Lisa Nichols is a best-selling author, a popular public speaker, a powerful coach, and a charismatic teacher. She is the author of the bestselling book “No Matter What!“
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Here is the full text of Lisa Nichols’ TEDx Talk titled “Barely Recognizable” at TEDxCalicoCanyon 2012 conference.
My grandmother said, “Sweetheart, when you get old, you’re supposed to sit in your favorite rocking chair and tell your grandchildren the stories of your life. But while you’re your age, you’re supposed to make sure that the story’s going to be good to tell.”
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be with you for a brief moment. You know, I love environments like this, because you get to live in possibility. I always say I want to live in bliss and visit ordinary every now and again.
Mediocracy is crowded. But if you rise up to excellence there’s a lot of space. So I’m excited to be with you today with all the amazing speakers and teachers and educators and life transformers who graced this stage. I think every single one of you can come on this stage and contribute a ton of things as well.
I’m always grateful when I am given the opportunity to serve and to tell a snippet of my life as a form of inspiration or to gain and garner something from you.
I look at my life today and it’s barely recognizable. It’s barely recognizable — you know when Joseph was talking, I grew up down the road in LA with all those plastic people. And when he was telling the story that he said he was going to think that I love you, I thought that he said I loved, because then they really look the other way. Then I realized he was saying what was on his head thinking.
Well, I grew up in LA, and I grew up in an environment that was less than conducive to the thought of possibility. I lived within the Harlem Crip 30s and the Rollin 60’s and I had three fights a week to get home from school. I just thought it was exercise. Like oh this is how you do it, and run fast. Got my cardio in.
And my highest grade in school was a C-plus in all 12 years. My English teacher — the last time I took an English class she said to me in front of the entire class, “Lisa, you have to be the weakest writer I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
I found out what I was good at by finding out what I really sucked at. I had a job as an accounts receivable clerk in accounts receivable. I shouldn’t be around numbers. Unless I’m just making a lot of money I should not be counting the money. But I remember my — I got — I had a client who called and — well I called her and I was supposed to collect money from her and she gave me a story as to why she couldn’t pay and it was a really good story. I said, yeah girl that’s good, don’t worry about it. I’m going to take your name off the list. I’m not going to have him bother you anymore.
And I guess she referred a few people to call me for collections and I remember the day my boss called me into the office and she said, “Lisa, come in and sit down.”
And I said “Okay.”
She said, “What do you want to do in this company? No, what do you want to do in life?”
I said — I thought it was a test of my loyalty – “I want to rise to the top of this company. I want to be the accounts receivable manager.”
And she cringed, like what is that about. And she said, “Tell me what you do when you talk to clients?”
I said, “Well, I listen, I tell them that they have to pay and that they’re behind, then I listen. And some of them have really good reasons why they can’t pay and so I just — I support them.”
“How do you support them?”
“Well, I delete their names from the list, because they don’t have money and you’re going to call them again if I keep the name on the list, or just help you by taking the name off the list, help them by taking them off the list… I handled it for you.”
And she said, “So you’re a really nice girl, but you are really bad at accounts receivable.”
And then I realized this meeting was not about my advancement in the company. And I said, “Oh my God, are you firing me?”
She said “No, I’m not firing you. I’m just releasing you to find your dream.”
And I said, “So do I come back tomorrow?” Like I’m 24, I got bills –
She’s telling me, “No, you’re not coming back tomorrow. You’re going to spend the day at home finding your dream.”
And that was the first of me being fired five times.
So I tell you I discovered what I was good at by checking off the box of what I really sucked at.
I remember the last time I was unemployed, I was frustrated because I had been unemployed for three months. I’d been fired from my fifth job and I was frustrated because my car had just got repo’d, rent was due, my roommates were pissed at me. And I had cramps — PMS — was not a good day. Do not cross my path, right?
The head does spin around and I’m lying in bed and I have the newspapers. Oh, you know because there was a time we found jobs in the newspapers and the newspapers were all laid across my bed. And in them were circled all of these accounting jobs because that’s where I had been trained. But it wasn’t where my heart was.
Every time I circled a job: accounts receivable, accounts payable, you know whatever it was, I got sick to my stomach. Energy — it was just — it would drop. But I knew I needed a job.
And so I was laying in bed with a attitude flicking — turning the remote control with a attitude. And this man came across the screen and I thought wow, man — a black man on stage with a suit on, handsome. I’m going to look a little while. It was Les Brown.
And Les was telling a story. He told a story that changed my life. He said there was this man walking past a house and a little old lady was rocking, a little man was rocking in the rocking chair and the dog was giving an agonizing moan. He said what’s wrong with that dog.
He walked past the house the second day on his way to work and the little lady is rocking, little man’s rocking and the dog was giving the same agonizing moan.
He said if I pass that house again tomorrow and that dog’s doing that same moan, I’ll ask the lady what’s wrong with her dog?
Third day, he passes the house, lady is rocking in her rocking chair sipping on some lemonade, the man’s rocking in his rocking chair reading the paper and the dog’s giving the same excruciating moan.
So he did as he promised himself. He said, “Excuse me ma’am! Why is your dog moaning?”
She said, “Well, honey, he’s lying on the nail.”
And he said, “Well, if he’s lying on nail and it hurts, why doesn’t he move?”
She said, “Come baby, it hurts just enough for him to moan about it, not enough for him to move yet,”
And right at that moment, I realized lying in my bed unemployed — you know my car repo’d, rent’s due, I’m pissed off, I was lying on a bed of nails, not just one. And so I just stopped by Vegas.
Yesterday I woke up in Temecula. I spent the morning in Garden Grove speaking. I spent the evening in Coronado Island speaking. I woke up this morning… today and had lunch in Vegas and before the end of the week I’ll be in another country. And so I just stopped by.
I stopped by to tap on your heart a bit and to ask you what are you willing to do this year that you haven’t done yet. What are you willing to do this year that will make your knees knock and your teeth chatter?
Are you willing to redefine yourself into your life is barely recognizable? Are you willing to boldly go where you have never gone before, say what you’ve never said before, and do what you’ve never done before so you can be the man or the woman you know yourself to be?
Are you willing? Are you willing to surprise the hell out of yourself? Are you willing to scare the people around you where they say something happened to him that day, they went to some TED event and nothing was the same; are you willing?
Are you willing to allow the dream in you to be birthed? Are you willing to find that thing that you were born to do, that if you don’t do it you know your life is incomplete, because what I know is that you’re not afraid to die, you’re afraid to die without doing that thing? You don’t want to die before they see your vision, your voice, your essence. That’s what you’re really afraid of. Don is just resting in peace. You don’t have to do anything there. It’s living that makes your knees knock; are you willing?
Are you willing to love yourself like you’ve never done before? Are you willing to be unapologetic about your greatness? Are you willing to stop keeping score on the things you didn’t do so well, back then? I still don’t do accounting well, but my CPA does.
Are you willing — are you willing to stand in your greatness and stand on your story — all those things, all those reasons, that failed relationship, the weight, the family, all the molestation, all the stuff that comes up whenever you’re about to do great you say but I can’t, because are you willing to stop making that your fortress and make it your fuel?
Are you willing?
See, I’m just a girl from South Central who lived between the Harlem Crip 30s and the Rollin 60s, who had three fights a week to get home from school, who the last time I had took English remember I got a fail and my English teacher told me I was the weakest writer she ever met in her entire life. I’m still that girl. I don’t stand in that story.
I stand on that story ,because in addition to her I’m that seven-time best-selling author. In addition to her I’m the CEO of two multi-million dollar businesses. In addition to her I’m an international speaker and trainer. In addition to her, I’m the woman who in six months will be taking my company public. That’s who I am. All of that makes up me; unapologetically it makes up me.
So I ask you as I stop by Vegas to stir yourself, as I stop by Vegas to make you mildly, to moderately, to significantly uncomfortable in mediocracy, I don’t want to help you get a good night’s sleep tonight. I want to keep you up tonight thinking how can I make my life barely recognizable? How can I get drastic with it? How can I do it like my life depended on it, because the moment you stop making it about you and you make it about those little orphans that Robyn talked about, and that your life is not about liberating you sweetheart, your life is about liberating all the rest of us who are watching you.
The moment you can play that big, and get out of your way is the moment that we begin to benefit from your existence. I didn’t come here to [raw rye] you. I didn’t come here to entertain you. I came here to call you to your greatness. Some of that might make you feel good. Some of it might step on your toes. If it does, sit Indian-style because I’m not stopping, because I’m that same little girl from South Central who nobody thought it was possible, who I look up today.
My son and I just built our home from ground up and we moved in four days ago. And my son was walking through the house today — a couple of days ago, and he says, “Mommy, this is the kind of house we used to visit and we get to come here every day. Mommy, is this what you talk about when you say barely recognizable?”
I say, “Yes baby. This is barely recognizable.”
I leave you with the story. Yes, it’s already time for me to go.
When I went on Oprah, I could only take one person with me. So it was only fitting that I take my grandmother with me. She’s 82 years old and she watched her mother pick cotton so she should watch her granddaughter sit on Oprah.
I took my grandmother to Oprah with me. And my grandmother is feisty and she talked loud on her cell phone, she still don’t understand how they can work with no cord. So she thinks yelling helps the people hear and I’m not going to be the one to tell her to lower her voice.
So in the limousine on the way to the airport she’s on the phone: “Yes, I’m going with my baby to Chicago to see Oprah. Yes we’re going to stay at the Omni Hotel where the guests of Oprah Winfrey stay, like because that’s how it is on TV so she has to say the whole thing.
We get to the Omni Hotel, she said “Baby, I can’t believe we’re at the Omni Hotel where the guests of Oprah Winfrey stay.”
We go out to dinner, we come back in. I have a meeting with Jack Canfield, Reverend Michael Beckwith and Rhonda Byrne and I come back into the room, she said “Baby” – she starts with single baby – “this lady came to the door housekeeping, she’s asked me if I want this thing called a turndown.”
I asked her did it cost, she said no, it don’t cost. I said well, then turn down. My grandmother was a hoot.
The next morning I get a call, “Miss Nichols, the Harpo Inc limo is here to take you to Oprah.”
Oh Oh… the moment I put on my coat, grab my purse, and my grandmother said, “Baby, go make your bed.”
Okay. I made my bed. I put my coat back on, get my purse. My grandmother said, “Baby, go wipe out the sink basin.”
Okay, now I got the Scooby Doo look.
I said, “No disrespect grandma,” because that’s what you say when you’re about to question my grandmother: why am I making the bed and wiping out the sink basin at the Omni Hotel, where the guests of Oprah Winfrey stay. I am a guest.
She said, “Just leave the lady a tip and I tell you why.”
I put out $3. She said, “Don’t be cheap.”
I put up $10. I said “No disrespect grandma, but why am I tipping her when I did her job.”
“Just leave her tip.”
And as I put my coat on and my sweater on, I leave you with this — this charge in love and in honor – my grandmother said, “Your great-grandmother was a day worker. And when people knew she was coming they would leave their rooms extra nasty.” She said, “you’re not going to do that. You’re going to be mindful that someone has to clean up behind you and someone did it for you.”
She said “and you left that tip because on the days that your great-grandmother got a tip we were able to have meat that day. She said, “Baby, I know you walking on this plush carpet at the Omni Hotel where the guests of Oprah Winfrey stay and I know you’re walking in style in those nice shoes with the red sole. She said but you’re not really walking on the carpet, you’re not really walking on those shoes. You’re walking on their shoulders. Somebody worked from sunup to sundown for you to occupy that seat.”
So my question to you as I leave and I leave you in love is what are you going to do while you have that seat?
I love you.
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