my “script”, the words simply flowed. That, my friends, is what we’ll call productive procrastination and it can be an effective strategy, particularly for something that requires a lot of thinking before taking action... change my mind!
Lastly, I don’t think you can truly understand or “get” some cliche quotes until you’ve been there. I know that change doesn’t happen in comfort zones, but something clicked for me when I was actually working outside of my comfort zone for an extended period. I learned about myself and what I’m capable of, and it made me that much more excited for the upcoming talk.
And, I didn’t think it was possible, but I feel even more emboldened to continue talking about and driving change in this space — elevating women into leadership roles, being vocal and outspoken when I see behaviors that continue to hold us back, and supporting women as much and as often as I can — that’s my future. I hope you’ll continue to walk alongside me in this journey.
Together, we rise.