Transforming Barriers into Frontiers… on a TEDx stage

Two weeks ago I was standing in the middle of a fluffy, round, bright red rug in Turku. There were about 350 people in the audience, one of my best friend’s is smiling radiantly in the front row, there’s a lot enthusiasm in the air… and then my brain goes completely blank.

I had practiced the talk about 15 to 20 times and spent an equal number of nearly sleepless nights while waiting for it. I was excited silly about this moment! When the invitation originally landed in my mail box, I didn’t reply immediately. I was worried the timing wasn’t right, I wasn’t ready and that I would at best just blurb out something half-baked. Indeed, it’s sometimes tricky to know whether our concern about our abilities is for real or whether it’s just us being afraid of not measuring up. However, because I research something called the action mindset, in the end—ready or not—I really had no other option but to say yes to the challenge. Action mindset means that you lean into the proverbial wind and trust that when the time comes, you are able to keep up the practice, rise up to the occasion, transform and even exceed yourself. After all, I had already taken the biggest step two years ago by quitting my job in order to go back to school to study psychology.

So, there I was. Giving my first TEDx talk way too early and in way too high of a turtleneck. However, I was thrilled to get to share the idea that there is more strength to us than what meets the eye at a given moment. A discovery that for me emerged as the result of surviving a violent trauma four years ago. I would also get to tell the story of a woman whom I respect tremendously and more generally, I would get to speak about something that is nothing less but the reason why I wake up each morning. That being my research on sisu.

I’m about one minute and a half into the talk and something catches my attention. As a result, I seem to lose all memory cues relating to whatever on earth it was that I’m supposed to say next. For a moment that felt like ages, there is just deep silence in my mind and have this bizarre experience of almost leaving my body. I see myself standing on the stage and a thought goes through my mind: “To freeze on a TEDx stage… so this is really happening. I’m actually going to screw this up royally!” It felt like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. In an instant my amygdala sends out a warning signal to my hypothalamus, which then alerts the rest of my body and entire system into a fierce fight or flight response. In that terrifying but equally beautiful moment, I got to witness my brain engage in full damage control mode and give a breathtaking display of the functions that ultimately has enabled the survival of our species. In an instant, it formulated a perfect plan B and switched the original script to something I had never even thought of. I heard myself utter a sentence that was a bit off the mark but not too much (i.e. I didn’t for example shout “There is a bomb in my boots, everybody out!”, although for a second it seemed like the perfect option). And just like that, me and my brain resurfaced from the verbal slope of what could have ended up in the Facepalm Hall of Fame 2014. I was back on track.

In retrospect, I’m grateful for this very humane experience (especially because I didn’t mess up : )). We are all in a constant process of becoming. It is not courage or sisu not to be afraid but to try despite of being afraid. Let’s explore the edges of our mind and boldly reach out toward the often vague vision of our best possible future self. Your heart already knows what you can become. You just need to say ‘yes’ and trust the process. Expect to face obstacles along the way but know that you are more powerful than the adversities you encounter. You have the power to transform these barriers into frontiers – and sometimes even on the fly!

TEDxTurku spearkers
TEDxTurku 2014 speakers: Sabrina Maniscalco, Minna Palmroth, Emilia Lahti, Pessi Peura, Jussi Venäläinen and Pekka Hyysalo at Logomo (missing: US Amb. Bruce Oreck).

SISU: Transforming Barriers into Frontiers | Emilia Lahti | TEDxTurku

Yours in sisu, Emilia

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