When I was in college, I created a self-portrait in one of my art classes which I recently found in my parents’ basement. It was an 18 x 24 piece of white paper with my face in the lower right hand corner, and a big talk bubble that filled the page. The talk bubble was empty, except for tiny words that read “I have nothing to say.”
I have nothing to say.
This is the story I believed to be true about myself. I was a quiet girl who grew into a quiet teenager who grew into a quiet young adult and pretty much lived in a world of quiet. In school, I would sometimes go for days without speaking. I was a good girl, and being good meant getting the right answer. The risk of getting it wrong was monumental, so my strategy was to stay quiet.
I remember seeing Helen Caldicott speak at the Tuesday speaker series at Ohio Wesleyan where I went to college. I was awestruck. She was so smart and engaging. I thought, “But she’s a woman. How’d she get to be so smart?” And, “It would be so amazing to inspire a room full of people like that” and then, “but I will never do that because I have nothing to say.”
I will never do that because I have nothing to say.
The story goes on. Slowly, slowly I start recovering my voice by telling my own story in poetry and dance. I create solo theater pieces. I help other people tell their stories. Fast forward about 30 years and I find myself a speaking coach.
Yes it’s true. The girl who was afraid of speaking, who went for days without speaking, becomes a speaking coach.
Now I speak on lots of stages. I tell stories. I host a story slam. I coach people on their TEDx talks. People say “Johanna, when are you gonna give a TEDx talk?” And I say….I don’t know. Maybe one day.
Secretly inside I find myself slammed back into that old story of “I have nothing to say.”
I can’t give a TEDx talk because I have nothing to say.
And then it starts to reveal itself. My idea worth spreading. The way I show up with my clients. The way I invite them to show up in their bodies and their voices. The brave leaps they take in service of sharing their voice with the world. The stories they tell when they’re fully present in the room.
Then there’s the way my friend and I stand in front of the mirror and look at our bellies, our lusciously expanding middle-aged bellies. We are what we consider to be “liberated women,” and still we get hung up on our expanding bellies. We see the oppression having it’s way with us. We don’t want it to, but still we find secret ways to hide our bellies, our flabby arms, our sagging boobs.
Then the #metoo stories starts taking over the internet. Including my own, my friend’s. So. Many. Women. The stories that have been stored in our bodies. The stories that still live there. The parts of our voices we’ve kept on the back burner, or in hiding. The power in speaking them.
And it all starts coming together. I start to feel the talk in me. I start to give it when I’m riding around on my bicycle. It starts taking shape. I realize I indeed have something to say. I have something to say that I want you to hear. I have something to say that lives right here in my belly, and something else that lives under this fold, and something else that lives here in this wrinkle.
I have something to say.
I knew TEDxWomen was around the corner. I stalked the website for applications to be opened. When applications opened, there was no submission deadline posted, so it kind of drifted out there into the land of “I’ll do this when I finish all the other pressing things.” Pressing things kept getting in front of it, and the TEDx application kept falling down to the bottom of my list.
I could totally see myself on the TEDx stage, but I knew visualizing was not enough!! It got to the point where I was scared to open the application for fear of seeing the dreaded announcement “Applications have been closed. Try again next year,” then I finally opened it and IT WASN’T TOO LATE!!
I completed the application RIGHT THEN AND THERE and sent it off.
When they asked why I wanted to give this talk I said “Because I want to have a hand in dismantling the patriarchy.” And it’s true. Yeah howdy do I ever.
I suspect I got it in just under the wire because it was only a couple of weeks before I opened the invitation.
TEDxCherryCreekWomen invited me to say something on their stage and I say yes.
BECAUSE I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!
Ready? Not yet but I will be. Or as I say to my clients in the Speaker’s Playground “Go before you’re ready.” So ready or not, I’ll be on that stage on November 30.
It’s a big risk putting yourself out there, telling the world you have something to say and inviting them to listen.
But it’s how we shake things lose and create change. I’m excited I get to shake some things lose with this line-up of powerhouse women speakers.
Pretty sure if you told that 10 year old quiet girl she’d be giving a TEDx talk she would have thought you had the wrong person. But on second thought, maybe not. Maybe she’d say, “It’s about freakin time.”