Topic of the day: "COMPASSES OVER MAPS."
Dear Ones –
I'm leaving the TED conference today, with my heart and mind spilling over with ideas and inspiration. It's been an emotional week. I feel like I've been leaking slow tears the entire time I've been here. Part of it has been due to my own nerves about speaking, but mostly I've been overwhelmed by a sense of great humbling honor to have been able to see such powerful, accomplished, talented, driven people at their most vulnerable.
I've said it before: Everyone who gets up on that TED stage is terrified. The pressure is enormous, the audience is daunting (you try keeping your composure in front of Bill Gates and Sting at the same time), and the stakes can feel very high. A good TED speech can make somebody's career — especially for the academics, who have toiled quietly in their fields for decades. Most of the people who speak here aren't natural performers — and some of them (the polar explorers, nature photographers and lab scientists) usually don't even spend time around human beings. And even the folks who are used to being public speakers aren't used to speaking in a room like this one, where everyone is bringing not just their A-Game, but their Olympic Game.
Sometimes it can feel almost cruel, the level of pressure — especially for the introverts. (The way I see it is: If this is hard for ME, and I'm used to talking to a crowd, how must it feel for the quiet microbial researcher?) But there is something about this pressure and fear that also democratizes a conference that might otherwise feel like a parade of egos.
Nobody seems arrogant because EVERYONE IS SCARED.
That's such an incredible thing to realize about people whom you usually see only in their moments of honor, success, praise, accomplishment. It's that common humanity of shakiness, uncertainty and vulnerability that moves me so much. As well as witnessing how much people CARE. As well as that moment when the quiet microbial researcher stands up on stage and shyly explains his life's work, and suddenly the whole audience is on their feet cheering, because our entire view of the world has changed, and we will never see our bodies or our planet the same way again. And the hitherto unknown scientist just stands there blinking in the spotlight, and I burst into tears again.
Yesterday was a particularly emotional day. Former Arizona legislator Gabby Giffords, still limping and searching for words after her gunshot wound, spoke with devastating courage onstage along with her husband Mark Kelly. And the luminescent writer Andrew Solomon (author of FAR FROM THE TREE) gave what very well may be the most eloquent and moving speech I've ever heard about tolerance, belonging and love. (I will share it here the moment that talk is released by TED.)
But the line that stuck with me, and that I will carry away from this entire experience, came from Joi Ito — the director of the MIT Media Lab, when he said that we must always move forward using "compasses over maps." In other words, whatever universe you may inhabit (science, the arts, service, faith, family, etc.) you always have to try to be an explorer. Learn to follow your own intuition rather than waiting for somebody to chart things out for you. Innovation and revelation only come with that approach. Shape your own way. As my guru used to say, "Become a scientist of your own experience."
This morning, as I'm packing up to continue on my journey, trying to digest all I've learned this week, I'm wondering what "compasses over maps" means to all of you.
Does it bring you a feeling of freedom or sense of fear?
Or both? (It brings both to me, but I kinda like that sensation.)
And, of course, ONWARD.