Three years ago I stood on the TEDx stage and took off my proverbial clothes in front of a live audience of 500 people, with thousands more watching online.
I gave a six-minute speech that set me free and changed the trajectory of my life.
It was the bravest and boldest thing I’ve ever done.
It was the first time I projected vulnerability instead of perfection while standing on a stage. It was the first time I admitted out loud that I didn’t know what I was doing as a mother, and it was the hardest I’d ever worked for the shortest speech I’d ever given.
It’s difficult for me to believe it was three years ago now, because in so many ways it feels like it was 23 years ago. So much has happened in the 1,095 days since.
Before I felt trapped. Now I feel free.
Before I followed everyone else’s rules. Now I make my own.
Before I felt like I was on mute. Now I have a microphone.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” holds that as Americans we live in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” It’s interesting to think about how those two things work together. I firmly believe that you must be brave in order to be free. There’s a cause and effect relationship there.
I was brave and now I’m free.
With the passage of time comes hindsight. I’m hoping that if you’re trying to muster the courage to take a leap of faith that terrifies you, you’ll find comfort in the milestones and mindsets I experienced during my journey to a braver me.
Here are six secrets to doing something you’ve never done before.
1. When you’re getting started, don’t let setbacks set you back.
My excitement over being selected as a TEDxRVA speaker was immediately followed by the disappointment of finding out that I was given a six-minute time slot. Knowing that a lot of TED talks are 18 minutes long, I was bummed that I was given such a short amount of speaking time. I felt slighted at first. I didn’t think I could say anything compelling in six minutes. But after being pissed off for an hour or two, I simply decided to get over it. There wasn’t anything I could do to change it. So instead of asking, “Why didn’t I get more time?” I started asking, “What’s something amazing I can do in the time I have?” Dwelling on the former question would have wasted time and energy, and I didn’t have an excess of either.
Note to self: If you’re thrown a wrench, stop trying to figure out why it was thrown to you and start figuring out how to use it to your advantage.
2. Go big or go home.
I could have written a traditional speech in a traditional format like I had done a hundred times before. But I knew that wouldn’t work. There wasn’t enough time for me to say what I wanted to say using that kind of narrative. I decided the wow factor would need to come not only from the words I said, but also the way I said them.
Note to self: If you want to do something big and bold, forget about how you’ve done things in the past. You won’t find inspiration there.
3. Do your homework. Lots of it.
I threw myself into reviewing my favorite speeches and TED talks of all time. I was particularly struck by the unique delivery method of spoken-word poetry. It’s a powerful speech style where the presenter’s words rhythmically—and seemingly effortlessly—come together. It’s a method that makes the audience sit up and pay attention. Regular speech styles can’t hold a candle to it. The fact that I had no idea how to pull it off was a minor detail that I was willing to overlook.
Note to self: Throw the gauntlet down and throw yourself out there. What do you have to lose (other than everything)?
4. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
I had no idea how to write or perform spoken-word poetry. So I called my friend Danny Robinson and asked him to be my coach. I confided in him that I had no idea what I was doing and that I wanted him to be my wingman throughout the writing and rehearsal process. I asked Danny because I knew he’d push me. I knew he’d make me better. And I knew he’d also tell me bale out if I was going to make an ass out of myself.
Note to self: Don’t fake it until you make it. Faking it doesn’t help you make it. Asking for help does.
5. Forget about what other people think.
Once I finally had my speech written and memorized, I became paranoid about what people would think of me when I admitted that I had no idea what I was doing as a mother. It became paralyzing at times and I wanted to walk away from my message more than once. But a quote from Wayne Dyer helped me tremendously. He said, “Our willingness to listen and act on our own inspiration, independent of the opinions of others, is imperative.” And that’s what I did. I took other people and their opinions out of the move I was making. This was my moment to say what I needed to say so I could finally feel free.
Note to self: This is your life. Live it for you. Don’t let other people—or their opinions—have any power over you.
6. After you make your bold move, don’t forget to celebrate big.
When I walked off that stage after my six-minute confession, I was very proud of myself. So proud, in fact, that there’s still a tequila bottle with my name on it hanging above the bar at Casa del Barco in Richmond, Virginia.
On that March day three years ago, most people saw an interesting speech, but I saw a seismic shift in my life.
Before leaving the stage, the emcee of the TEDx event interviewed me briefly—asking how I felt after revealing so much personal information about myself. I told him, and everyone watching, that I’d never felt more relieved in my entire life.
I was proud that I’d turned my short time slot from a negative into a positive, and I was even prouder that I’d taken off my mask, stopped pretending and bared my soul for the world to see. To date, the talk has been viewed more than 24,000 times across 11 different countries.
When it comes to your own life, know this: taking whatever bold step you know you need to take will never be easy. In fact, it will always be hard. That said, I hope my hindsight will give you foresight so that you can finally take the chance.