On saying no to massive opportunities

I had an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that left me a little exhilarated and simultaneously thrown for a loop. I’ve never been much for public speaking, so the fact that someone from TED (as in Talks) was nominating me to be a speaker at the upcoming TEDx Manitoba was kind of insane.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 4.52.00 PMI responded, naturally, in complete freak-out fashion, thanking them as graciously as I could while also making sure they knew all about my throwing up incidents after being on stage and the performance anxiety that though I am challenging, musically, is still very much there. I wasn’t sure they’d got the right person—if they’d found me through my blog, surely they’d know I’d be a nervous wreck in front of an audience of hundreds? They assured me they’d be with me every step of the way. That people needn’t have any prior speaking experience, that they too had had someone throw up with nerves in their preparation… yet every single person they’d ever chosen ended up being brilliant. They told me they believed in my story; that I had the power to engage through writing and tell stories that inspire people. I was flattered and humbled beyond belief: all I do is live my life out loud. I have a desperate desire to know and to be known, to seize every moment we’re given, to do something positive in the world and be a friend to every stranger who’s ever feeling they can’t do something or that life is too much, because I spent too long feeling that way myself and I want everyone to know that the key to the life they want truly does lie in their own back pocket. Every dragon to slay on the way to reaching it is masked as real, but evaporates the moment you choose to venture forth into the world, face fears head on, and allow yourself the freedom to try what you’ve always wanted. Accept that judgment is inescapable, but that if you have a passion or ten or two hundred, you should be allowed to go forth and explore them. I’ve said it before, that ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for. I was incredibly touched that someone from such a huge organization hand-picked me and believed in me, despite my fears. And I was torn. But not because I was afraid.

Everyone I told was incredibly excited about the opportunity, telling me I absolutely had to do it. That this sort of thing doesn’t just come around, and that I’d always regret it if I didn’t do it. My initial reasons for hesitance were rooted in a bit of anxiety—it hasn’t stopped me, but every time I get up in front of people it’s immensely difficult to switch off my biggest fear: that people will see only what’s on the surface. That they wouldn’t see a girl whose head is full of ideas and imagination, a heart so determined it never stops learning and doing, a mind that never stops thinking and imagining and challenging itself. Someone who’s been at the absolute bottom and knows it well enough for it to become the catalyst to doing everything so as never to go there again. I’m not proud of those years. But I’m proud of these ones. And in the way I wish someone had reached out and scooped me up back then, I want to be that beacon any chance I get. To help people. To pour passion into everything, to soak up the infinite wonders of the world and be inspired to create some of my own. To encourage people to see the vast potential on their very own doorstep. To show them all they have to do is leap, and that it’ll be scary, but it’ll be brilliant. And no matter what, it’ll be okay. Because if we have a desire within us to do certain things, we should leap on that and make it happen. Don’t let something that could shine so brightly fade into regret. (I might not be the best singer or even a good ukulele player yet, but I’m working on it, and the journey is bringing me so much happiness—this is a Bastille cover, and it’s the only one since the accident I’ve actually been kind of proud of)

I debated doing TED internally for a few days, and then I briefly convinced myself I was going to say yes. It’d probably be the biggest challenge of my life, but it’d also probably be one of the most rewarding if I made it through. And I would make it through. I don’t know if I’d do it gracefully, but I’d get through it. But the idea of doing it didn’t sit right. Not because I was scared—I’ve spent the last few years diving into things I’ve been afraid of for the sake of growth and adventure—but because of the idea of time. And wondering if it truly would be that rewarding after all. Would it be, just because it was hard? There’d be no guarantee I’d have any kind of impact on anybody, and if I want to inspire people, I can do that from here. With words, and without standing in the spotlight feeling uncomfortable. When I’m passionate about something (which, let’s be honest, is a lot of things), I have no problem launching it out into the world. Even if it’s not perfect. I did an image this week and covered a song last week and for the first time in a while, felt kind of proud. Not because I’d somehow reached a level I dream of being at, but because I’ve been trying. That leads me back to another reason I felt uncomfortable saying yes: TEDx would be in June, and I’d have to come up with a speech, learn it inside and out, and somehow be okay being on one of the city’s bigger stages in front of hundreds of people. This wasn’t something that excited me. This was two months of fear and dread. Two months I could spend sharing the same message in a different way—a way I felt comfortable with and relatively decent at, that could reach the same number of people.

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal :)

My most recent photomanipulation. I was only a couple of feet off the ground here, so in much less danger than normal 🙂

I had lunch with a dear friend (whom many of you will know from elsewhere on the Interwebs) recently, and she was, as was everyone else, very excited for me. We hadn’t got together in a while, but she’d posted something at the very same time I last wrote about being overwhelmed by All Of The Things, and her antidote was a very well-timed one that constituted the need to get together and discuss! She, like most people, was excited for me—but then we had an illuminating talk over afternoon breakfast and she left me with a phrase that’s embedded itself in my head and may be the very solution to feeling overwhelmed. I’d thought I was feeling overwhelmed because of all the projects I wanted to do, but it wasn’t that at all.

If it’s not a ‘hell yes’, then it’s a no.

Her simple phrase put everything into perspective and made me refocus on exactly what I’ve been advocating forever—we’re only given so much time in a day, a week, a life… why spend it on things that don’t contribute to the life you want to be living? I want to create. I want to inspire. I want to always be learning and expressing and exploring and adventuring and challenging and growing. I want to spend my time with people of the same kind of mindset. People who get that the world is so full of infinite possibility and so is everyone in it. I want to let every piece of imagination inside this head out into the world in some form or another. Because it’s not there for nothing. I’ve debated before whether to spend that time trying to prove you can do anything and everything, or enhancing what you’re innately good at and possibly becoming extraordinary at one or two things. I’ve always felt drawn to the former, I suppose because I felt like I had something to prove. But in recent years, I’ve discovered passions. Making art and storytelling through words, images, or song. Seeing incredible sights and spending time with a small handful of people I feel lucky even exist. And I’m completely sold now on the latter. I don’t have to do everything. I just have to do the things that are a “hell yes”.

10169103_10152303690992552_1677748315_nI’ve never wanted to be a public speaker, but if I have a message to get out there, or an idea (and I have lots!), I have countless other ways through which to do it. Ways that make me happy and, you know, not throw up. I want to know and be known, absolutely. But I don’t have to do it in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

It was an incredible honour to have been nominated for something so huge, but I’m not going to regret not doing it. I know if I took it on, I’d feel overwhelmed, because my time would be invested in something that I ultimately don’t really want to do—and more importantly taken away from the things I do. Like writing, and making cool images, and getting better at music. I decided mid-conversation that I wasn’t going to do it, and you know what? I don’t think I’m actually going to regret it at all. Someone believed I could do it. Someone believed I had something worth sharing. And that’s an incredible honour. I’m just going to do it in a way I feel is the best use of this gift of time—and of what I’m naturally better at. I thought I’d let people (and myself) down if I didn’t do this, but in choosing not to, for these reasons, all I feel is grateful. Humbled. Relieved. And excited.

And just maybe, through following your own path, you create your own massive opportunities along the way.

 

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6 comments

  1. Emily, I was wondering what would happen with this. I like the idea that if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no. As someone who starts sweating at the thought of speaking at a meeting let alone giving a speech or presentation, I completely know where you’re coming from . Like you, if I’m going to make an impact it’s going to be through other ways – mostly writing.

    Solidarity.

  2. Aw, thank you for including me in this Emily! That was such a fun breakfast, and I’m glad that hit home. You’re such a talent, and if you put a lot of effort into a few areas that really feed you, you can share your story in a way that inspires other people AND energizes you instead of wearing you out. You’ve proved to yourself and the world how tough you are and that you can knuckle down and get through anything if your dreams are on the other side. I’m so happy that you’re embracing taking a path that’s gentler and more fun, when they lead to the same place 🙂

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