Home » Isabelle Mercier: The Power of Zero Tolerance at TEDxStanleyPark (Transcript)

Isabelle Mercier: The Power of Zero Tolerance at TEDxStanleyPark (Transcript)

Isabelle Mercier

Here is the full transcript of brand strategist Isabelle Mercier’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Zero Tolerance at TEDxStanleyPark conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio:  The Power of Zero Tolerance by Isabelle Mercier at TEDxStanleyPark


So, there is a five-letter word that’s used by the majority of the human race every day. Many times a day actually, for some of us. Yet, this word has the power to kill. This simple combination of letters kills creativity, it kills individuality, it kills performance, and, worst of all, it kills dreams. And that word is: worry.

1980 was the year when I had my first face-to-face collision with worry. This is me. Oh, yeah. I’m nine years old on there, I am full of life, and, as you can see on this picture, I’m also completely unaware of my slight fashion deficiency. Let’s leave it at that, all right? Look at those glasses.

However, what you cannot see on this picture is that I am eaten alive by worry. Really? What do I have to worry about? I’m nine years old, for crying out loud! I’ve got a roof over my head, mortgage-free. I have food on the table, I have my favorite color pens in my pencil case. What more could a creative kid want, right?

Most importantly, I have parents who absolutely adore me. Yet, for an entire week, which, I’m going to tell you, felt like months, all my energy, all of it, is spent avoiding at all cost, one girl: Stephanie, the bully. Why? Because she has decided that, in order for me to prove my worth, I am to steal her a pack of cigarettes at the corner store. Really? Did you see that face earlier? That face over here? Does this look like the face of a criminal to you? No?

And “no” is precisely what I want to say to Stephanie. I want to say “no” to her, but, honestly, I can’t bear the thought of the consequences that my “no” could, and, in my nine-year-old head, would absolutely unleash.

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So, my solution? I avoid her some more. Well, do you know how exhausting it is to be at avoidance mode 24/7? Well, I’m going to tell you. It’s a full-time job, that’s what it is. The shenanigans I did to avoid her, Oscar-winning performance is all I can say. Believe me, you do not want to mess with this girl. She is the biggest bully and she’s also the leader of my inner circle of friends, and I am petrified.

I don’t want to be known as a wuss, and I certainly don’t want to create my own social suicide at nine years old. Oh my God, I realized that my “no”, me saying “no” to her, could literally ruin my entire life. Remember, I’m nine years old. This is dramatic here.

So, the phone rings… and I quickly say to my mom, “Mom,” she’s right there – “remember the deal, right? ‘Je pas icitte!,'” I am not here.

Well, she answers the phone. To my surprise, I hear this, “Just a sec, Stephanie. Isabelle happens to be right here.”


“Oh, yeah.” She leans in, hands me the phone, and says, “Isabelle, ‘Pauvre petite fille!'” Literal translation, “Poor little girl!” Actual meaning, though, in her tone of voice, “Why? Why are you doing this to yourself?” And she went on and said — in French, of course, but I’ll spare you — she said, “Do not, I repeat, do not be afraid to speak your truth. If you can’t say no to what you don’t want, Isabelle, you will never have the time and the energy for what you do want.” Yes. Thank you.

However — however nice this was at the time, I was livid. Livid! I am livid, but yeah, in that moment, my life changes forever. Yes, I do muster the guts to say no to Stephanie, the bully, thank you very much. And no, my world doesn’t implode, it actually expands. And, as a result of that, over the years, I became completely obsessed with what causes worry versus peace of mind. And I noticed a very interesting pattern — a pattern that helped me uncover the culprit that leads to most of what we worry about and that robs us of our peace of mind, and it goes like this: What you tolerate you worry about.

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What you tolerate you worry about. What I’m saying is what you are tolerating right now you are worrying about. Meaning, when you say “yes” and you really want to say “no” — you know those moments where all you want to do is say no, or should say no? — is what you tolerate, and what you tolerate will always, sooner or later, drive you to worry.

Now, would it surprise you to know that 95% of North Americans either go to bed or wake up worrying about something every single day? We, ladies and gentlemen, are a bunch of professional worryaholics. In fact, we worry so much nowadays that the phrase “I’m thinking about this” has now culturally been replaced by “I’m worrying about this.”

Yet, 40% of what we worry about will never happen. It will never happen. That, my friends, is like putting a 40% down payment on a house you’ll never own. How ridiculous would that be, right? Putting a 40% down payment on a house you’ll never see, smell, experience, or own.

Yet, when it comes to worry, we do it every day. 30% of what we worry about — get this — has already happened. Has anyone ever accidentally hit “reply all” — on a massive rant email that was meant for Bob’s eyes only? Need I say more?

12% of what we worry about are needless worries about our health. For example, you got a headache for three days in a row, and, boom! You are worried about a brain tumor. Oh, and if you have the brilliance of consulting with “Dr. Google,” now you go from having a brain tumor to having six months left to live, right?

10% of what we worry about are petty miscellaneous worries, like what to cook for dinner, or what shoes to wear for a TED Talk, for example.

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Now, I don’t know if you’re calculating this, but that leaves 8% for real, legitimate worries, eight percent, which means that 92% of what we’re worrying about is complete nonsense, and that nonsense, by the way, not only keeps us from being at our best — oh, no — it keeps us from actually living.

So, what if, what if we took all this energy that we used to worry about this crazy 92%, and what if we repurposed it? What if we repurposed it to do something good, something positive? How about this? Something tangible might be nice.

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