About six months ago, I took on a new challenge in my career: public speaking. Somehow, all at once, the stars aligned and my dream of being a TED superstar aligned with my company’s need for more speakers. Thus, my journey began, and I started speaking all over the world on behalf of Atlassian. They call it “the circuit”, and say that once you’re on it, it’s hard to get off. I said, bring it on.
Public speaking is a skill I’ve always desperately wanted to hone. Something I had a natural propensity for, but would have to work really hard to perfect. Something that would open doors upon doors for my future. Plus, hitting the road as a speaker sounds beyond glamorous, right?
World travel has its perks. First, it and my battle against jet lag, has rendered me a complete coffee snob. I say things like “I need a proper coffee” and “Can you do a flat white?” I hold my nose up to drip American coffee and laugh at the thought of ordering a latte abroad. I will walk near and far for the perfect espresso to milk ratio, and won’t step foot in a Starbucks unless it’s a completely desperate situation.
I’ve also become one of those “status” snobs. Even though I think Marriott’s are a drag, I’ll stay in them anyway because everyone knows Starwood points have the best rewards. I expect free seat upgrades and brag about my premiere status to my mom. I’m that person in the line that sighs loudly when you take off your shoes in the TSA pre-check line. I know that when there’s no traffic, it takes 40 minutes from door to gate.
Though, despite all of this, I still have the most intense imposter syndrome. Flying all over the world to talk on behalf of my company — a company that is regularly revered as the unicorn tech company this side of 2010, with a squeaky clean record and an enviable culture — I can’t help but feel like a fraud.
But I believe that there’s no such thing as luck. Everything happens because of a combination of calculated choices and measured reactions to those events you can’t control.
I’m here today due to a series of choices I once made, a series of actions I once took, because of a vision I once had for a future I once craved. They say, if you think it, it will be. The only truth I see in that is, if you think it, you will want it, focus on it, and make conscious and subconscious choices to bring you closer to that thing.
For me, I think about how I can contribute to forward progress for women, for empathy, and for openness. I think about writing, like, all the time. And I think about taking in all the adventures I can in this crazy little life of mine. And now here I am, channeling my inner-Brené Brown and trying to power stance my way through this male-driven industry.
The thing that has surprised me the most from my adventures in speaking is just how much I have to build myself up along the way. How much I have to rely on my own mental toughness to get on stage, face 400 people, and try to say something important.
What they don’t tell you is that when you’re on the road, you’re alone.
My shameless optimism is a practiced skill, not a naive inheritance. I have to continually remind myself that I’m doing great. You did this well, this could use improvement, stop saying “um”, shoulders back, remember to smile, suck in… but you’re doing great, this isn’t easy! Have fun! Make them laugh! And remember, a perfect Templeton Manhattan is waiting for you on the other side.
Otherwise, the dark chatter of self doubt starts to seep in in an attempt to destroy my vigor. The dark chatter can hold you captive and paralyze you from any forward motion. It has the power to deconstruct your worldview and replaced it with impassible jello. You have to keep it out or you simply won’t survive a 10-hour flight watching Saving Mr. Banks (gets me every time!).
I have to look at myself in the mirror daily and say, you look beautiful. Don’t worry about those extra pounds, you’re lookin’ good for 34, girl! You can always get that sucked out! Don’t worry about those gray hairs, you can always dye that shit! The KETO diet can start tomorrow! You’re here because you deserve to be! You’re AMAZING!
It’s the only way I can keep moving, motivating, waking up day after day to face the grind, the grimy BART, the dirty streets, so that one day I’ll look back and know I did all I could to make even a small difference. It’s the only thing that keeps me saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that will infringe on my free time and lead me far from home, my husband, my life, my routine, my yoga practice.
This, what they call the optimism bias, this is the thing that drives me, this is the thing I have to cultivate and protect. This is the light I have to keep lit. The candle that is so fragile, the slightest gust of wind could blow it out permanently, rendering me apathetic and motionless. Gotta keep out the chatter, the ‘this doesn’t really matter’, the inner troll that drags you down.
At my last talk in London, a young woman approached me. She said shyly, “Watching you on stage made me realize that that’s what I want to do. I want to make a career out of helping people work better together. What did you do to get here?”
I almost started crying.
How did I, this stupid, naive, girl from nowhere, all the sudden become someone that even one single woman looked up to? Did I actually inspire someone? Did I make a difference?
It’s for that small chance that maybe I did, that I have to keep the light alive. So maybe one day she won’t be so hard on herself. So one day maybe she won’t have to work as hard. It’s all for her. She’s what makes it all worth it.
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