I suppose the journey really began with the inaugural TEDx Fort McMurray last year, an event I did not attend as I was in Vancouver at the time. I followed it on Twitter and through texts from friends, and even sent a guest blogger in my place, the lovely and talented Ashley (or @ashcakesquiggle as she is known in the Twitterverse). I think the seed was planted then, the idea that maybe, just maybe I should audition - and then, this year, when the auditions were announced I decided to do it. To be honest, though, I wasn't sure what to present.
I wanted to present a story that was compelling, and relevant to others. I wanted to share a shift in thought that so profoundly shifted my own thinking that it led to a dramatic life change that I never expected. It was intensely personal, though, and I struggled with revealing so much. I wondered if vulnerability was a sign of weakness. I wondered if my story even had any value to anyone but me.
I did it though. I auditioned one bright Saturday morning, and when I saw tears in the eyes of the selection committee I knew my story had resonated with them on some level. I did not know, though, if I would be selected to present. I knew the competition would be fierce, and I did not know if my story would fit the theme for the year: "Shift in Thought". I will never forget when the email telling me that I had been selected arrived. I felt, in some strange way, validated, even though my story and knowing what has happened in my world is validation enough. I felt that maybe, just maybe, I had something to share, something of worth.
The audition and selection process was just the beginning, though. There were all the sessions with my patient and stellar coach, Joelle Wolverton, who gave freely of her time and accommodated my ridiculously unpredictable schedule to help me refine my presentation, and to focus my thoughts. We met every week in the security of my house, where I could tell the story again and again until I had it down, until I had rehearsed the narrative of my life that I know, of course, by heart, but had never really told anyone.
I rehearsed in my car as I drove to work every day, right after dropping the Intrepid Junior Blogger at school. I rehearsed in the bathtub, and before my bathroom mirror to make sure I wasn't making any funny faces while I spoke. And then the first rehearsal day arrived, and I had the chance to hear the presentations from my ten fellow presenters, those people who I suspect all went through the same fears and trepidations and hopes that I had, but perhaps in varying degrees.
I listened to them all - Lucie, Dave, Claude, Kevin, Lianne, Alanna, Amie, Brent, Katie, and Jenny - and I was so blown away I was almost speechless. Each and every one of them laid it on the stage, some with personal stories and some with stories of beliefs and ideas and communities and passions and songs. I sat in wonder as they each spoke in turn, and I discovered how badly I wanted to see each of them succeed, to find their shining moment when it all came together and they hit their stride. I left our first rehearsal day feeling that something very special was happening with this little group, and the dress rehearsal, just one day before TEDx Fort McMurray, confirmed it.
We gathered on that day, almost like old friends. We ran through our presentations, some of us experiencing stage fright and some of us breezing through. We spoke kind and encouraging words to each other, and I think we each saw that we were on a journey. For some it was a journey that they perhaps had taken before, and not a new path. For others, like me, it was so intensely new and unexpected that it had a profound impact.
I sat on the stool backstage, you see, completely overwhelmed. I had run through my speech, my story, my heart, and when it was over I fled the stage, almost running backstage, for a moment alone. It was in that moment that I knew this experience would likely be unparalleled in my life. Not only had I made new friends in my fellow presenters, but in the organizers of TEDx, like Matt and Rolando, two characters of whom I will now always be intensely fond. I had discovered a circle of support, yet another one that opened to me when I simply trusted and believed, just like others have done in the past two years.
I went home the night before TEDx to find several emails and encouraging texts from friends, and while I read them I built my courage to take the stage the next day in front of almost 200 people and tell the story of my life. There were so many kind words sent to me, but perhaps the one with the most impact was the one that simply said "be you, and leave it all on the stage" - and I knew that was what I had to do, and that vulnerability is not weakness but rather being strong enough to strip away all pretense and be authentic.