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How Hunting Discomfort Landed me a TED Talk: PART ONE

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Most people experience discomfort and they run. Discomfort may be the experience of pain (and that’s… unpleasant), but on the other side of that pain are breakthrough results. If you’re committed to breakthrough results, hunting discomfort will get you there, even to give a TED Talk.

Everyone knows that giving a TED Talk is a tremendous honor and it’s an incredible chance for business leaders, community leaders, entrepreneurs and anyone with an “idea worth sharing” to share it on a global platform. I was fortunate enough to deliver one about 18 months ago.

My talk, ironically titled: Discomfort is Necessary for Innovation (and breakthrough results) [WATCH HERE] is ironic because the only reason I was invited to give a TED Talk was because I chased (hunted) discomfort in all sorts of ways to achieve that result. And after a several year journey having finally delivered the talk I was greeted by a standing ovation (they call it a TED-o-vation) and a smile on my face that was from ear to ear. As of today, my talk has just over 56,000 views and I still regularly hear from people about what a difference it has made for them. But that isn’t what this post is about.

This is about the discomfort you need to hunt, not only to give a TED Talk, but to give a successful TED talk (which just so happens to be the same kinds of discomfort you can hunt to create breakout success in any area).

There are a variety of kinds of discomfort and different ways to look at it, much of it I’ve explored since on my blog [READ MORE]. To look at my TED journey, it’s helpful to consider it in three parts:

Discomfort through the NO’s
Discomfort after the YES and
The discomfort in the moment. This blog will just be part one.
Hunting the discomfort of resignation: When I started my speaking career a TED talk was certainly top of mind because of the credibility, expertise and weight it carries. I found a few local TED events, applied to be part of their lineup and sat back waiting for a response confident in my material and background.

I speak and run workshops on transformative growth for some of the largest companies in the world so I thought that my material was a layup to give a talk. I was wrong. I learned rather quickly that not only did being a “speaker” hurt my chances, but my business-heavy content wasn’t personal enough for a TED stage.

Slowly resignation starts to creep in when it feels like you’re not progressing at all, doesn’t it? When you hear “no” too many times… It’s particularly insidious because it starts to give you thoughts like: “I didn’t want to do it anyway.” or “They’ll never understand.” right before you throw in the towel. That makes confronting the resignation an especially hard kind of discomfort to go after.

I went through round after round of applications as days, then months, then years ticked by. Each time trying to adjust my content to work for the themes of the various events. Whether I felt like it or not, every single month #NoMatterWhat, I would check where I applied, follow up and apply to new events that seemed like a fit.

Even though it might be uncomfortable, or you might not want to do something, staying consistent through any resignation will get you results.

Hunting the discomfort of embarrassment: When I first set out, I was super excited about giving a talk. Just the prospect of it lit me up early on so I was telling family, friends and my team I was applying. And naturally, they started asking how it was going. After a few months all I could answer them with was more No’s and rejection. Nobody wants to be around that, right? It was getting a little uncomfortable to even talk about.

Instead of hoping the whole idea would disappear and people would stop asking, I chased the discomfort in a different way. I brought it up, but now in a way to gather help, feedback and ideas. All of a sudden it was like new life was breathed into the process and instead of holding me back, it energized me forward.

Sharing discomfort — your discomfort — in failure, in breakdowns, even through unmet expectations will create an environment of support to achieve your vision, now with the support of others.

Hunting the discomfort of rejection: Mid-way through my journey I finally started getting calls back, interviews to take it a step further. One of the more memorable interviews was with TEDx Chula Vista, where I would eventually be accepted. The Executive Director got on the phone with me and asked me countless questions about my work: How was it relevant to a general audience? Was I sure that innovation applied to everyone? What would I be presenting that was “new”? A few days later I received another rejection note in my email. Passed by again.

Rejection isn’t fun -- from a TED Talk, a business proposal, even a romantic inquiry and the most comfortable thing to do afterwards is move away from the hurt of it. Hunting discomfort requires the exact opposite. So in this case I followed the Chula Vista event, watched the performances, and as soon as I saw them announce the following year, I applied again. I applied and referenced everything I learned from my prior rejection and improved on the areas I had missed. This time though… the answer was yes.

In organizations and in personal life, you have to be able to go back into the discomfort. That means, despite your personal fear of rejection, in order to have transformational growth, you have to hunt discomfort. There are three flavors of discomfort to look for:

When you feel resigned, find a way to push through the discomfort to do what you planned on doing anyway. Results will start to come.
When you’re embarrassed about something, bring it up instead of just ignoring it. Share it with your family, your friends and your team to see how they might be able to support.
When you’re rejected, from anything, find the information in that rejection about what you could improve to make it better for the next time.

I’ll be back next week with part two, the discomfort that was necessary after the YES to give a successful talk. Trust me, the 90 days leading up to the event didn’t go at all how I thought it would go… Hunting discomfort effectively became even more key to just getting on the stage.

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