One small step for a leader, a giant leap for a lurker!

Be careful what you wish for!

So there I was, idly dreaming about changing the world and when along came opportunity to get off my backside and do something about it. Well, I couldn’t just let it pass me by, could I?

Oh no, I don’t want to be part of the crowd who talks about how much change is needed and waits for someone else to come and do it, while retreating back to a cosy armchair by the fire or the tired reruns of an old TV series. Shyness and fear reign me in, but at heart I’m an activist.

So there I was wanting to change the world from the safety of my home office, and day-dreaming of working with Oprah, Hillary Clinton and Bono, and then an opportunity presented itself to go big – and long story short – holy smokes I’m giving a TEDx talk in November.


I know, I practically have to try not to spit out my coffee in shock when I think about the magnitude of it all. I did tell you, my faithful readers, that I had a dream the size of a planet, and wouldn’t it be great if I could share with a few folks? And you might remember my pathetic first forays into the twitterverse? Well, fast forward a few months, a certain amount of running around in circles, several massive attacks of self-doubt, and one TED talk pitch later, I’ve landed the gig.

The first thing I did when I found out was in was hug the TED talk organiser. I had told her I’d be a bit nervous and she looked worried and asked if I would I make it – so of course I reassured that I am an old pro at public speaking (in my head!). Then I phoned my husband to tell him the news. And finally – two months after I had vowed to do so – I joined Toastmasters.

So how does it feel? I am like an Oscar winner on the verge of tears ready to thank everyone she’s ever met – including my kindergarten teacher, the random stranger who once sat next to the bus, etc. Thrilled, grateful, dazed, and delighted. And I’m as excited as teenager who’s been given a Ferrari and been told that they could ‘take it for a spin’ at a famous car track. (In my actual case I would have preferred a magnificent, spirited racehorse to a car, but you get the idea).

But there is also total disbelief – I get anxious telling anyone that I’ll be giving a TED talk, in case the organiser changes her mind. The fact that she hasn’t communicated feeds that doubt, but I am determined to give a TED talk so I might as well announce it to the world. If she does change her mind, I could always nobble my replacement speaker (not really – but it’s a thought, eh?!).

And then there is the tsunami of fear. What if I botch it up? Given my talent for being clumsy, flouting protocol, and a non-existent track record of public speaking, I’m bound to have a challenge or two. One friend asked me, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Hmm.
Here’s my response: “I could have an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction, burst into tears if I become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the occasion, gabble nervously making the speech incomprehensible, say something that gets me thrown out of the country…” Then I had to change the subject as this was not helping.

My biggest is fear is blowing the opportunity to get this message out – of blowing the chance I have to make a change for women in Africa by urging people to support women empowerment and encourage the growth of women enterprises.

But there is a small kernel of hope that I could make this fly. I could capture the imagination of women, men, girls and boys and leaders of this country – and indeed beyond – and inspire them to join the movement. A great TED talk ignites inspiration, debate, discussion and action — this speech could make a real difference. So that’s what I’m holding onto.

I’ve been told that I’m a good writer, that my writing is clear, and entertaining and can be persuasive. So If I can write like that, it means I have a voice worth hearing. And with a lot of practice (ie if I practice every minute until T-Day) I’ll be able to articulate my message clearly, competently and with the passion I feel. Public speaking is just writing out loud – the only difference is the delivery method: the voice, the message, the content remains the same. (At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.)

I cannot blow it. There is too much at stake. Not for me (yes I might be mortified if I screw up, hey it’s nothing new), but for the girls and women of Africa who need choices. Who can only have real choices when they a sustainable income. Who can only get this income by growing their businesses. Who need to band together, recognise their strength, resilience and innate power, pool their actions and resources and shape a better future for themselves, and for the African continent.

So you see, I’m actually not at all important in this – I’m only a messenger with a small role to play. But it could be a pivotal role. If I can capture people’s minds and hearts, it could spark a fire that grows and grows until the whole continent is aglow with an unstoppable revolution in women’s lives, businesses and futures. I’d love to witness the vibrant growth of African women entrepreneurs taking charge of their businesses, fulfilling their potential, and having real choices to safeguard themselves, their communities and their futures.

Six weeks is not much time to nail a TED talk, especially for a first time speaker. So if it’s OK with you, I’ll be asking you to share any practical tips or advice you have to help. I might put excerpts of the talk on this blog and ask for your comments and ideas on how to strengthen it. And if you find any spare bits of courage – gather them up and Fedex it over. I’ll return them when I’ve finished.

What it boils down to is this:
If I – anxiety ridden, shy, wallflower me – can convince TEDx organisers that I’ve got something worth saying, so can you.

You might not want to give a TED talk, but I bet there is something big you do want to do – that you’ve been dreaming of for ages and you’ve allowed life get in the way. Maybe you want to work with one of your heroes. Or write that book. Or make that million. Now is the time to make it happen.

Open your mind and let that thought take over your brain for a little while – it’s exciting, scary, rebellious, and ultimately true.

Don’t wait. Take that chance. Grab that chocolate frog and swallow it – be prepared to do what you dreamed of. Be prepared to leave your comfort zone in another galaxy. Take that leap – because you can fly, if only you dare to try. And go meet your heroes, because one day you will be among them. You already are – you just need to realise it. And stop hiding.

Stop hiding.

Do it. Take a small step to get there. Or take a giant leap.

It will be so worth it. Please, let me know how it goes, and how I can help. I’d love to help you find your wings.

16 thoughts on “One small step for a leader, a giant leap for a lurker!”

    1. Thanks Donna, very kind of you to support me and thanks for the high praise! I’m afraid it’s not the last you’ll be hearing about it, as I’m sure there will be a few more squawks and panics before I get on stage, but I’m planning to get all my worrying out of the way early so I can then sail through when the time comes! 🙂

  1. Juliet!! You will do so well! As you said, your message will drive you, your skill in expressing yourself will flow from your voice as it does from your fingers and women you are yet to know will benefit more than you can even imagine. Brava!

    1. Thanks Patrice, despite my angst I am certainly going all out to do the best I can. You too are changing lives and making a huge difference so thanks for all that you do too – it adds up. Together we’re an unstoppable force for good. 🙂

  2. Congratulations, Juliet! What an awesome journey and so amazing that you went ahead and are stepping up to this challenge and what an accomplishment already!! Really inspiring! Looking forward to seeing/hearing your talk !!

    1. Thanks Gabrielle! I really felt compelled to apply when I saw the opportunity – I’ve spent way too much of my life working my heart out and hoping to be spotted and elevated by the powers that be – now I finally realise that it’s up to me to go get the future I want. Hopefully in the process I can inspire others to do the same. Terribly nervous about it though – you will certainly be hearing more about it as T-Day approaches! 🙂

  3. Your imagination is your roadmap to wherever you want to go. It has a GPS on it, and you get to program it. Can you imagine getting into your car and suddenly Siri, or whoever the next talking map-helper starts doing the “What if we never get there??” crap? Oh my goodness! You will be sunk before you ever put the keys in the car!

    Instead, program your imagination to get to work for you. SEE the END RESULT you desire. Play that over and over and over. Then play the road to get there. Then plug in the steps and get to work. Anxiety and worry and blithering on and on won’t stand a chance. You will be focused, on point and amazing. You’ve got this!

    1. Thanks Wendy! Visualisation is important, and something I’ve always struggled with, however deep in my heart I know I can nail this. So I’ll focus on that. I’ll water and nourish that seed of hope until it germinates into an unstoppable hardwood tree. Thanks! (and by the way, I’ve always thought I could win a gold medal for blithering – one of my many talents! 🙂 )

  4. Way to go Juliet!! This is the first of many opportunities to share your voice, just wait 🙂
    As for tips, you need to let yourself off the hook. The girls in Africa are not going to shrivel up and die if you don’t ‘nail it’ at the TEDx talk. They have less supporters in that moment, but not any worse off than they already are.
    Telling yourself how much is on the line just feeds the anxiety and fear. You are simply talking to a room of caring friends, in a conversation. Come from there, and BREATH 🙂

    1. Thanks Aly. Useful perspective, thanks. It is a little surreal that my first big speaking gig is a TED talk but you are right, it is just a talk. I love the idea of seeing a group of friends and just telling them the stories I want them to hear, and of course being able to relax, savour the moment and breathe. I can do that, thanks!

  5. Congrats on your upcoming event. It always feels good when we see the things that we’ve worked so hard for come into full circle. Very excited for you.

  6. “Shyness and fear reign me in, but at heart I’m an activist. ” Dear thing, we are sisters under the skin! 🙂 I related to each and every line! In my old job, I knew my “women in botanical history” facts well enough, after many years, that I didn’t get nervous (well, after about 10 years). But now, with no institution to fall back into like the Nestea plunge, I’m terrified of just this kind of thing happening. I adore this, and you, and you will be awesome!

    1. Thank you Angela! If I’m awesome it will be because of the fabulous wave of support I’m receiving from kindred spirits like you! Glad to hear that the nervousness may subside – eventually! 🙂

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