Here is the full transcript of Nigerian author Luvvie Ajayi’s Talk: Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable at TED conference.
Luvvie Ajayi – Nigerian author
I’m a professional troublemaker. As my job is to critique the world, the shoddy systems and the people who refuse to do better, as a writer, as a speaker, as a shady Nigerian — I feel like my purpose is to be this cat.
I am the person who is looking at other people, like, “I need you to fix it”. That is me. I want us to leave this world better than we found it. And how I choose to effect change is by speaking up, by being the first and by being the domino. For a line of dominoes to fall, one has to fall first, which then leaves the other choiceless to do the same.
And that domino that falls, we’re hoping that, OK, the next person that sees this is inspired to be a domino. Being the domino, for me, looks like speaking up and doing the things that are really difficult, especially when they are needed, with the hope that others will follow suit.
And here’s the thing: I’m the person who says what you might be thinking but dared not to say. A lot of times people think that we’re fearless, the people who do this, we’re fearless. We’re not fearless. We’re not unafraid of the consequences or the sacrifices that we have to make by speaking truth to power.
What happens is, we feel like we have to, because there are too few people in the world willing to be the domino, too few people willing to take that fall. We’re not doing it without fear.
Now, let’s talk about fear. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was like, “I’m going to be a doctor!” Doctor Luvvie was the dream. I was Doc McStuffins before it was a thing. And I remember when I went to college, my freshman year, I had to take Chemistry 101 for my premed major. I got the first and last D of my academic career.
So I went to my advisor, and I was like, “OK, let’s drop the premed, because this doctor thing is not going to work, because I don’t even like hospitals. So let’s just consider that done for.”
And that same semester, I started blogging. That was 2003. So as that one dream was ending, another was beginning. And then what was a cute hobby became my full-time job when I lost my marketing job in 2010. But it still took me two more years to say, “I’m a writer”.
Nine years after I had started writing, before I said, “I’m a writer,” because I was afraid of what happens without 401Ks, without, “How am I going to keep up my shoe habit? That’s important to me.”
So it took me that long to own this thing that was what my purpose was. And then I realized, fear has a very concrete power of keeping us from doing and saying the things that are our purpose. And I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to let fear rule my life. I’m not going to let fear dictate what I do.”
And then all of these awesome things started happening, and dominoes started to fall. So when I realized that, I was like, “OK, 2015, I turned 30, it’s going to be my year of ‘Do it anyway’. Anything that scares me, I’m going to actively pursue it.” So, I’m a Capricorn. I like my feel solidly on the ground. I decided to take my first-ever solo vacation, and it was out of the country to the Dominican Republic.
So on my birthday, what did I do? I went ziplining through the forests of Punta Cana. And for some odd reason, I had on business casual. Don’t ask why. And I had an incredible time. Also, I don’t like being submerged in water. I like to be, again, on solid ground.
So I went to Mexico and swam with dolphins underwater. And then the cool thing that I did also that year, that was my mountain was I wrote my book, “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual,” And I had to own — that whole writing thing now, right? Yes. But the very anti-me thing that I did that year that scared the crap out of me –
I went skydiving. We’re about to fall out of the plane. I was like, “I’ve done some stupid things in life. This is one of them.” And then we come falling down to Earth, and I literally lose my breath as I see Earth, and I was like, “I just fell out of a perfectly good plane on purpose. What is wrong with me?!”
But then I looked down at the beauty, and I was like, “This is the best thing I could have done. This was an amazing decision.” And I think about the times when I have to speak truth. It feels like I am falling out of that plane. It feels like that moment when I’m at the edge of the plane, and I’m like, “You shouldn’t do this,” but then I do it anyway, because I realize I have to.
Sitting at the edge of that plane and kind of staying on that plane is comfort to me. And I feel like every day that I’m speaking truth against institutions and people who are bigger than me and just forces that are more powerful than me, I feel like I’m falling out of that plane.