written & photographed by A.J.
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TEDWomen brings together a global community of women and men interested in exploring how change begins: with innovative thinkers who catalyze ideas toward action. Over the past few years TEDWomen and TEDxWomen have launched some powerful ideas into the world.
Most recently, at TEDWomen 2015, more than 40 speakers offered up fresh insights and perspectives around the theme “Momentum”. Nearly 240 TEDx events in 68 countries took part, sharing the TEDWomen 2015 livestream while also presenting local speakers tackling the conference theme.
The result: A truly global conversation — from San Francisco to São Paulo to Seoul — celebrating movers and makers; designers and doers; local problem-solvers and global leaders..
“It’s not about you. You are here to contribute. You are here to make a difference,” Linda Cruse said.
At TedxCannonDriveWomen, AJ was surrounded by women who were smashing glass ceilings, declaring their truths, and giving the finger to the status quo. The speakers were a fearless group of dames who were committed to empowering women from all walks of life.
““It’s not about you. You are here to contribute. You are here to make a difference,” Linda Cruse said, as AJ, one of many in the sea of women, sat in the dark Saban theatre.
These words resonated with her, a part still tender from the existential crisis she thought was “over.” Linda was right; in the past, AJ had chosen to opt out of life chapters due to fear. After the first semester of high school she switched to homeschooling. AJ couldn’t handle the cruel judgements and vigilant eyes of her peers that existed only in her mind. Upon reconnecting with others later on she had discovered that her mysterious disappearance was hardly even noticed. She had never been to a homecoming game, prom, or teenage house party.
So when Linda Cruse said that it was “not about you,” it rang true to her soul. She thought about the sadistic fixation she had on herself–how much it robbed her of her experiences, though she wasn’t quite sure if she had missed out on anything. Only after taking the microscope off of herself was she able to begin channeling that energy to help others; it was the moment when she had begun helping herself.
Who am I?
“Who am I? What do I want? Who can I serve?” Mallika Chopra said, a proud chocoholic and daughter of the legendary Deepak Chopra, standing ten rows ahead center stage. The room was silent as the petite woman led the guided meditation.
Frankly, AJ did not have the answers, and that’s okay. Luckily, there was a way to reverse engineer the answers. Here is a simple three step guide for finding your true self and unique way to give:
Step 1: Serve as many people/causes/etc as possible until you find something you’re passionate about (What do I want?)
AJ grew up in a philanthropic family. Feeding the homeless, toy drives, and rescue animal events were frequent fliers on her calendar. Helping others had been satisfying but it didn’t nourish her to the fullest extent. What was missing?
Step 2: Pursue that passion and continuing to grow in it; pivot between step 1 and 2 as needed (Who am I?)
Everything she had done was a part of carrying on a legacy of generosity and compassion. In high school AJ was in desperate need for the compassion she had spent many years giving to those in need. When she came across a posting online for Crisis Hotline training she knew it was where she was meant to be. Learning to hear others on a deeper level and connect to anonymous strangers brought her incredible joy. By choosing to hold space for those who couldn’t she felt like she was finally making a difference.
Step 3: Find YOUR unique way to help and serve others (And do it!)
Connecting to others was her calling. AJ knew that she needed to pursue the truth regarding what connects us all. People may come from all walks of life, race, and creed but that does not matter. What unites us is our shared human existence and what connects us is the language of the heart. By devoting herself to psychology she had chosen to no longer give, but to share with others. Finally, she could relish in the goodness that is empathy and create meaningful change.
“You come with nothing, you go with nothing. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. How do you want to be remembered?” as Linda Cruse rallies the troops bringing the audience to their feet in standing ovation.
The mirror that stood between AJ and serving others had shattered. She chose in that moment to stop waiting and re-evaluating herself but to take action and serve others.