It has always been my dream to be a speaker and a writer. It’s one of the reasons I started my business and live a frugal lifestyle. Material “stuff” in exchange for a dream- it’s a great deal. When I was accepted into the inaugural TEDxBartonSpringsWomen event, I had a moment of uncontainable excitement, standing alone in my apartment with a look of childlike glee, searching for a way to share my big news.
So I called an old friend. I recalled sitting with him in a restaurant in Marfa, TX just after deciding to leave my job of twelve years and start my own business. I wasn’t living in Texas yet, nor did I know that I would be. As we discussed my business plans, he said that I would be on the TEDx stage in two years. His prediction was a bit off, it took three, but I knew when I received the news I had to make my first call to him.
It was then a joint celebration when Maureen - a published novelist and one of my first friends in Austin - was selected as a speaker as well. When we first met, we quickly eased into weekly coworking sessions, discussing such writing and speaking aspirations, and now those aspirations were coming true. Preparing our speeches separately but alongside each other in unison was a special experience. Check out her talk about nature as a solution to anxiety as well as her novel.
Having a friend to ride along with was the fun part. The memorization was not. Memorization for me is probably how most people feel about their taxes. It’s one of the few areas that send me into a procrastination paralysis. So after my talk was finalized and I began the memorizing process, a strange thing happened. I called my Mom.
It’s not a thing I typically do when I find myself in a pickle. But memorizing a thirteen minute long talk was proving as difficult as I feared. I knew that lots of repetition was key, but this was near impossible for me in isolation. As someone who often preaches the value of accountability, I needed a partner. And my Mom, a former teacher and speech pathologist made herself immediately available. We first laughed about the school book reports she once had me practice, while standing on our fireplace, encouraging more enunciation. This felt similar, but the stakes were higher.
I hadn’t spent that much time with my mom since I was a kid. We talked every day for an hour or two. It helped ease my nerves, making the experience enjoyable. My words, after being repeated over and over, also seemed to sink in with her each day a bit more. She too had felt the weight of heirlooms and hand-me-downs. It was a responsibility she didn’t always want within the family. And while she is more sentimental and focused on material possessions than me, we were finding an overlap of true understanding.
The TEDx event occurred right before I flew to DC to meet with clients and attend my family’s Hanukkah party. Despite hearing me recite a talk entirely about the darker side of gift giving ad nauseum, my Mom actually started one of our Facetime sessions by telling me about all of my nieces’ Hanukkah presents she just wrapped. She carefully described each one in detail. At a certain point I had to stop her - didn’t she remember this was the exact subject of the talk we had been practicing for weeks? We laughed and continued our work.
My friend Jocelyn shared a similar story about a gift she was going to get for her Dad’s birthday- right after hearing me practice my talk and agreeing with its concepts. It became very clear to me how deeply these patterns of gift giving are ingrained in us. After I reminded her of this, Jocelyn decided to change the physical gift she was going to buy to instead going to see a movie with her Dad - an experience they would both remember and cherish.
I called on help from my new Austin friends as well. One had a fireplace I stood on while practicing. A full circle moment I couldn’t help but enjoy.
I also leaned on my brother, Marc, who through a FaceTime video session would add the bouncing smile of my (fourth!) niece on his lap to liven the mood as I practiced my talk for him. Marc heard one of the earlier drafts and gave me the idea for swimming lessons as an act of generosity - just in time, too- because he wanted my parents to get that for his daughter instead of more toys. I’m wondering if my Mom picked up on this?
Right after my talk was published, my nieces called me on FaceTime for a chat. Aviva and I were making silly faces and laughing. Suddenly she got serious:
“I’m very upset with you,” she said.
“Why?” I asked, 99% sure this was a joke.
“You used my note without my permission!”
Fortunately, I had my retort ready, “I asked both your Mom and Dad and they said I could.” I added quickly, “What I said in my talk is true. I still look at your note and I makes me so happy. I will love you forever too.” (See the end of my talk for the full story.)
My talk was a lot of things I expected it to be. And a few things I didn’t. It was filled with a lot of love. Love for my growing network of supportive friends, my family of cheerleaders, so willing to put in the time to lift me up, and the surprising number of people I’m now connected to in my adopted hometown of Austin who came to the event.
A few weeks ago, my Mom texted that she just went through her kitchen junk drawer (Mom, you shouldn’t even have a junk drawer!) and had put together a bag of items to donate that she realized she no longer needed.
She wrote, “You’ve inspired me. Thanks for always teaching me things.”
I realized that in my TEDx talk, I may have been speaking about the darker side of gift giving but what I saw was the glow of meaningful relationships, the ones that prove daily that it’s the relationships we have with loved ones that matter most and are the true gift. Generosity of time and support by friends and family will beat a wrapped present any day.