Dispatch: TED Global, or My TED Moment

I’ve heard there’s this thing called a “TED moment.” As far as I can tell the phenomenon involves 3 elements (there may be many more):

  • sitting in your seat at TED, tears running down your face, hoping no one will notice or think you a total freak,
  • some major internal shift compelled by content and the environment that
  • precipitates a realization or insight and usually remarkable behavioral shift.

I heard this from a delightful European financial services executive who’d had his moment a few years ago, run crying into the foyer of the theater in the middle of a session, and made a list of actions he took immediately. They involved selling and/or giving away land and much more.

I had my TED moment Tuesday evening watching Balazs Havasi pound on a piano. The more expressed, the wilder he got… the more difficulty I had containing my tears.

I wasn’t sure why. I sat in my seat running through possibilities:

  • It’s beautiful, moving to watch someone play so full out.   (Yes, I know. I see that frequently in my life, though, thankfully.)
  • Maybe I’m still, decades later, mourning the music career I didn’t pursue after years of classical training and performing.   (No, that wasn’t it.)

Tears welled up & spilling over, I got still enough to hear myself think. This is what I heard:

From the time I was a very small girl, I fragmented myself. I went to two schools every day: for three hours trained by a Juilliard graduate at one school, then to a gifted school for academics. Two schools, two passions, two sets of friends.

When it came time for Uni I’d chosen not to pursue music because I thought it would require ALL of me, that it would take everything, and I had intellectual hunger I could neither ignore nor neglect. I also had a rich social life. I pursued academics as far as I could: earning a world-class Ph.D. and teaching at the University level for over a decade.

Intellectual hunger sated, I went to work with some of the world’s largest companies. As you can see in the sidebar, that work takes me regularly to 5 continents.

Then there’s Connect & Act – the non-profit I event I run to bring high caliber young changemakers together from all around the world.

Let me be clear: there is no complaint here. Each of these incarnations has been an adventure, a blessing, a joy.

This is what struck me my very first official day at TED:

For the first time I was sitting in an event that spoke to nearly every part of me:

  • the classically trained performing musician; (Danielle de Niese)
  • the interdisciplinary Ph.D. bringing economics, political science, sociology & anthropology to bear on mass media usage and regulation; (Rebecca MacKinnon)
  • the Professor standing fiercely for freedom of expression training a corps of journalist freedom fighters to go out into the world telling important stories; (Maajid Nawaz)
  • the corporate consultant traveling the globe; (Geoffrey West)
  • the woman running a non-profit bringing together changemakers from around the world (Julia Bacha)

Until that moment I’d not realized the labor, sacrifice and myriad consequences of the fragmentation I’ve done my whole life. I think I’ll be looking at the consequences (and how to mitigate them) for quite some time.

The tears were overwhelm, peace, shock and comfort at sitting in a theater amid thousands of other people, feeling like I was spoken to in my entirety… like I might be able to express myself fully here and not be too much or too intense. I might even belong, something I’ve not hoped for most of my life.

As an expat, a radical, a high-performing single woman, there are so few places where even contained parts of me fit. This is the first time I’ve ever felt that my whole self might be safe to express; it may even be embraced.

I don’t imagine that’ll be my last TED moment; I’m hoping it’s the first of many. Thank you TED, for the moment, the beauty, for speaking to all of it.

ADDENDUM: What do you think – is the fragmentation a way we make ourselves small, manageable? How often have you felt it implied that a talented, assertive, expressed woman might be, you know, a bit much? It’s not the same for talented men.

Check out these two talks from TED Global 2011:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ciao bella! Thank you. Thinking about you & our upcoming adventure so much each day here…

  2. Beautiful. ALL of it. ALL of you.
    You came up in conversation yesterday. I have someone to introduce you to. Very much look forward to Connect & Act this year.
    Much Love.

  3. Please tell me he’s tall…? 😉
    YOU’RE COMING TO AMSTERDAM??? So happy! People are starting to RSVP and register and it is getting more exciting every day!

  4. You encapsulate so well the emotional response that I too have had at TEDGlobal the last two years. (Didn’t make it this year Rebecca, unfortunately, or we could have been crying together.)

    In fact, I’ve often remarked that the emotional element of the cumulative talks (and the sudden universal chords many of them strike) and how unusual it is to be touched this way, in these places that are so uniquely you that the effect is something impossible to prepare for, and hard to recover from in the small spaces between talks and social mingling.

    Last year they sent us out into the farewell picnic after a shattering talk by Zainab Salbi (of Women for Women International, who helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives)…

    I saw Mona Eltahawy also mention this at TEDWomen — feeling the need to go sob in a corner but being summoned to a cocktail hour.

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