About six months ago I was invited to do a TEDx talk, which I called Academia Is a Cult, by Prof. Adam Key of University of Arkansas at Monticello. I don’t watch TED talks, and mostly dislike the whole idea of them. So I ignored the invitation for a long time. Adam was persistent, though, and kept following up. Finally, I responded, but the more we talked, the less I wanted to do it.
The fact was: it was an unknown and I was scared.
I didn’t want to have to deliver a short, punchy talk without a script. I didn’t want to talk to an audience I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to DO A NEW THING.
Certainly not in a pandemic.
But I felt stupid saying no, so I said, “ok,” wondering if I could just cancel out later.
Adam needed various items from me (you know–a title, a description, that kind of thing) and each time, I drafted an email in response saying, “never mind, I can’t do it, I withdraw.”
And then I’d give myself a talking to. “Come on, Karen, seriously. He needs a TITLE. You can give a title, can’t you?”
And so, in went the title. And the description. And the talk outline.
I kept inching forward, and not backing out.
After the first practice talk went to 23 minutes (it was supposed to be 10), I AGAIN wanted to just say, “I cannot do this, I cannot, cannot, cannot.”
But I plugged away, cut 50%, and then cut another 10%, and got the talk to under 10 minutes. Adam was instrumental–he had a great eye for what works, and a great ear for my message. (“You’re so much… nicer….than you seem online,” he remarked at one point.)
Then I had to record it. At home. Because: COVID. And I didn’t understand the technology, and I didn’t want to ask anyone, and there wasn’t any time, and I just improvised some stuff but I couldn’t get the technology to work and I didn’t know what i was doing and basically I cried for a day (you can see my red post-cry eyes in the video!).
And I produced a frankly kind of crappy video, and I said: this is enough. I did it. It’s recorded. It’s not great. But it’s done. My shirt is wrinkled and my eyes are red and I’m too close to the camera. It is the minimal viable product and it’s the best I can do.
And I sent it to Adam (who said, “Well this was the first time I’ve ever gotten portrait mode video and landscape mode slides…”) and promptly decided to forget the whole thing.
Until the live TEDx event, when AGAIN, thanks to COVID, I had to use an unknown platform, Bramble, to attend a virtual conference with little avatars knocking around a virtual conference space. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS, my mind screamed, as I sat there a) mortified that I had to be present while people were now actually watching my video TEDx talk, and b) horrified that I had to engage with people before and after the talk.
The event ended, and I again promptly decided to forget the whole thing.
Until TED put the talk up live on Youtube on its channel. And now, it exists. And the world, if the world wants to, can see it. And in a couple hours 4000 people had watched it.
Here it is. Academia Is a Cult. My TEDx talk. From my sofa. For better or worse.
I believe in every word of this talk. Academia IS a cult. Vulnerable undergraduates ARE groomed to go into it. It DOES gaslight people into accepting overwork and exploitation. Peoples’ lives ARE ruined by believing its self-serving lies. It IS possible for victims to save themselves and move on.
The content was never the issue. It was everything ELSE about the talk that was a struggle. The process. The audience. The technology. The platform. Everything new. Everything requiring a learning curve. Everything pushing me out of my comfort zone.
And I did it.
Is it perfect? No it is not. But it’s done. And I’m proud of it. And in case this story of a mental battle against quitting, and crying at technology, and a minimal viable product, and putting yourself out there into an unknown space is helpful to you in your process today… well, I offer it up. Sometimes you just have to try.