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It Ain’t about the Talk: What I learned speaking at TEDx New Bedford

Sarah at TEDx New Bedford

Not alone! Surrounded by Groundwork members and Dena’s amazing artwork on stage at TEDx New Bedford. Photo cred: Bob Espindola

I did it. I got on a big stage and gave a talk– a performative talk in the TED style. Big message. Good stories. No notes. Yes, it was nerve-wracking. It was empowering. It was even fun.

And now it’s over. It is Monday morning. I still have to empty the dishwasher and make coffee at Groundwork! Nothing really changed… or did it?

The truth is, those 15ish minutes on stage are pretty much a blur. I don’t remember much at all. I don’t even remember how I felt.

You know what really moves me right now? Everything around those 15 minutes. Everything but the talk itself. That’s where the good stuff happens. Let me explain.

Shyness is just ego undercover

I was pretty shy growing up. Piano recitals were moments of torture I endured for for the sake of my family. I barely spoke up in class. And yet I always felt deep down that I had important things to share. Under the shyness was a force of nature waiting to be let out.

In college I pushed myself to break through, taking art classes in personal narrative and delving into performance and video that was scary and vulnerable. It felt really good.

Later in life, I became a serious student of Zen Buddhism, where one of the central pillars of practice along with silent meditation, is the one-on-one teacher to student interview. Something about those interviews can be terrifying. You sit face to face with your teacher to delve into the great matter: birth, life, and death. I would shuffle timidly into the room, heart racing, sometimes afraid to speak lest I say something unwise.

Thanks to my teacher’s patience, many hours of silence, and many interviews, I saw my own timidness reflected back at me. And something became crystal clear:

Shyness is caused by ego.

Indeed, holding back and fear of being heard… those things come from a self-centered, me-focused view of the world. I realized that I needed to let go of my worries about what people might think, and whether I would be perceived as right or wrong, smart or naive.

Stepping forth freely and unencumbered– this is how to be humble.

It takes a community

Shout out to Hillary– she’s right. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to make a leader.  My little TEDx talk doesn’t exist without the friends who collaborated to make Tracking Patagonia and the salty pioneers who lent their voices and stories to our documentary. It doesn’t exist without my friend and business partner Dena Haden, and it sure as hell doesn’t exist without the people of Groundwork!

Here’s the thing: in a strong community we are all leaders. We flow harmoniously: stepping forward when needed and playing a supporting role when needed. We answer when called without adding complications.

I ran through my talk several times at Groundwork! for members who offered their time and feedback. I felt the support of Groundwork! members in the audience, and many appeared on stage with me in the form of slides.

I’ve realized that any moment in the spotlight is really just an opportunity to pitch for the team.

Relationships are what matter

The sweetness of speaking at TEDx New Bedford was all about soaking up the love. I was inundated with supportive messages leading up to the big day, both from close friends and more distant acquaintances. The process leading up to the talk helped me to deepen my connections with others.

Ten years after making my documentary, what stays vivid are moments with the people who made it happen. Showing at film festivals was great, but it wasn’t as transformative as the process.

Just a couple of days after speaking at TEDx,  I’m not buoyed by talk itself, but by the overwhelming encouragement and support I received. And I’ll be floating on that for a long time.

Are you holding back?

If you’re contemplating doing something big and scary, remember that it’s not about you. And it’s not really about the thing. When you answer the call to step up, you will enable others around you to offer support. This strengthens your whole community. It will also help you to form deeper connections with people, and you’ll  receive a lot of love.

Then you’ll go back to emptying the dishwasher and doing your thing… unchanged? Or profoundly transformed? I’ll leave it open for your response.

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