To the Tedx Round Red Carpet

tedxmeI love Ted. Ted provided many a guest speaker in my classroom and many an enlightened Saturday mornings on my couch. And I’ve dreamed of giving a talk on the Ted stage in the middle of the round red carpet. “You should do it!” was a common phrase cast toward me after watching a Ted Talk.

Then a local group brought Ted to Rochester through a Tedx event and I paused on their website for a long while before closing out and walking away from the computer. The next day I was back. And then the next. And then the next. Who do you think you are? and What would you possibly talk about? Crowded my brain until finally, the deadline was closing in and I have to move.

Excerpts from the application:

I’d be a great Tedx speaker because: (great addition to line up of speakers)

I connect with audiences well. What made me a great educator, wasn’t my massive content base, but my ability to connect with different learners where they were and get them to where they wanted to be. I also admitted to a room of professional women that one of my strengths is I have no filter, which really means I don’t shy away from conversations. Reading people’s comfort levels quickly and accurately helps me navigate and facilitate conversations without judgment, fear, and shame.

I’m also entertaining…witty, if you will.

Anything else you’d like to share:

Story is the path to the connective soul. Jung would correct me and say collective, but I would slowly shake my head and say, “no, Carl, I mean connective.” Our best thinkers are discussing our feelings of disconnect. How we feel alone even if by virtual or physical we are surrounded by the collective global population. Ted and Tedx have brought forward courageous people examining their failures and research to come, finally, to a beautiful and rich answer that, typically, will help people feel wanted, valued, seen, and connected.

And with my best Brené Brown inspired courage, I pressed submit. And with my best Brené Brown inspired spiritual awakening, I had a panic attack.

pitchnightTwo weeks passed, four weeks passed, and then I got an invitation to a pitch night. Three minutes. I had three minutes to win over the crowd’s votes. I practiced and revised, practiced and revised, practiced and revised, and hit the stage.

Three minutes wasn’t long enough. My heart beat out of my chest until the applause faded and the mic was mine.

Excerpt from script:

Life is often described as a straight path. A geometric line connecting point A to point B. In the middle of a melt down, my 6th grader last year proved the lie we perpetually feed to our youth. He said, “There is just so much work!” and I said, “Then don’t do it. Take the night off.” Astonished and disgusted, he said, “But Mom. If I don’t go to school, do my homework, get good grades, and go to a good college then I won’t get a good job.” He blinked back his tears. Thinking about the words that came so naturally, so nicely regurgitated out of his mouth, I asked, “Who fed you that lie?”

I left the stage to applause. I left the venue with a smile. I had no idea the outcome, only that I did my best and it felt good.

Then I got the call. The affirmative call. The, “Congratulations and welcome to the Tedx stage” call.

And the unraveling began.

Coaching session after coaching session told me the same thing. “You have 42 different speeches in the one, Julie. You have to cut. You have to focus.”

And I’d leave. I’d start over.

The worst moment was after my run through when I was sick with walking pneumonia. I left the coaching session cracked open and wounded. The irony wasn’t lost on me…I was talking about failure and failing at it…miserably. Same story, different verse, “Cut it down, too many topics, get focused.” Frustrated and horribly sick, I went home, lifted the covers and crawled in, jeans and all, and cried myself to sleep. My points, my purpose, my wanted connection to the audience was drowning in my words, words, words. My verbal processor was on overtime and burning me out.

I was failing and time was ticking. Three weeks out from the event, it hit me. Don’t talk about the importance of failing, that has been covered, show how people can do it. Show how it is the crux of brilliance. Show how to shift the mindset from failure as bad to failure as part of excellence. Show how to create a failure lab.

Freed from expectations and conventions, I put together a talk based on what I knew, what I had tested in my own failure lab of 16 years. I pieced together silvers of experiences to create the lab over time, and there it was. Built to share on a stage. I practiced, but never wrote it down word for word, because I knew if I did, the authenticity would be lost.


Portrait Inception. Hand painted by Watercolor Devo: Amaryllis Henderson

May 4th. Dress Rehearsal. We, each individual of this unique cast came together to practice. I walked onto the stage and paused, staring down that carpet. The road here was so much longer than I understood. It wasn’t just the last nine months that delivered me to that round carpet. It was years of learning. Years of teaching. Years of failing forward. Here, I claimed my voice and space beyond a classroom. Here, with the support of our cast, I stepped into the red dot and delivered a talk I knew to be important, worthy, and true.

We gathered at Squash Blossom farm for dinner. Gorgeous and remarkable come close, but don’t yet touch the beauty of our time together. We laughed, we listened, we spoke our truths. We left filled with the spirit of ted. We shared with each other ourselves, and faced the next morning ready to share our ideas with a crowd of over 2000 people.

Early summer air, crisp after sundown, circled and blew my hair as I drove home with the windows open. There was a deep sense of peace and resolve as I faced down the last twelve hours until the Stage, with her red carpet and lure of applause, sang a siren song caught as an undercurrent in the wind. This is where you belong. This is your moment. This is the time.

I haven’t performed in a long time. Not since college. One could argue that I performed in my classroom, and I would agree. My favorite quote from a student captured my tenor well, “Shhh, stop. Brock is getting dramatic.” I had plenty leading up to my slotted time. After the break, fifth? Sixth? I can’t remember, but I certainly wasn’t in the first set, which created wrinkles in my linen dress and nerves in my stomach.

But then I walked on stage. And I looked into the sea of people. Transitions have been going on in our household for the past three years as I changed careers, Randy changed careers, and we moved to a new house. In this one breath, it all clicked into place, and I knew how all the random pieces fit together, and that synchronicity continued through the night as we celebrated with friends, both dear and new, what possibility can look like when we bet on ourselves.

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