Speaking at TEDxCIA was an amazing experience. I was incredibly honored to be invited to speak, especially once I learned that I would be in the company of Simon Sinek, Ash Beckham, Taylor Berrett, and the leaders of NextJump. This was my first TEDx, and really the first talk I have given to such a large and broad audience. In the past I have spoken at small meet up groups and conferences, or just to a camera. I was honestly pretty terrified about the idea but knew it was an opportunity that I should not pass up.
First I will answer the most common question I have been asked: sadly no, there will not be a video of my talk posted online. I'll just have to do another one someday! You can get a flavor of what I shared by reading through this sketchnote of my talk that I created in advance:
Just like any other thing in life, the scariest stuff is the most rewarding. I learned so much about myself in the process, but I also learned an incredible amount from the other speakers, the event hosts, and the leaders we spoke with throughout the three days. Rather than give you a play-by-play of the events, I have my biggest takeaways to share with you (in doodle form, of course).
I was shocked to hear the CIA's Director for Talent introduce me to the audience as someone who was instrumental to bringing TEDx to the agency for the first time four years ago. I had no such recollection, but he reminded me that I told a friend who had the idea to do a TEDx that it was a great idea and that he should pitch it to the events office. That's all I did, but apparently it was the push he needed to go after his idea.
The theme of the event was "truth", and Charlie Kim and Meghan Messenger of NextJump shared their ideas about being true to ourselves at work. There were many great takeaways about fear, comparison, and feelings of inferiority that left me with some strategies for being a better and more whole person at work. The one that stuck with me the most came from a slide that Meghan shared where there is nobody waiting in a line to hear unpleasant truths. It was a good reminder for me to seek real and tough feedback from those I trust.
One of the speakers each year is a staff employee. This year the speaker was a gentleman named Jerry, who was sort of a legend back in the years I contracted with the Agency. He was (and still is) one of those leaders that have a large following of people who would follow them anywhere. I don't think there is a secret recipe to what makes a good leader, but being nice in stressful moments goes an incredibly long way to building trust and loyalty.
Speaking of leadership, at one point in the day Simon asked the audience to reflect on something they learned about themselves and share it with the person next to them. I shared with my person that I didn't enjoy managing people and leading teams in the past because it is really hard and takes me away from doing what I love. Now that I'm working alone on many projects I see how rewarding leading a team can be, and how much more you can accomplish as a group. Duh, right? I guess the thing I learned about myself is that someday I'd like to get back there...but on my own terms and in the right way.
Ash gave us a crash course in neuroscience to help understand why we sometimes respond to challenging conversations in a defensive and potentially inappropriate manner. I love thinking of this default way of responding as she described it-- just the path in an open field that our brains are used to taking because we have done it so many times before. We just need to slow down and more consciously steer our brains away from the default response in a different direction sometimes to break out of the rut.
Both Ash and Taylor (an amazing musician!) shared stories of how it can be easy to compare your struggles to those that others face, and to either feel hostility or shame as a result. Before playing "The Best Kind of Heartbreak", Taylor told us about a friend of his who won $30,000 in a game show, but put it all towards student loans and was depressed about how quickly it went away. She then felt even worse after recognizing that her struggle didn't seem like much compared to someone fighting cancer or filing for bankruptcy. But the point is feeling shitty just feels shitty, and the character or type of shit doesn't matter. It is an important reminder for our own sake and for those around us.