Tess Vigeland on Her Remarkable Leap Year

Something which I haven’t previously blogged about but which has profoundly, deeply influenced how I think about the world around me is Tess Vigeland. You see, her speech at the World Domination Summit had a theme that would make most people uncomfortable: leaving a cushion-y position at a major radio station to do…well, she didn’t know what she was going to do. But if you read the text of her speech, you’ll see that Tess explains that it felt okay. That for anyone out there who is still searching for what they want out of life, it shouldn’t be this massive burden. It may be difficult to perform this release, but what we need to remember is that it will be okay, and perhaps even turn into the remarkable:

Why do I care what other people think? I KNOW I’m not supposed to care – but I do.

How do I get back to remarkable?

The ONLY way… is by redefining it.

And I think this is an exercise that’s going to take some time. We all know we’re not supposed to define ourselves, and our success, by money, by page views, by Twitter followers, by fan mail, by audience size. But if you have a job, it does define you in many ways. You spend a good chunk of your day at that job – whether that’s at home or in an office or out in the field. Your lifestyle is sometimes determined by how much that job compensates you. I’m on track right now to make one third of what I made last year. One third. I know that doesn’t define me… but it does contribute to how I see my own value. I like what money allows me to do in my life.

So I need to redefine what success means to me. I don’t know how to define that without an audience. I don’t know how to define that without strangers recognizing my voice in an elevator. If that sounds egotistical – well you don’t go into broadcasting without some amount of ego – it’s a performance, after all. And if I end up doing something that can’t or won’t feed it… how do I know if I’m succeeding? How do I know if I’m remarkable?

But I guess what I would tell you – wherever you are on your career timeline – wherever you are in your relationship with this thing you do for a living – is that you have to give yourself permission to grieve the end of something. And sometimes you have to work really, really hard to find what’s next. 

At the end of the year, in her most recent post titled “My Leap Year”, Tess elaborates how that fateful July 7 morning in Portland went when she gave this talk to a crowd of 3,000 people at World Domination Summit:

And here I was about to tell a bunch of strangers about my failure, about my self-doubt and recriminations, about my discomfort with uncertainty, about my sad lack of a life dream, about how I no longer knew who I was because I could no longer describe what I do.

Do not throw up. Do not throw up. Do not throw up.

I walked on stage and told the oldest joke in the radio book: “Hey! You all don’t look a thing like I thought you would!” When people find out you’re a radio person they know, it’s what they say. Guaranteed. So I told the joke. I know… it’s lame. A few people laughed. And I started to tell my story.

And I started to feel something in the room – in that huge performance hall. To this day, I can’t describe it. They were listening. Really listening. They laughed in places I didn’t expect them to laugh. They shouted out from the audience, answering my rhetorical questions with actual answers.

“Will anyone want to listen to me now that I’m not some famous national correspondent anymore?”

“YES!!! Woooooo!!!”

At one point in the speech I talked about the rollercoaster I’d been experiencing, the ups and downs of leaving a career to strike out alone, feeling successful one day and like a complete fraud and unmoored the next. They hopped right on that ride and joined me from one moment to the next. I was no longer afraid of throwing up. What I was afraid of was that I’d burst into tears right there on stage, because of this overwhelming sense of support, this indescribable empathy that I felt from the audience.

Thank you Tess for bringing such vulnerability to your life and sharing it with others. I, among with thousands of others, cannot wait to see how 2014 unfolds for you.

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