Discover more from Ever Get Home by Jamie Tworkowski
Yesterday's Speaking Event: FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health
It's safe to say I didn't see this one coming.
Join me tomorrow (Friday, 9/29) for “I’m in a Season of Change,” a small-group conversation that serves as a safe place if you’re walking through grief, a move, a career shift, or some other significant transition. Starts at 7pm eastern. Learn more.
Whenever there’s a new invitation for me to speak, my agent Sean will email me the offer along with the details. Around six or eight weeks ago, he did something different. Because this one was so exciting and surprising, Sean delivered the news via text. I don’t remember my exact words but it’s safe to say I was excited and surprised in equal measure. Excited because it was a great offer, during a season when I could use a great offer. And surprised because, well, the United States Food & Drug Administration has a Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and out of all the speakers on the planet, they wanted me. Specifically, it would be a virtual (online) event in September for Suicide Prevention Month, open to their entire team. It turns out their entire team is pretty incredible. The CDRH has 2,000 employees, including doctors, scientists, lawyers, and engineers. (Meanwhile I dropped out of college my junior year.)
It’s rare that I’m anxious about a speaking invite—when you do something for 17 years, hopefully you come to a place of believing you can do it—but I was anxious about this one. Big opportunities have a way of making us wonder if we need to somehow be more, or something other than who we are. I suppose that’s called imposter syndrome. And then yesterday, just before the event, it hit me—maybe the people I was about to speak to, maybe they could relate to what I was feeling, not because they were intimidated by me but because the topic of suicide is certainly a heavy one. So I decided to say all of that out loud, to point out that one of the elephants in the Zoom belonged to me, and maybe the second one was theirs. Which meant that both of us were human. Which was my goal and hope for the event—not to be a clinical expert, not to be impressive, but simply to be human. In hopes of communicating something compassionate and encouraging. I’m not a psychiatrist or even a licensed counselor. And I wasn’t talking to resumes or LinkedIn profiles. I was talking to people, about things that affect people. Because I want people to be okay, to experience connection and find support and stay alive.
The whole thing ended up going great. The official event lasted an hour, and then a bunch of us stayed on for another 30 minutes of Q&A and discussion. Everyone who shared was open and honest and kind. One woman talked about losing a cousin to suicide, and being concerned about her daughter. The moment of vulnerability was powerful, giving everyone else permission to go there, to talk about real things. This was no longer about a guest speaker or a work event. The whole thing had been reframed. We were a group of human beings invited to talk about our lives, which is how connection happens.
The woman’s bravery at the end of the event brought me back to the epiphany that found me just before the start. It’s amazing how vulnerability and authenticity are pretty much always the way to go.
At a music festival in one of the Dakotas more than a decade ago, I was given a few minutes to speak between bands, to talk about TWLOHA. I remember being told there would be something close to 50,000 people in the crowd. I sent a text to a friend who was also sort of a hero and a mentor at the time. He was one of my favorite speakers. I asked if he had any advice for my big moment. I’ll never forget what he sent back.
“I just think you being you is incredibly powerful.”
PS: Special thanks to Tiffany at Collective Speakers for the months of work that went into making yesterday’s event possible. And thank you once again to Caron, Soad, and Alex from the (FDA) CDRH team for bringing me in and being wonderful hosts.
PS2: I was proud of myself for coming up with “the elephant in the Zoom.” I googled those words just now and it turns out, great minds think alike. (Still proud, just have to share.)
PS3: If you’re a public speaker or if you’re curious about public speaking, tomorrow’s post is for you. I’m cooking up a new event.
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As always, if you’re interested in booking me to speak, whether it’s in-person or virtual, keynote or workshop, a big audience or small group, the team at Collective Speakers can help.
Tomorrow’s small-group conversation: “I’m in a Season of Change” Starts at 7pm eastern.
If you’re interested in working together one-on-one, for coaching or consulting, you can learn more here.