The night before I was supposed to deliver a keynote presentation to 500 creatives in Chicago, I stood in front of the mirror to practice my talk. I talked about IDEO, about Uber, about Mailbox. And it felt all wrong. Who was I to tell those stories if I no longer worked there? I was unemployed, lost in life, and burning through my savings account. I felt like a fraud. And in the morning, everyone was going to know it.
I had printed out my entire Evernote account. 100 sheets of paper covered the bed, the desk, the floor. My talk must be in here, in these pieces of paper, I thought.
One page had a list detailing every fear I had for leaving my last job. Another was filled with notes of encouragement from friends, reminding me that I was doing the right thing. I saw questions — really big scary ones — written in thick black lines across the pages.
Standing in room 802, I asked the question that forever changed the course of my life — what is the difference between the story that I can tell, and the story that I must?
12 hours later I stood on stage, holding a small piece of paper in my right hand for good luck, and delivered the most vulnerable talk of my life. I told the audience that I had no idea what I was doing in life. I told them that I had no plans and no path and there were no case studies for where I was headed. And I had never felt more right in my life. I had entered into one of the most creative periods of my life. I felt like I was onto something, but I wasn’t yet sure what it was.
I never mentioned Uber. Or Mailbox. Or IDEO. I had no logos and no title. I was just a girl, standing on a stage, searching for the meaning of work, the kind of work that lights up the deepest part of who we are and, in doing so, changes the world.
I held the piece of paper and the stories just flowed. I felt no fear; my body expanded. I heard the entire audience say “me too.” The exchange between us was intimate, intense, and powerful. We were tango dancing, and with my eyes closed, I knew exactly where to step. In that moment, I did something I had never done before. I scrapped the entire ending of my presentation for something else, something that just felt right. As someone who uses Keynote Speakers Notes religiously, this was all new to me. And to try it live? In front of 500 people? What was I doing? And yet, it felt absolutely right. One step in front of the next.
I held up the piece of paper in my hand so everyone could see.
“Last night, I threw out my presentation. I pieced together my entire talk from notes I had been writing since I left my last job. During dinner, I began to panic about all of this. I worried you all would prefer to hear about my professional success, not about how lost I felt. I questioned if there was any value in this talk at all. And when I got back in the room, I found my answer.”
My hand began to tremble.
“This is a piece of hotel stationary. It is covered in handwriting that was done very quickly. Scribbles. It does not belong to me. On this piece of paper is the outline to the talk I have just given.”
My voice shook.
“When I realized this, I assumed that perhaps it was the house keeper. I had just had turn down service. And she must have seen my papers. She went through my stuff, I thought, feeling violated. And then I stopped. Why was she going through my stuff?”
My eyes welled up with tears.
“Because something in this talk spoke to her. Something here made her think, “me too.” Here was this woman, working the night shift at the hotel, risking her job to write a few points from my talk down.”
Tears streamed down my face.
“Perhaps she is an artist, I imagined. Perhaps she is a singer. Perhaps she feels called to something other than being a house keeper. I envisioned this woman, this beautiful woman with a glowing light inside of her. I envisioned her looking at the mysterious papers. I saw her light. I felt it expand. And as I held her note in my hands there in room 802, I realized the talk had already done its job. And if it inspires even one more person here today to move closer to that beautiful, luminous light, our own unique calling, to take the leap, to know that we’re not alone, to feel encouraged to nurtre your own innate gifts, then this talk has exceeded all of my expectations.”
I walked off the stage.
Later that day, as I was checking out of the hotel, I left a package at the front desk.
“To: The housekeeper in room 802. From: The girl with all the papers on the floor. Thank you. They’re yours now. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
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