I’m home from the Ladyboss Midwest FLOW retreat where I gave my “What’s Weighing You Down?” talk for the first time in front of a live audience.
I was honored to kick off the event Friday morning. Many moments during the talk seemed to resonate with the audience, and I received positive feedback from a number of people, so that was great.
But the most accurate assessment I can give it is that I feel tremendous relief that it’s done. I knew going into this weekend that something was way off about this talk and how I feel about it because my feelings haven’t changed since I first gave it virtually in December. I hoped that dull internal void was simply because of the virtual aspect, but in the months since then, I’ve had the same flat feelings about it. I was hopeful I would get in front of a live audience and all the stress would disappear, would get lost in the thrill of the dance I normally share with an audience.
The most accurate assessment I can give it is that I feel net neutral about the whole thing. It was…fine. It was a servicable, well-constructed talk that accomplished its job, as long as the job was to simply give a thoughtful, honest talk about some hard moments in my life that I could use to help others relate to hard moments in their own lives.
I am aware enough of my own strengths to know that a fine talk to me is often going to still be a meaningful talk to an audience, and I’m grateful to be able to count on that.
But “It was…fine” is the kiss of death to me. Fine is a bland but filling plate of pasta. Fine is a dress that fits but doesn’t flatter. Fine is a book that is readable but not memorable. Fine is choosing beige because it won’t offend anyone.
Why in the world would I settle for fine?
When I spoke at the Ladyboss retreat in 2019, I reflected later, “I felt like the talk was good, but I didn’t anticipate the audience response, which was outstanding. I have perhaps never loved being on any stage as much at any time in my life (and that’s saying something!).”
In so many ways, that talk in 2019 set a level of expectation that I have been trying to recapture ever since. I left that stage flying high, ecstatic over the interplay between the audience and me. A few months later, I gave the MSUM commencement address, and while the audience wasn’t as effusive, it wasn’t that kind of environment, it was clear to me that the talk landed. Two months after that, on February 28, 2019, I spoke at Creative Mornings Fargo, and that audience was all in, too. It was as if there was a taut violin string that had just been plucked running between them and me; we were connected by a vibrational hum.
And then COVID hit, and I lost two years of time in front of an audience. And I started working with various coaches, which I have loved. But something has happened in these past 24 months and through all this work I’ve been doing: I’ve lost myself. I’ve utterly lost my spark, which is ironic because my talk is all about rediscovering your spark.
There’s virtually no joy to giving this talk for me now. I have been utterly unable to soak this talk into my body, despite the fact that it’s about my life and my experiences. I feel no energy, no enthusiasm and no sense of who I am onstage with this talk. It’s careful, structured and competent. It’s just…fine.
But “fine” is not nearly enough to entice me to keep going. It’s not even close to encompassing the magnitude of the spark I have inside of me.
I appreciate that the audience gets good takeaways from this talk—that’s part of what I worked so hard to create. But I am a professional speaker to serve myself as well as the audience. I have to feel the continuous, unbroken electric current looping between them and me or what is the point?
It would be great if I could blame the audience for this electrical shortage, but I know that the break in the circuit is on my end. Something about these past two years, my desire to “professionalize” my abilities and the fact that I have stripped this talk of my essential energy has made me feel like a flat, lifeless, dead battery.
I need to reignite my internal spark, recharge and bring the extraordinary energy I generate all on my own back to my talks and to my time on a stage. When I arrive with that, the audience’s energy draws to mine like a magnet, and together we light up the space, intensifying the current that runs through us all. Until I can do that again, all I’m going to feel is fine. And that will, quite simply, never be fine with me.