Stepping onto the Red Dot and out of My Comfort Zone at TEDxCherryCreek

“If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.” ― Roy T. Bennett

Last Friday I got to stand up in front of 500 people (and who knows how many others through live-streaming) at TEDx Cherry Creek in order to share my message worth spreading – that accepting help does not diminish your accomplishments, and that it’s okay to dream big knowing you may have to rely on others in order to achieve what may seemingly be impossible. I delivered this message through sharing my experience at Ironman Boulder this year, which you can read more about here, and highlighting the times when others propelled me through the day to get me across the finish line. Speaking at TEDx was an amazing experience, and yet another example of the positive things that can come from stepping outside our comfort zones.

Me after hair and makeup standing in front of the TEDx letters

I had given a few smaller talks about my life before, but never on a stage like TEDx, so this was way outside my comfort zone. Sure, I’m used to lecturing people about what the law says, but then I’m just telling them about something concrete so they know their rights, not trying to move them with a personal story. This type of talking was completely different.

When I applied, I never thought I’d get picked. This was TEDx after all, and speakers like Brené Brown are the caliber of people who grace that type of stage. Imagine my surprise when I got my acceptance letter!

Screenshot of letter from TEDx Cherry Creek Women dated August 13, 2018 which reads, "Dear Emily, We hope this letter finds you well. We are honored to invite you to present at TEDxCherryCreekWomen2018, and independently organized TED event taking place November 30, 2018, and would be so excited if you would join us."

I was in such disbelief that I didn’t tell many people for a long time – I didn’t believe it was real, so I didn’t want to tell them and have to tell them it was a mistake later. But, it was real, and I gradually started telling my family, friends, and coworkers.

In the months leading up to TEDx, I had lots of other things going on in my life – LIM359’s only fundraiser for the year, visiting my dad for the first time in 6 years, major things going on at work (which were good, but stressful), traveling for my cousin’s wedding, and other various responsibilities. Fitting in the required practice talks was somewhat nerve-wracking, but my friends jumped at the opportunity to come over for free dinner and homemade cheesecake in exchange for listening to me talk for 10 minutes, and my friend Shannon arranged for me to speak at the high school where she co-teaches a mock trial class so I could deliver my speech to strangers (as was required), so I managed to get all of those completed.

Then, at my third and final meeting with the TEDx producers, they asked me how I felt about the beginning of my talk. I told them that was the part I kept changing and Dafna said, “Good! We want you to change it again!” and then went into how she wanted me to completely revise the first part of my talk.

I continued practicing in my head and before I knew it the big day had arrived. The weird thing is that I was super nervous that morning while I was still at home. I was as nervous as I get before races and I thought I would likely throw up like I pretty much always do the morning of a race. I didn’t, though, and by the time I got to the event center I felt better about everything. I still didn’t know what time I would be speaking, but I was onsite and surrounded by all the other speakers and entertainers – we hugged each other a lot even though we hadn’t actually spent much time together leading up to the day.

Me standing in front of the TEDxCherryCreek sign giving my signature double thumb's up sign (before we had hair and makeup done)

I found out I was the last speaker in the first group, and felt good because I got to be done early in the day and then enjoy the rest of the event. We got hair and makeup done, I greeted my family and got them situated in their seats, and before I knew it we needed to head backstage.

Never, in all the times I practiced, did my words come out the same way, so I honestly had no idea what was actually going to come out of my mouth in what order once I got out there on the big red dot. Oddly though, I felt prepared. This was my story and I knew what I wanted the audience to take away from it, so I just needed to keep that in mind while I was talking. About 30 seconds before I walked out onto the dot, I felt a huge wave of nerves wash over me. Surprisingly, once I walked out from behind the curtain and saw the audience, all I felt was energized and excited, not nervous at all. Somehow, I felt like that red dot was right where I was supposed to be in that moment, and I took a deep breath and started telling my story. I was very fortunate because the audience laughed or clapped in the right places and that gave me time to think about what I wanted to say next, but I’ll let my talk speak for itself once the video is released in the coming weeks…

On the red dot during my talk

Through my experience doing TEDx, I made some new amazing friends who are powerhouse women and also learned something new about myself – I actually really like that type of speaking and I like sharing my stories to empower and motivate others. While I don’t have the classic story about overcoming my disability because I’ve never thought of it as something I had to overcome, I now realize my stories have value without that component and there’s a new curiosity in me wondering if there might be a place for me within the world of motivational speaking after all. Had I stayed within my comfort zone I never would have applied for TEDx, and I never would have discovered this about myself.

Me on stage about to cry as the audience applauded at the end of my talk

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