What I Should Have Said at TED

Many of us wish for an opportunity to share our latest projects, especially if we’re crazy-passionate about it. Speaking at a TED conference is one of those opportunities. Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at the TEDx Austin event.  As a speaker, I was witness to the miracle of a TEDx event, a day-long immersion into the inspiring and motivating lives of the speakers and attendees.

My talk came at the end of the day, and although I prepared for this talk more than I had ever prepared for the countless other talks, lectures, and seminars that I have given, I was full of remorse afterwards.

My talk was about curiosity and how it motivated me to run across four deserts; and how you can use curiosity to overcome your fear of thinking bigger about your life. In my case, I’m working on a new way to think about our food system, how we need to think bigger so that we can create disruptive, imaginative improvements for our food system. But there were important things I left out, some deeper, more revealing ideas that I really wanted you to know.

Yes, I know, speakers often think of what they could have done better. But my remorse came from seeing the irony of my talk in light of the event’s theme: fearlessness.  Fear, as it turned out, was my nemesis.  You see, I knew my talk, cold; but in the few days before the talk, I was having difficulty meeting the time constraints. So, I turned to reading my talk, instead of sharing with the audience my story, the one that I felt passionate about. If only I had taken a breath, just one, and listened to my heart, I could have gathered all those words I had crafted and put them into sentences that held a deeper, more personal message. Like this,

  • That we need to love life more than we fear death, in order for us to use our curiosity about life to understand how to solve problems, like those in our food system.
  • That just because understanding our food system in all its overwhelming complexity appears impossible, using our curiosity, even about the smallest aspects of our food allows us to take the first step towards a more complex understanding, the one we need in order to arrive at the “Big Ideas.”
  • And that to me, food represents all of life and love, its potential for creativity and close human connection. Food is constantly recreating itself, and our ability to re-invent its presence in our lives during a period of rapid change is vital to our survival.

And so now you know what I meant to say, really.

The day was full of rich and inspiring stories, of Byron Reese’s optimism that all of us have great purpose, of Darden Smith’s song that carried the revelation that we all have gifts that just need unwrapping and the courage to use them.

At the end of the day, the speakers and organizers met over an elegantly prepared meal to celebrate the success of the day. Sitting across from me was a bright young man who seemed curious about my desert running adventures. He asked me, “Are you still running?”

His question was well meaning, but it brought all the events of the day into sharp focus. “Still running?”  Did it seem that I was done imagining, taking risks, being curious enough to think big.  Hardly, I thought. This overwhelming challenge of mapping the food system in all it complexity, is the next uncharted territory that begs for some fearless explorers. Now is the time to lace my shoes again and get back on the desert. And if my talk was worthy, even to a few hungry souls, perhaps someone will walk along side me in some new uncharted territory.

Desert Running, a PB&J Sandwich, and the Future of Food: Robyn Metcalfe at TEDxAustin

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