An Outstretched Hand

By Susan David

This week many Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving and much of the world will transition into the holiday season. 

As we move into this time, I am filled with gratitude that more than 10 million people have viewed my TED Talk. Thank you for being part of this revolution of the heart—a revolution that recognizes that human skills aren’t “soft,” they’re essential. They shape our relationships, wellbeing, organizations, communities—everything that matters.

While the holidays can be a joyous time, it can also be one of conflict or challenge. When I was preparing for my TED Talk, I had an experience with a dear friend that profoundly altered both the way I come to speaking events and the way I think about connecting and gathering. 

I used to get so nervous before speaking events that I would be physically ill before giving a talk to a room of even ten people. I would often feel so out of my depth, like an imposter, asking myself things like, “What right do I have to do this?” 

You can imagine how grateful I was to have my oldest friend (whom I’ve known since I was three years old) guide me before I gave my TED talk. She is an award-winning director and playwright who has supported me in many ways, but one of the most impactful is a mindfulness exercise she recorded for me to listen to on my way from my hotel to the TED stage. 

In this recording, she suggested that as I walked onto the stage, I should find a seat in the audience and imagine my daughter, Sophie, sitting there. Then I should find another seat and imagine the same for my son, Noah. She reminded me that this moment wasn’t about me talking “to” people from the TED stage. Instead, it was about offering a message to support a world that Sophie and Noah could grow up in—a world in which they would feel honored and seen. 

She shared that when we’re on stage, we often think of ourselves as separate and distant from the audience, when in reality, the stage, even in its very shape, is like an outstretched hand—an offering to those listening. 

This idea was beautiful  to me. When we find ourselves in the position of conveying ideas to others (whether on stage, in a meeting, or during a conversation) we can feel pressure to convince people to agree with us or even to like us. While this is normal, it’s also ego-focused, and that intense self-awareness can drown out the message and hinder connection. With a few simple words, my friend beautifully shifted the focus of the moment so I could see that it wasn’t me that was important—it was the message, my offering. An offering: not a telling or persuading or an exercise in ego, but an offering that invites people to come together with humility to be and see. 

These days, I rarely get nervous before a talk. I walk on stage grateful for the opportunity to share a message that asks us to try to create a world where we all feel seen. 

Think about this as you have conversations with others this season. Where are you concerned with being right, liked, or important? And how can you shift this focus to your offering and those who will receive it? What might others be offering you in return? There is an exquisite and gentle tenderness in this place of mutual humanity.

Wherever you are this week, I hope you’re able to find meaningful connection with the people in your life and with yourself. 


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