It's a surreal feeling, walking on to your college campus seven years after graduating.
It's also painful if you're wearing high heels you haven't broken in yet.
I wish I could say I walked on to the campus feeling older, wiser and more mature, but truthfully my return to my Alma Mater was similar to my first day there: I was lost, nervous and confused about where to park. The campus itself was different: bigger, busier and a little more intimidating than how I left it. The Gala I was attending had also changed: going from a small presentation room in the campus library that comfortably fit 45-50 people to a big on-campus event space (that didn't exist when I attended) with close to 100 attendees. My TED Talk loving heart started beating a little bit faster as I saw the stage I would be speaking on, complete with podium and mic, and I was humbled as faculty and students alike approached me with excitement at the anticipation of hearing what I had to say. It was really humbling.
It's the closest I will ever get to achieving my dream of giving a TED Talk, and it was everything I could have asked for, and then some.
I struggled with what to say for weeks. Actually, in true college form, I didn't even start writing the speech until about a week and a half before I had to give it. Writing a blog post is relatively easy for me (finding the time to write them lately is a whole other story) but a speech given in front of graduating seniors? That's a lot harder. It's like, how do you not only inspire them but encourage them AND make them laugh all at the same time? But, how are you also realistic without being too harsh and share your story without sounding braggy? It's a balance, which seems to be a theme in my life these days.
I decided to speak about success, but not in the way anyone expected: I talked about the set-backs, the struggle and the hard work I put in to my career. I shared why I moved to Atlanta, how I slept on a mattress on a living room floor and how I couldn't afford a car for the first year and a half of my time in the South. I told them how I worked tirelessly at an entry level job that eventually got me to where I wanted to go and I gave them the best advice I could: work hard, don't expect someone to just hand you your dream job and that success isn't how many times you've been promoted or how high in your company you go; success is defined by the hard work you put into it.
Here's a little video of my speech:
It's not often that you will hear me say I'm proud of myself. Actually, if you're asking most people who know me well (aka my best friend Ashley) they will tell you they may have never heard those words come out of my mouth. But after giving that speech I was proud. I was damn proud, in fact. I didn't realize how far I'd come or how much I'd accomplished until I heard my words echoing throughout the room. This sense of pride and confidence followed me the rest of the week and into the weekend: and I gotta to you, it feels damn good.
Big thank yous to my Alma Mater, its faculty and students for this incredible opportunity. And thank you to J.K. Rowling, whose Harvard Commencement speech was the inspiration behind my speech.
Speaking of proud moments, today my episode of Couragemakers airs! Chatting with Meg was an absolute pleasure: she has this incredible ability to bring out the most vulnerable parts of you in a way that feels comfortable, natural and easy. I'm so excited to share my episode with you. Click here to listen to our conversation!