Happy Tuesday #Jontourage,
Welcome back to the “Classy Gent Chronicles”, where staying classy is the only way to be. So this past weekend, I accomplished one of my biggest goals to date and let me tell you, it felt great. This past weekend, I gave a TEDx talk. I’m still on cloud 9. There were some ups, there were some downs, there was a little bit of sideways in there too but none the less it was magical. Everyone loves a good story so here we go. Sunday, September 29, 2019, I get an email and it reads…
“Dear Mr. Harris,
I hope this message finds you well. I'm honored to invite you to apply to be a speaker at TEDxLincolnUniversity, an independently organized TED event happening on January 11th, 2020. We would be so excited if you would join us.”
I am truly honored but I am a little apprehensive at first. You see, I had applied TWICE before to give a TEDx talk and was not selected. Being rejected twice from something you want is extremely hard and when I got this email, I wasn’t sure if my heart was ready to be rejected a third time. Before I go any further, some of you are like “what’s a TEDx talk?” so let me explain…
TEDx supports individuals or groups in hosting local, self- organized TED-style events around the world. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and the event is a day or multi-day conference all based around ideas worth sharing. TED talks can be on much of anything (sand, life after a traumatic event, growing up in a specific area, or even being the middle child). However, the purpose is to invoke change within someone’s mindset. These aren’t “how I overcame adversity” talks, these are “how adversity is affecting us as a society and what you can do to make change.”
So fast-forwarding, I decided to apply after all. Being the millennial that I am, I put a poll up on Instagram asking my followers if I should apply and about 90% said yes. Although excited at the possibility of being chosen, I would be lying if fear didn’t rear its ugly head. While I was crafting my application, I almost threw my computer at the wall at least three times because I was so frustrated. Imagine having your third opportunity appear in front of you and you feel like you’re about to blow it…again. After a lot of venting to my accountability brothers (read here about them https://www.authorjon.com/blog/men-on-the-move ), I got back on track and finished my application.
After a few weeks, I got an email on October 8th saying I had been invited to an interview. At that point, I felt really honored that I had made it further than in this process I had before but I knew I wasn’t out of the water yet. I had to nail this interview which was a Saturday morning. When the time I came, I nailed it or so I would like to think. Most importantly, I wanted the planning team to know that I was serious about his opportunity and that I would do well if selected.
Then the unexpected happened, I kind of got the opportunity. Yes, kind of… So basically they wanted me to give a talk but they didn’t like my talk topic so I had to change it. That was feeling worse than not being picked because now I know I am talking but I don’t have a talking topic. How would that even work? The advice I was given was to make it something unique to you.
So at this point, I am watching more TED talks and I am trying to figure out what I could actually speak about. My confidence is shrinking by the second and in my head, I’m like “I’m going to have to tell these organizers never mind”. That would have CRUSHED ME to have given up the opportunity but I was truly lost. I prayed every night that God help me develop a sense of direction with this talk. One day, I am in my office working on something else and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why don’t I talk about writing a book? TED and TEDx talks are usually about things you have experienced and are important to you. Writing a book definitely checks off both of those boxes. I got to work immediately and resubmitted my pitch to the organizing team about writing a book. After about a week, I got this email...
And just like that, ya boy was going to give a TEDx talk. Finally, I felt a sense of relief. I was on my way to accomplishing a goal. Little did I know, the hard part had not even started yet.
After finding out that I was giving this talk, I actually had to prepare it. Sitting down and writing it was a lot easier said than done. While working a full-time job and trying to keep my business afloat, I found it harder than expected to carve out time and write out my TEDx Talk. On top of that, I wasn’t loving what I wrote so on several occasions, I had to put the computer down and come back to it. One more at five in the morning, I got woken up because my mentee and my cousin decided to text me. Doesn’t anyone sleep around here. Anyways, now I am up and I can’t sleep so I figure no time like the present to write this talk. About two hours and five pages later, I finish writing my talk.
Although I thought the hardest part would be writing it, little did I know the real challenge was waiting for me around the corner, memorizing it. Imagine writing an essay for class, then having to recite the essay in front of your class but you can’t bring the paper up there with you. NEXT LEVEL PRESSURE! I have given dozen of speeches before so the concept of talking was not the part throwing me for a loop. It was the fact that I would be talking on stage for over ten minutes with no script, no flashcards, and no teleprompter… just me. At this point, maybe it would have been easier for them to just reject my application because how in the world am I going to learn five pages single spaced of a speech.
During the weeks leading up to this TEDx talk, I also have to do check-ins with the organizers to ensure that I am making progress. The first check-in was in mid-December and I sounded a mess. An actual mess, at this point I only knew the first two paragraphs and I felt embarrassed. Here I have one of the biggest opportunities in my hand, this TEDx talk is less than one month away and I do not even know half of the first page. An absolute mess!!! At this point, I am ready to drop out. In my head, my first thought is “I am not going to go up on that stage and embarrass myself”. I remember how these videos go on Youtube and what I wasn’t going to do is ruin my motivational speaker career before it really took off. I didn’t want to be known as the guy who butchers his TEDx talk. I didn’t want to become future memes and gifs and plastered all over social media for my epic fail.
Then I realized one thing, stop focusing on how much time you have until this talk and start using the time you have to make progress. I started by recording myself to memorize it better. I reached out to actors I knew for guidance on memorization and I started increasing my rehearsal time. I even got some help to rehearse leading up to the TED Talk. Slowly but surely I began feeling more comfortable. A week before my talk, I got to the point where I knew the entire script without relying on a paper. That’s when I know I was ready.
On the day of my talk, I was pumped. Honestly, my biggest worry was if my curls would stay in place so I didn’t look crazy on that stage. But in all seriousness, I was ready to make an impact. TED isn’t about what it can do for you, TED is about what your talk can do for others. It wasn’t about me at all, it was about the audience and making sure they left better people. That was my job that day....
When the time came, I owned the stage. I stood tall, I spoke clearly, and most importantly, I spoke from the heart. I let the audience know how writing a book changed me and how it would help them too. My speech was met with great reviews and I was elated. In fact, many people approached me about writing their own books.
Now that my TEDx journey has passed, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this. I was able to share the stage with some truly talented people who I can consider friends. I was supported by my cousin, my mentee, my students and, even my high school social studies teacher which was amazing to see.
This experience taught me to believe in myself more. You know what the coolest part of the TEDx talk was... it wasn’t the fact I got to do it. It was the fact that in the front row were two young black males who came to the event and afterward told me how they now want to give a TEDx Talk. I was the only black male to give a TEDx Talk that day. Representation is everything so I am grateful that I got to open a new door of possibility for someone else.
Moral of the story: This dream did not happen for me the first time I wanted it. It didn’t even happen the second time. However, with hard work, patience, and prayer, dreams can come true.
Remember, in order to live out your dreams, you have to think it, feel it, live it! Until next time, stay classy...
For more Classy Gent Chronicles blog post, be sure to visit https://www.authorjon.com/blog
Jonathan C. Harris is no stranger to leadership, hard work, or success. At the age of ten years old, he earned the right to be a guest weatherman for a day on Fox 5 DC News. He has already received over 100 honors and awards including Forty Under 40 for Prince George’s County, MD, TEDx Talk speaker, American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Outstanding Men’s Program, high school Valedictorian and the Kiwanis Club Citizenship Award. Raised in Fort Washington, Maryland, he has served in leadership positions his entire life, from being the manager of the school store in elementary school to the president of the Homelessness Awareness Club in middle school to the president of the National Honor Society in high school.