On December 9, 2019, I took to the Rio Theater stage at TEDxSantaCruz for my first ever TED talk., in the third act of The Art of Hope. In the past, I’ve presented at conferences, moderated panels and pitched enough new business in front of large gatherings of executives, to assume I was ready. for this.
The thing about a TED talk is that it requires two things that were new to me. The first is that you have to memorize your entire speech. No talk track, no copy points on the slides to guide your speech. Nothing. Just you and a few slides and 16 minutes of memorized narrative that flows, arcs, and delivers an emotional connection to the audience. I hadn’t memorized anything since Edgar Allen Poe’s El Dorado poem in fourth grade.
The second aspect of a TED talk is that this must be a personal story connected to your own idea or insight. This is not about some other company, concept, or trend that I am accustomed to synthesizing and presenting. The good TED talks start with a personal anecdote or moment in time that gives the presenter the ability to see something new or come to a fresh perspective that then leads to a greater body of work. I almost never share my personal story in a public setting. And there I was, on stage and live streaming telling everyone my coming out story.
Throughout my career, I’ve done lots of public speaking on communications and storytelling, and the arc needed to reach people when you’re trying to sell an idea or product. I’ve presented on trends emerging around climate chaos and social change and how we need our stories to include emotion and authenticity about the challenges we face as a society. But my story is never included. I’ve just never been comfortable saying much about me — I’d rather lead with someone else’s anecdote, some pithy quote sourced from a recognizable name, facts and figures that encapsulate the trend I am portraying.
But this talk — thanks to my friend and TEDx licensee and curator Irene Tsouprake — pulled something more from me. She helped me dig into my own journey and link what I know to be true to the overarching reality that I am seeing in the world today.
What I understood was how my own marginalization when I can out in my mid thirties gave me the gift of insights. I saw the systems and institutions that I had sort of taken for granted — like marriage and a heteronormative workplace — for the false social constructs they really are. I became a non-binary thinker. That’s what I’ve meant all these years when I say that Yes-& is my life philosophy and the ampersand my favorite symbol.
This ability to be outside of the system and see the truth about what is broken is going to be an important attribute as we look at all of the instututions and structures that need reinventing. From commerce to culture, we are seeing that our assumptions about how the world works are being challenged.
This YES-&, non-binary way of thinking is emerging everywhere. And I can see it because when I came out, I finally understood how I could hold my own masculine and feminine expression inside myself rather than see it as an external gendered reality. Once I experienced the truth of that experience, it opened my eyes and I saw how all of reality is on a spectrum. Once we stop organizing into the binary, as hierarchical structures, we are free to explore and participate in systems thinking. And that gives us the space we need to reimagine a different world.
The greatest gift of my TED talk is the freedom I now feel to bring my whole self into my work and allow it to guide my insights in helping accelerate the great transition that is underway everywhere.