My TEDx Experience and Finding Your Zone of Genius

As many of you know, I had the amazing opportunity to speak at a TEDx event this past Thursday in the bustling metropolis of… wait for it… Brookings, South Dakota! :)

I won’t lie to you guys, I’ve been super nervous about the whole thing since the moment I was asked to speak which was way back in June!!

Maybe it’s because I have immense respect for an organization that has the kind of global reach and impact that TED/TEDx has or maybe it’s because I myself have had some major ah-ha moments thanks to TEDx talks I’ve seen online, but from the moment I said yes, somewhere in the back (or, many days, in the front) of my mind, I've felt this sense of pressure to deliver.

For weeks I’ve thought about what I wanted my talk to be about. My first instinct was to pick a topic that really felt grand. Something earth-shattering, world-changing, MIND-BLOWING, because that’s what TED is supposed to do, right? At least that's the impression I had.

So... I did research. I brainstormed. I read arcane articles I might never read in my daily life. I waited for something to come to me that felt in some way ground-breaking. But it never came.

Instead, about three weeks ago, just after doing my obligatory freak out because I hadn’t written my speech yet, I finally realized that I was putting entirely too much pressure on myself. 

What if my role isn’t to present some reality-altering perspective to people that’s going to start some global movement? What if my role is to simply tell my story and share the one major thing that has impacted my life in the biggest way. 

Too often we forget how much power there is in our personal story.

How much power there is in sharing our "notes from the field" of our own inner quests.

And yet that's pretty much the foundation upon which I've built the entire mission of my business. To share honestly in the hope that it will make others feel less alone and inspired to carve their own vibrant paths. 

So that’s what I decided to do.

My talk was entitled, Finding The Courage To Live Colorfully, and that’s exactly what I talked about. I shared my own transformation from being an over-achieving kid obsessed with succeeding in the traditional way that the world defines success (perfect grades, college scholarship, impressive job, enviable career) to accepting my true identity as a soulful creative interested in living my most authentic, most vibrant life.

There were moments leading up to my talk when those doubts crept back in and I had voices in my head saying, This isn’t big enough. This isn't smart enough. This isn't TED enough. 

Thankfully, though, I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I am intimately acquainted with the tired tricks of my own self-doubt, and I was ready for them. I had my Home Alone booby traps set at every window and every door.

I knew that if I was going to connect with people in a way that they would allow them to really hear my message, I was going to have to believe in it myself with all my heart. I was going to have to be the one person in the crowd who first believed whole-heartedly that this concept was more than enough. It was enough to change my life and I knew that meant that it’s enough to change someone else's. (So there, self-doubt! Take that!)

Still, as Jason and I prepared to board the plane on Wednesday, my stomach was in knots. I didn’t want to screw up!


ps. Thank you to the folks at Samsonite for sending us some awesome luggage to finally replace my decades old carryon with a bum wheel that sounded like a train was following me through the terminals of the airport. This set up is MUCH better. ;)

So I just read and rehearsed my speech over and over and over again (mouthing it to myself and looking like a bit of a lunatic in the process) until I felt like i knew it like the back of my hand.

As I sat on our flight from San Diego to Minneapolis and then from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls, I tried to relax with little success. So, rather than fight my nerves, I just kept my folded up speech clutched in my hands and I'd take it from the top whenever I had a moment of doubt. 


This thing has been crumbled and folded and amended and butchered every way from Sunday.

I knew that as long as I wasn’t worried about totally freezing on stage and forgetting my “lines” (a legitimate fear of mine) then it would free up my nerves just enough so that I would be able to inject the feeling and sincerity that I needed into what I was saying. 


We arrived at the Sioux Falls, SD airport late on Wednesday night, rented a car (a Buick LaCrosse in fact, watch out!) and drove the one hour north to Brookings, checking into our hotel late. Our late arrival unfortunately meant that we missed the rehearsal that day and would have to settle for a quick mic check the next morning at 11am before the event started at 1pm. 

If you guys know me… I like to think I can battle my nervousness at times with preparation (okay, fine, OVER-preparation), so the whole see-where-you're-speaking-two-hours-before-you-speak thing already had my anxiety levels on high alert.

As I entered the armory building where the event was taking place and stepped foot into the dark auditorium lined with a few hundred chairs, it started to sink in a bit. There I could see the big "red dot" carpet up on the stage. I could see the spotlight shining down, front and center, and the huge screen with the TEDx logo to its left.


I think this is what they call... "legit."

Why in the world did I agree to this, I thought?

This is kind of terrifying! 

But then I thought of how many people I’ve seen tell their stories in settings just like this. How many people have left me feeling inspired or with a new perspective. And my attention shifted to the realization that if I can do that for just one person, if for just a moment I can make them feel understood or pull them out of whatever stuck place they are in their lives, then that is way bigger than my tiny fear.


Leaving the hotel on the way to the event, pretending I'm not TOTALLY freaking out inside.

And when I finally walked up on that stage a few hours later to greet the few hundred eager faces in the audience, I reminded myself of why I agreed to this. Because I want a world where more people feel free to be their true selves. Apart from the expectations of their parents or their spouses or their families or society. 


I'm sharing this experience with you all because I want you to know that I was scared.

I think there might be an assumption that if you speak to a large group of people or you share your story confidently in a public place that maybe it just comes naturally to you. That it's easy. And I want you to know that it most certainly is not. Not for me, at least.

For months before I walked under those lights I felt those inner nerves of anticipation. And there were many more than a few occasions where I said to myself, I'm never doing this again. 

Have you ever encountered a situation like that? Something that really challenged your fears or your comfort zone and you said to yourself, NOPE, never again, only to then feel a bit defeated, like you weren't rising to meet a challenge? 

Because I don't necessarily agree that every challenge needs to be overcome. Sometimes I think things like fear and anxiety are there to subtly remind us of what our zone of genius is (a term I learned from reading the book, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. [aff link]).

Which then begs this question...

How do we know when it's more valuable for us to overcome a fear or challenge or to avoid the anxiety that it might bring?

My answer to that question is this: 

When you know that you want what's on the other side of that fear MORE than you dislike the discomfort of overcoming the challenge. 

For example, I do NOT think that everyone is meant to be a public speaker. For some people the anxiety of standing on a stage is far more fear-inducing than it is joyful to share their story. 

For me, those nerves, those moments of doubt, this time the opportunity to help someone was well worth the temporary anguish. BUT, maybe next time it won't be. Maybe next time I'll have decided that the stress and nerves aren't worth the outcome. 

But that's what we all get to decide for ourselves every time we encounter a challenge. That is the beauty of the choose your own adventure story that is our lives. 

So, this week I want to ask you to define for yourself: what's one challenge that's worth overcoming and what's one challenge that's not? 

For example, for me, asking for money from design clients was ALWAYS a challenge for me. I didn't like the way it made me feel. I didn't like the negotiating game that inevitably ensued. I never got used to it. And eventually, I decided that what was on the other side of me finally overcoming that fear just wasn't worth it. I changed my business model in part because of this and I'm not ashamed or guilty to say that that was a challenge I was simply not willing to undertake. 

Now, what about you? 

I'm so excited to share with you guys the final talk when it's up online (though I'm sure that will bring with it a whole new set of fears and anxiety) but I just want to say thank you for all the emails and tweets and comments of encouragement leading up to the event.

Sometimes we do scary things and it really pays off. Sometimes we don't do scary things and that really pays off too. The beauty is: we get to choose.

Wishing you all a fantastic week!