Personal Writing

Lifting the rocks off my chest

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that in March, I started working with a coach. One of the projects was to develop a talk based on what we were uncovering. I did that. For weeks, we went back and forth: write, send feedback, make edits, repeat. I loved it. And I was making important progress—both in the talk and in my own life. And oddly, the talk was starting to be all about rocks.

Want to know how that happened? I was trying to make a humorous moment around grammar, so obviously I transitioned from one segment to another with the story of how Virginia Woolf died. 😁 Suddenly, the whole theme opened up to me. And I realized I had a powerful metaphor that could be of service to audiences from executives to single moms to families in the throes of addiction and more.

When my coaching contract ended in late May, I set the talk aside, roughly 1/3 of the way to at least kind of complete, and put my efforts into my day job. But a couple weeks ago, I realized I had a scheduled talk coming up that didn’t have to be about the arts. This was the prompting I needed to finish my rock talk. After all, without a hard deadline, how in the world would I ever prioritize it?

It came together quickly and relatively effortlessly—always a good sign that I’m on the right path. A number of people took me up on my request for critical feedback on the opening segment, and I received some extremely useful questions and suggestions. Thank you for that!

My coach offered to read it and send her immediate thoughts. I’ve said this before, but I knew I wanted to work with Laura before she even opened her mouth on the TED talk I watched her give. That flashpoint was my intuition telling me to pay attention and to do what I needed to to work with her. The feedback she offered was succinct, clear and helped me take an enormous leap:

1. I love the rock theme. I think it really works, and I love what you did with it. You also cut out a lot of the noise, and got to the meat quicker.
2. I like the weather opener, but I wonder what it would look like if you took it out. Perhaps hanging the talk on three types of rocks: the ones that slowly kill us, the ones that stand in our way but show us the way, the ones that hide beauty if only we are patient enough to uncover them. And then the combination of all three: the story of Quinn, and how he allowed you to see this. You thought he was an exercise in patience, you thought he derailed you, you saw the beauty of the world through his eyes. If you do this, you can tell one personal story per “rock” instead of the laundry list of the rocks all at once, and it might feel less “You think you’ve had it rough… just wait until I tell you about my life!” And more “I see you, I feel you, I am you, I got you.” 
3. Thanks for the shoutout… but I want you to take credit for this, which you can do with the gorgeous heart rock story.
4. You ask a lot of questions, which is good. But the beginning questions are a bit rhetorical, which leave you staring at the camera or the stage and will feel awkward in reality at best, but at worst will take away from the power of the questions you really want the audience to consider. (So, like with #2 above, slower, deeper, more powerful.)

I got the talk to a place where it felt presentable as a rough draft and took it to this professional group. I checked in beforehand to find out the makeup of these individuals: half men and half women from all kinds of professions. I decided I’d be honest that I was using them as a sounding board to get this out of my head and into the world.

I got to the Applebees’ private room and there was one woman and 6 or 7 men, ranging in ages from late 20s to early 50s. I started to feel anxious. I suddenly didn’t believe this talk was going to land with this crowd. Another woman walked in as did a few more young men. I looked around. No podium or real presenting place. I had decided against a PowerPoint: this talk ultimately needs to stand on its own feet and not be masked with images that don’t serve it.

Dr Marry had come with me to set up the tripod and start my phone to record it. I turned to him and said, “This is going to be an absolute bust.”

He happily cut another piece of steak and said, “It’ll be fine, lover. The talk is great.”

I cast him a wary sideways glance, one we call the “horse look” from My Antonia. He kept eating.

Nothing to do but stand up and get started. I prefaced, something I hate to do, but I wanted them to understand that I was not giving a traditional business talk: we weren’t going to address ROI or leadership devices. Instead, I was inviting them to be the first people to hear this talk.

They settled in, I got comfortable and away we went.

Despite the fact that Heart was wailing out “How Do I Get You Alone?” to the lunch crowd and servers were chatting loudly right outside the door while entering with tabs and returned credit cards, the audience was rapt. This small group of mostly men, who initially felt to me like they were not necessarily going to find this talk valuable, stayed with me for 26 minutes.

I finished, and asked for feedback. They were generous and helpful.

It wasn’t the bust I’d feared it would be. It does have power and isn’t just about an insecure young, single mom or the spouse of an alcoholic. Instead, it’s about something much more universal: it’s about assessing and redifining the stones in your life, from the boulders to the pebbles and everything in between.

Now my mind is working feverishly to figure out the next phase. I’m tossing around the idea of producing a multi-media live performance art event so that I can get it professionally recorded. I’m envisioning inviting 50-75 people to join me for one night of theatre, live filmmaking, public speaking, dialogue, treats (of course!) and more—and hopefully I’ll do it in August. Let me know if you want one of those tickets. I don’t know much beyond this, but I know that I have to keep pushing on this rock.

But here’s what I love the most: what do you think of when you hear someone say they are pushing a rock? Are you imagining the labor, sweat and strain of pushing a massive boulder up a slippery, steep hill?

What I mean in this instance is nothing like that. This pushing is the most purely creative, the most joyful, exciting, powerful thing I have ever conceived of. It’s as if I’m pushing a boulder of white, cottony clouds, willing and able to go anywhere I can imagine it going.

Someday, I’ll be standing alone on a massive stage, with thousands of people sitting on the edge of their seats, listening to every word I say. And I’ll tell the story of that little dark Applebees private room and the few women and men who were there with me in the extraordinary moment when my life changed forever and another boulder was lifted off my chest and became the foundation from which I launched to a whole new world.

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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