Saying "When": Why I Backed Out of a TEDx Talk

There's one thing about me that has been a detriment and also an admired aspect of my personality: I often don't quit things. I see them through, even when it may not be opportune to do so. But nowadays, at this time politically and simply age-wise, this method of persistence is not often healthy or a positive trait. It's why I've been stressed much of the time due to how much I add to my plate. While I have been saying "no" more often than not (particularly for unpaid opportunities) I have been saying "yes" to paid opportunities and ones that create visibility. I know we've all started from a place of doing things for low or no pay. And to this day many of us may still. That's an individual choice, pure and simple. 

This year in particular has been a roller coaster. The inauguration, the news cycle, winning grants, losing my grandmother, editing an anthology solo, writing my own work, running a podcast by myself for 3 years running, volunteering for organizations, working full-time and part-time jobs. It is all a balancing act that teeters the scales indefinitely. So, when I had the opportunity to submit for a TEDx Talk in Upstate New York, I didn't think much of it. I'd speak on diversity since that's usually why people contact me and I'd either get it or I wouldn't. When I was under serious consideration I also had to put in time to do a test video and write a sample speech. And from there more discussion before admission end of June. This is with the date of the actual talk happening in mid-September. Preparation happened in between that time and also writing a speech. From formal acceptance to now I was asked to do several panels aligned with literary festivals that happen in early fall in New York City. These are great festivals to be part of and I am always honored to be asked. So I had a balancing act of several events in the span of 8 days while still doing the work I am paid to do along with my own writing. More stuff arose, a contributing gig, an authenticity read, and so on. This all seemed manageable the more I said "yes." 

Welp, I lost my grandmother in mid-July and was not at home for about half that month. I was late on edits to contributors, I was negligent in my own work, and I had not written my speech. August was all about catch up. Of course time flies when you have deadlines and when I went back to my TEDx speech I found I simply didn't like it. I wasn't a fan of the message I was sending. The closer the date came the less time I had to rehearse and the more I realized that this speech was not the one I wanted to put out on a national platform. Receiving feedback and assurances that it was a "good" speech were kind, but it doesn't have to be a "good" speech for you to want to do it. It has to be something you stand by.

I'm a perfectionist in some respects. When my name is on something I need to be proud of the product. It's part of why my output is not as high as others because I do slave over words and message and meaning and intent. It's what makes me a good editor but also a slow writer. So I reviewed these words over and over and found I could not relay them with enthusiasm. This meant I couldn't stand behind a product I didn't believe in, nor travel to a convention and memorize words I didn't have the heart to say. It's not ideal to back out less than 2 weeks before an event but I had to stick to my own beliefs and the work I put out that has not only my name but face on it. 

I will post the speech here later on (warning it's a bit verbose as I was still in editing mode for it before I decided to quit). This is more a post about recognizing the need to stop and say "when." I quit volunteering earlier this summer because I was tired and frustrated about unpaid labor among other things, yet I hesitated to leave because I felt the work was important. Even now with a TEDx I didn't want to disappoint the people counting on me, but I knew that my backing out--while not a good look--was more about being certain of the work itself. Having a bad performance while stressed and relaying words I didn't enjoy would not have elevated the event but brought it down, whether I could pull it off or not. At the end of the day my own mentality needs to remain intact. I've been lucky when many have pushed through to help me out regardless of how much they had on their plate. Yet even if they had to back away there's an understanding that we all need to accept: We have limits and it's okay to admit that. I have mine and in the grand scheme of a very hectic September the one thing I could back out of without regret was this TEDx talk. And believe me, while doing it was hard the relief felt after formally taking this off my list was immense and allowed me to refocus on what I did feel confident in.

In sum: listen to your gut, figure out what the stressor is, and cut that out as best you can. People will be disappointed and/or upset, but at the end of the day if you're in a good place from not adding more to your plate than it was worth it with no regrets.