Full text of visual goal setter Patti Dobrowolski’s TEDx Talk: Imagination Changes Everything at TEDxSacramentoSalon conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Imagination changes everything by Patti Dobrowolski at TEDxSacramentoSalon
Patti Dobrowolski – Visual Thinker + Change Activator
OK, so I’m looking for a volunteer. Let’s see – OK. All right, I am going to choose you. OK, now what you’re going to do is you’re going to come up here and you’re going to get on stage in this red circle here and you’re going to tell your big idea for 15 minutes, right now. Come on up, come on.
No, no, I’m just kidding. But can you imagine – I mean you can’t use any cue cards, you’ve been standing back there or down here, running your talk over and over again in your head, and suddenly you realize: You can’t remember anything past the first line. Your hands are shaking, your heart is beating you know, you think you might throw up. I mean what you’re going to do? What would you do? OK, I’m just going to take some deep breaths, jump up and down lightly, then just repeat that first line over and over again, and just pray that when I come out here the second line will follow. I mean can you imagine the stress, the sweat, the fear?
Fear is wonderful, because it sparks your imagination. Fear forces you to pretend. We imagine our way out of our disaster. Now heading for disaster is something we do everyday but it can bring out the best in you. Each of us is writing our own scripts. We’re starring, directing and writing our own lives. Sometimes like a movie. Sometimes it’s a scary movie, sometimes a romantic comedy, and sometimes it’s a docudrama. But all of it is of our own creation.
And where does that movie come from? Imagination. Imagination is the engine of our lives. And it can get us into trouble. I can think of some times when we might and want to share what’s happening in our imagination, and even as kids we learn early on that if we are not focusing and paying attention, we’re going to get in trouble for daydreaming. But when we use our imagination in an expected and confined way, we call this brainstorming.
Well, I want to talk about using your imagination in an unconstrained and an uncontrolled way that’s not going to get you into trouble. Imagination fuels everything. Einstein, according to some, wasn’t the greatest genius of our time necessarily. There was another guy, Henri Poincaré who actually was said to have equal if not greater computational brainpower. But what made Einstein so unique, was that he took command of his imagination early on, and he would run these thought experiments. He’d think, “What would happen if I ran at the speed of light?” And these thought experiments led him to make new connections between existing things.
Well, if Einstein can do it, so can we. OK? Let’s combine fantasy and reality. Kids do it all the time. For example, here is me as a small child. I was this cowboy. I was this combat fighter. I was this small racer on a bike, Tomboy, do you think? And these are slightly embarrassing but they’re not half as embarrassing as what I’m about to tell you.
How many of you remember performance art? I was a performance artist. I can’t tell you exactly what I’m doing here, but I do know that I passed a hat and made some money. A kind friend of mine suggested that I go to New York, and take some formal acting training. So I did. And as an actor in New York you know I didn’t have any money, so on the weekends, I would perform street theater. And one weekend I had a friend visiting from Seattle, and so we went to my usual spot, 57th and Broadway, Columbus Circle, and I got all set up and then I did my performance art.
Now, I will not reveal the details of my performance but let me just say it involved a Michael Jackson lip sync, a tennis racket and a moonwalk. After I was through we passed a hat and you know we made 8 dollars, I’m thinking, “Whoa, OK we’re going downtown for pizza.”
So on our way down, we passed through the Broadway district, and my friend turns to me and says, “Hey Patti, did you ever want to be on Broadway?”
“Frank, I am a performance artist. I would only be off-Broadway!”
But then I can’t get it out of my head, and I imagine myself, “What If I were in Broadway?” I go down the stage door into my dressing room where there’s a star and my name, and then there’s my costume laid out, and then I put on my make-up and go stand behind that thick red velvet curtain and wait for them to call places and the lights to come down and that audience hush. And it was thrilling, I mean really. And it was a great fantasy to have when I went back to Seattle where I was schlepping burritos at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen on 2nd and Bell. I’d think, “Well, if I were at Broadway where would the opening night party be? Tavern on the Green! Yes. And If I were on Broadway, well who would I be hanging out with? Oh, Lily Tomlin and Eddie Murphy,” you know it was back in the day, cool.
And then I put it out of my mind and later that fall, well I don’t know what happened but I lost all my shifts at Mama’s and the NEA stopped funding performance art. Big surprise! And so came to the end of the month, and I didn’t have enough money for my rent. And so I thought, “Wow, what am I going to do?” So I grab a rake, and I go up to the wealthiest neighborhood in Seattle and I start knocking door-to-door asking if I could rake their yard for ten dollars a yard. And now, my hair is shocking pink, and I knock and I knock and I knock and nobody will even open their door except for this minister whose yard is the size of a football field. And you know it’s a typical Seattle day, it’s like pouring and the wind’s blowing and the rain’s pouring, and I’m out there raking and raking and the leaves are falling and I’m raking and raking. And finally that minister comes out and he shoves ten dollars at me and says, “Go home!” So I do.
When I get there, my answering machine is blinking. Now how many of you ever had an answering machine that blinked, raise your hand? My people. And the first one’s from my friend Karen, Boop, “Hey PD, they’re auditioning performance artists down the Seattle Repertory Theater, you’ve got to go.”
And the next one is from my long lost agent. Boop, “Patti, I think I finally found an opportunity to showcase your unique talents!”
So I call immediately and I get an audition, and then the next day I go down there with my résumé and I get in that line, that goes all the way around the block. And when I get up there to the door, they want me to do a dance routine. I’m not a dancer! But I just do the little routine that I can and add some weird thing on the end and I’m just quirky enough that I get into the show.