I got to write the theme for this year’s Pasadena Women TEDx RISE event. For me, this is no small thing. I’ve loved TED Talks since only nerds watched them. I’ve spent entire Friday nights (and into Saturday mornings) binge-watching brilliant minds do their thing. For me, free evenings are often about TEDx and chill—indulgences always involving copious amounts of Peanut M&Ms (more recently, the Mega version—thank you, Mars, Inc.).

Forget the latest lascivious romcom; I’ll take Sir Ken Robinson answering the question, “Do schools kill creativity?” Or observe as Dan Pink puts together “The puzzle of motivation.” Or watch as Tim Urban unfolds what’s “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator” (though I could tell him the real answer to that question is, a lot of TED Talks).

In any case, want to read what I wrote?

Here’s the “medium” version:

Rise to the challenge! Rise up! Rise and shine! Any way you look at it, rise is a little verb packing some serious positivity. And, with today’s global digital culture delivering what can seem like an endless stream of bad news, some serious positivity sounds downright empowering. This year’s event is dedicated to great thinkers who’ve dared to believe we can build a better world by calling on that power. Their ideas have—in some way great or small—suggested it’s possible to trade the heaviness of hopelessness, resentment, and self-preservation for the lightness of anticipation, curiosity and self-sacrifice. Join in for a day dedicated to transcending the past and transforming the future. RISE 2017—get ready to celebrate Ideas that Elevate!

I also wrote a longer version (which is, of course, better, but, as every copywriter knows, medium always wins). To my delight, my favorite phrase made the medium cut:

“…it’s possible to trade the heaviness of hopelessness, resentment, and self-preservation for the lightness of anticipation, curiosity, and self-sacrifice.”

Before I go on, let me explain why I pull-quoted myself (aside from the most obvious contributing fact, which is because I’m a writer). When my boss, Mike Schaffer, CEO of Echo-Factory, asked me to write our internal blog post for the event, I thought, “Hm. The writer of the theme is getting to be the writer of the blog post to announce it… Yes! I shall take this opportunity to pontificate!” (Every writer loves being allowed to pull-quote themselves and pontificate about their own work. Mainly, this is because medium always wins. But let’s not beat a dead horse.)

So, pontificate, I shall!


My assignment was:

Write the theme for an upcoming TEDx conference by expanding on the word “rise.”

Now, for me, there are two components that, if present in a creative assignment, render that assignment utterly terrifying. These are:

  1. The “Blank Page” Component (this is just what it sounds like)
  2. The “I Really Want To Do The Best Job Ever On This” Component

The TEDx RISE assignment had both. So, I wrote while nauseated. Sometimes, I think the nausea helps me write better; other times, I think if I could get past the nausea, my writing would get better. But I digress.

So, I dove into an hours-long session of excessive caffeine consumption, nausea and crappy, trite writing blended, occasionally, with a cool phrase here or there. Once I could read what I wrote with only a slight tinge of shame, I was ready to submit for approval. They really liked it. Just a couple of shameful revisions later, it was good to go, shame and nausea free! (Who needs counseling and Pepto when copy approval is such good medicine?)

But, why did writing this TEDx theme mean so much to me? I mean, it would be on the website and maybe a few printed materials here and there. Not very many people would notice, much less read it…

“But, the Talkers will read it. Those guys would read the theme. And that’s why it matters.”

They’d understand why I’d suggest it was a good idea to trade hopelessness for anticipation. Because Martin Luther King Jr. did with his dream. He anticipated a better future and, as a result, the oppressive cloud of racism is beginning to lift, if only a little, from the surface of the earth. It really is. Don’t believe the news; look to your left and right.

The Talkers would know what I meant when I suggested there’s power in trading resentment for curiosity. Because today, so many grandparents are throwing off their resentment of technology, learning how to use social media and building up the connections between generations. Connections that are growing stronger every day and rebuilding a sense of community that seemed to all but die with the internet.

And the Talkers would get why I’d point out the power of trading self-preservation for self-sacrifice. Because Desmond Doss did many years ago in Okinawa when, as a pacifist, he entered the very heart of the thing he hated most to save the lives of those who’d fallen victim to its power. His strange, almost laughably preposterous perspective saved the lives of dozens of men.

My hope for this year’s TEDx conference is that our speakers will deliver the sort of powerful thoughts that do, indeed, lift the heaviness from our shoulders a bit. And maybe even inspire us to walk away as people who are unafraid to take the laughably preposterous perspective—if it means saving a life or building a bridge. People who really do want to embrace those ideas—and actions—that can elevate us all.


Get Ready to RISE!

September 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Huntington Library 1151 Oxford Road San Marino, California

Our 14 outstanding speakers are:

Valerie Alexander, founder and CEO of Goalkeeper Media, screenwriter and an Amazon top-selling author

Amara Barroeta, native of Venezuela, chemical engineer and owner of Amara Chocolate & Coffee Cafe in Pasadena

Steve Elkins, cinematographer, editor, producer and explorer

Mei Fong, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, foreign policy expert and human rights advocate

Lila Higgins, scientist and manager of the Citizen Science program at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Grace Killelea, author and founder of the GKC Group, a leadership development firm based in Philadelphia

Ryan Pfluger, New York-based photographer whose work is published in New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and TIME

Joyce Ruygrok, mentor and long-time community volunteer

(Hui-wen) Alina Sato, writer and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse

Amanda Southworth, 15-year-old app developer, coder and winner of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Scholarship

Lisa Strohman, psychologist and foremost expert in the field to address the global issue of technology addiction and overuse

Carri Twigg, cultural/campaign strategist who served as special assistant to President Obama during his administration, overseeing White House efforts to protect the rights of working Americans

Jenny Watts, writer and curator of photography and visual culture at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California

To learn more visit TedXPasadena.org