Sunday, December 13, 2015

Splashed -- Reflections on TEDx Jacksonville 2015

Usually, getting splashed is no big deal. I spend 50% of my time thinking about water and the other 50% actually in the water -- but above water, I’m not known for my grace.

X marks the spot. [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Pacing in the bright, mirror-lined prep room before my talk at TEDxJacksonville, I walked back and forth, rehearsing from memory the carefully chosen words I had spoken countless times to my living room wall, as worries swam through my mind. Taking one last swig of water, perhaps to wash away the butterflies, I managed to spill it all over the front of my shirt… probably a subconscious attempt to disappear underwater instead of marching out onto the giant red X-shaped stage waiting for me in the other room. Not to mention the 300+ pairs of eyes and the live-streaming cameras. Can I trade these high-heeled wedges for flippers and swim away? The thought crossed my mind.

But instead, Jordan Edelheit walked in, a contagious smile spread from ear to ear. Earlier that day, she had delivered an absolutely incredible talk -- powerful, killer stage presence, and hugely inspirational. She started TEDxOhioState while she was an undergrad and went on to create TEDxMarionCorrectional -- the first TEDx to be held in a prison. Totally badass.

At face value, the subjects that brought me and Jordan to this small room seemed worlds apart: she spoke of empathy and the amazing connections she was able to make with incarcerated men, people with whom she seemed to have very little in common with at first… and I spoke of the cavernous world beneath our feet and the power of underwater photography to reconnect us to our fragile freshwater. Similarities between our subjects weren’t exactly obvious.

Yet there we stood, laughing as she fanned my shirt, somehow quite successfully drying most of the water I had poured all over myself. If I were her, I probably would have doubted this fish out of water, but instead, she unwaveringly encouraged me, told me I was going to be amazing. I smiled, and honestly tried to believe her.

And instead of walking out of the room nervous and soaking wet, I walked out dry and happy, feeling confident and inspired. I walked out and realized that the most important thing each of us brought wasn’t our individual “idea to change the world” but rather our passion and camaraderie. We not only shared our ideas but supported each other, learned from each other, and in the process, found ourselves another family.

2015 TEDxJacksonville speakers... so thankful for this wonderful new family! [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Every speaker who stepped on stage before me inspired me, and made me realize that standing on the big X wasn’t so scary after all. And when I (carefully) walked up the steps onto the stage with no mask and snorkel, no giant underwater camera to hide behind, I looked out at the audience and the amazing TEDx team and saw not an intimidating group of people, but rather a group that was interested, on the edge of their seats, engaged. I saw a group that wanted me to succeed, who encouraged me with their nods, smiles, and looks of shock when I showed the algae-laden spring. I felt like they were there with me in the caves, swimming beside me in the spring basin, and dipping their toes in the chilly water by my side.

"Our connection to these springs is not always apparent. In fact, most Floridians have never seen a spring. Here you can see areas of high population density in red, and low in green. And the blue dots represent Florida's major springs... But just because we cannot always see the springs does not mean that we are not impacting them, and they us."  
[Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
In the months leading up to the event, and the incredible day itself, I learned so much more than how to write, memorize, and deliver a 12-minute talk without notes. I learned more than how to share my idea about the power of underwater photography to reconnect us to our fragile freshwater. Above all, I learned the power of those who believe in you, the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are better than you, and who, in the process, make you better.

Thank you all for your continued support, inspiration, for keeping me afloat, and perhaps for drying me off when I’m unexpectedly splashed. And thank you to the TEDx team: fellow speakers, speech coaches, organizers, website builders, social media & tech support (ALL of whom are volunteers!!!), for your guidance and for this invaluable opportunity -- you have changed my world.


You can watch my talk, "Illusions: a lens into our fragile freshwater," on the TEDx Talks YouTube Channel. And you can view all of the talks from TEDxJacksonville 2015 here. You can also find a brief summary of the event on the TEDxJacksonville website. Photos from the event are on the TEDxJacksonville Flickr page.

"But there is hope."
[Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Thank you to the Female Nature Photography group for sharing my talk, as well as the Florida Springs Institute, not to mention the countless others who have helped spread the word via social media. I truly appreciate every comment, share, and view, because a change in our water ethic will involve all of us... together we can create a brighter, and bluer, future for Florida.

And last, but not least, thank you to my family, who tuned in from all over New England, thank you to my parents, who traveled all the way from Rhode Island to cheer me on, and thank you to Greg, who heard me rehearse the speech countless times in the living room, at the kitchen table, and underneath my breath at all times of day and night.

My 2 favorite guys. [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
My parents meet some other amazing attendees early in the morning... my mom is even sporting her springs-themed attire!  A huge shoutout to them for always supporting me, and for making the trek from RI :) [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]


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