I’ve been missing in action in this little space I created for myself to exist and broken all my own rules about showing up here regularly. Which is a bit ironic given the reason why. But I have a good excuse. The dog did not eat my homework. Nor did a chicken. But that would be closer to the truth.
A few month’s ago, I joined the small and extraordinary team behind this year’s TEDxLausanneWomen . It has been a journey. And I want to tell you about it and the things that I have learned because I think, as well as it being a personal crusade where I have realised and been reminded of things about myself, it has been bigger than that too. There’s some stuff (a lazy but conveniently stretchy word for ideas, thoughts, starts of thoughts, lessons etc) that I have an inkling and a hope, will strike a chord beyond me. And I can’t think of a better way to round off the year than with my take on a piece of the mighty TED jigsaw that exists to champion the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.
- You can find time
The truth is, I originally said no to TEDx. I thought, with two small girls, no family closeby and only a handful of childcare hours a week, I couldn’t commit or even get close to doing it justice. Then I met a girl I used to work with in Hong Kong. She now runs a global comms business. And her girls are exactly the same age as mine. I had no leg to stand on, and even if I did, she kicked it out with her famous directness. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was ‘wasting my talents’. That and the fact she was making it work, pumping milk every three hours to keep up her supply while she was away from her baby etc etc made me change my mind. And do you know what. My fears were founded. It was manic. I had to find non-existent pockets of time, 25th hours, 8th days. I’ve never juggled so ferociously. I dropped some balls. The world kept spinning. I did it. A lot can be achieved in a day. Time is more bendy than you think. And so are you.
- The things that drive you insane can also save your sanity
A bit like kids. Or this blog. I created it to give me headspace. A place where I could press pause on life, organise my thoughts, put something good into the world that wasn’t there yesterday. It is all those things. But it’s also another thing to do when most of the time I’m already drowning. And with TEDx it was the same but on steroids. There was nowhere to hide. No option to cut yourself some slack and ‘leave it for this month’. We had three months to pull off a massive event. To live up to the TEDx vision. A team not to let down. 1,000 people not to disappoint. It did feel a bit insane. Especially towards the end when s*%t got properly real, both girls got bronchiolitis and the husband disappeared to India on work for 10 days (event day included). But for me, as much as I was drained, I was also re-energised by being part of something again – sitting down with a group of adult humans, dreaming something up and grafting hard to make it happen. My brain got a workout and realised it could handle more. The old me was allowed to make a bit of a reappearance and she saved the new me. And so, to the next point.
- Remember who you are and be her
I love being a mother. A wife. A sister. A daughter. They are all things I am proud of. They have irrevocably shaped me. But it felt damn good to just be a person too. Scrap that. To be a woman. It’s not so much that you peel off the labels, you just get to be those and more again when you step out of your comfort zone / leave the changing bag at home. The girl who wrote feminist essays in red pen at uni had a little resurgence. The planner who can’t wing it, winged it. The word smith, got to play with words again with a new audience. The team player slipped into that playmaker, supporting role that she has occupied, time and time again in a past life. The professional muscle memory, the familiar rush of adrenalin attached to working a big event all came flooding back. She didn’t love every minute. But she loved knowing that she still could. And aside from the immediate aftermath where she was totally broken, she felt like a whole person again. Whatever your TEDx equivalent, I say take the leap and find yourself (all of you) on the way down.
- Surround yourself with people who aren’t like you
My mum, in her infinite wisdom, once said to me that she was glad I was attracted to naughty people because I had it in me to be a bit of a square. It’s the best mothering line she’s ever thrown my way. I think she’s totally right and the naughty people in my life know who they are. You brought out the worst in me and that was the best thing you could have done. Now, I’m not necessarily saying the TEDx team was naughty, but the point is, that difference is a good thing. And we were a pretty eclectic mix of people – nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, skill sets, styles, personalities. It wasn’t always easy but it was good to be challenged. We didn’t always agree. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
These differences were also reflected in the eclectic mix of speakers we curated. Not every talk was everyone’s cup of tea. We took some risks. But that was also a good thing. Because the biggest risk for us was delivering something that was vanilla.
Jennah Kriebel, in her talk, spoke about not just the co-existence, but the co-dependence of science and magic. Well, taking that idea and applying it to us, our team was made of scientific magic. It’s the new team glue. Try it.
- Human beings respond to human beings
With the exception of a chicken in one of the talks, this event was about human beings. It wasn’t just for women and we were really clear about that. We had men on our team, on stage, in our audience. I met some special human beings on that famous red circle of carpet, in the peripheries and virtually. I started to build a network in a city where I’d previously had the square route of zero contacts. I made some pals. That alone, made everything worth it. The humans.
We had tricky moments, where adrenaline and nerves were pumping, people were under pressure, things lost in translation, situations fraught, where I was reminded that being human is the best, and only real option you have. Put yourself in their shoes, show vulnerability, pick up the phone instead of hiding behind email, be authentic, make sure that what you’re saying is true. Be kind. It sounds simple but we forget. When in doubt, just strip it right back to raw humanity. That’s as hard and as simple as it gets.
- Words are powerful things
My role was communications so I am bound to say this but I’m not just talking about what our Instagram efforts achieved. Each and every speaker played to this year’s theme of ‘Showing Up’ simply by ‘Speaking Up’.
Working on this event was a reminder of how strongly language shapes our world both as a force for good and for bad.
Sherin Khankan, Scandanavia’s first female Imam told a story about her five-year-old daughter who, when asked what an Imam was, replied with proud tigress eyes; ‘a woman who does very great things’ – challenging centuries of fixed narrative in a heartbeat.
Louise Winter and Anna Lyons founders of Life.Death.Whatever, a movement to redesign the dialogue around death and dying talked about a language and an emotional literacy the world has been missing when it comes to showing up at the end of life.
And I was reminded most Wednesday nights when my team effortlessly switched between English and French and I was left in their wake, of what a weapon and an advantage language is. And two, or three languages, well now you’re talking. Know your mother tongue and use it wisely. And if you can add another language or two, do that. It’s the best passport you’ll ever have.
- Everyone gets terrified.
Performing artist and activist Lynzy Lab, in the most authentic way, talked about being terrified and doing it anyway. Kirstine Stewart, former VP of Twitter, author and comms guru for the World Economic Forum talked about imposter syndrome. Every single one of our speakers was nervous. It was palpable. Mother Pukka said it was the most terrifying thing she’d done. These women who look unshakable were shaken. And they nailed it, I suspect because of and not in spite of their fear. Behind the scenes I had heart in mouth moments too. I’ve never had to channel my swan so hard. The paddling under the surface was real. We were a small team in a huge venue putting on an event for 1,000 people. It was never going to feel comfortable but the fact we were all volunteers, working on this event in the hairline cracks of our lives, made it feel bigger than any of the events I’ve done before. It made the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens feel vaguely sane (anyone who has been there will appreciate this achievement). So I think that the moral of the story is that being terrified is part of the human condition. We shouldn’t be terrified of it. It can be harnessed. It can be a force for good. And it is often a sign that you are moving forward.
- Go out and love your family.
They say go home and love your family if you want to change the world. But inherent in that is the fact that you have to have been somewhere else first. I believe that time away from my family, from my girls especially, made me better for them. Yes, I am now weaning them off their newfound telly addiction but their eyes didn’t go square and they weren’t expelled from nursery etc through lack of parental attention. What I did wasn’t sustainable for the long-term but it was ok for three months, we all survived and more than that, the whole time they were overdosing on Peppa Pig etc, I was working on making their future a better place. This Christmas will be about being more present for them (as well as the stack of actual presents, let’s be honest.) I owe them that. But I also owed them and their future selves the time I spent on TedxLausanneWomen. And I owed it to myself.
- Challenge everything. Yourself. The world.
I’m naturally curious but TEDx renewed my belief in this one. Because the chances are that the things you believe are set in stone are less concrete than you think and the things you lack belief in (yourself for example) are stronger and more capable than you think.
As Honey Thaljieh said, challenge a world in which there are female leaders and not simply leaders.
Like the Pukkas, challenge why we don’t open the floodgates to flexible working when people are drowning behind them.
Challenge your belief that you don’t have time or you can’t. Because look at what happens when you do.
10.5 Transformation isn’t a superpower (I’m giving this one 1.5 points because it’s a biggy)
TEDxLausanneWomen played testament to the transformational power of pain, sport, music, love, science, magic, flexible working, blockchain technology, self-belief, language, death, fear. And it struck me that while the vehicle for change may differ, where there is a good idea backed by action, transformation can come from almost anywhere. That realisation for me, is a powerful idea in itself because it means that change-making isn’t the sole domain of the rocket scientist, the magician, the privileged. It is within the reach of every single human being on the planet.