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It’s useless trying to fit into a standard, which, in all fairness, will never be the “right one”. It will always fit like a shirt one size too small.

After I recently said goodbye to a job (and profession) that had never fitted, this finally hit me. Or, more accurately, the job said goodbye to me. Big difference. Because when it happened, part of me only felt rejection instead of relief due to all the efforts I had made over the past couple of years. The disappointment was even bigger because of that nagging feeling that I had especially let myself down over the past few years. Would I have had a bit more guts, I would have looked myself in the eyes and given myself a kick in the butt. Instead, I had stayed, without adding real value. That’s how it works when you don’t belong: the more the effort, the less the added value.

A period far from pleasant, but at the same time an experience I would not have wanted to miss. It’s like travelling: the things that go differently than planned turn a holiday into an unforgettable adventure.

PROJECT96 was scheduled for a talk at Pecha Kucha night Leiden one week after I had been “released” from my job. Our first public talk. Together. PechaKucha “20×20” is a presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. Seems simple, right…?

During our rehearsals, however, I discovered that I did not feel overly comfortable with the format. Whereas I like to talk in public, I prefer a more “spontaneous” form. For this talk, changing the words or order meant a disconnection between words and visuals and moreover a possible problem for Céline. I decided that the slight discomfort for this talk fitted into the period and one of PROJECT96’s life mottos: experience is everything, experience induces growth.

Just before our presentation we were given the chance to follow a “Speaking with impact” workshop at Great Communicators, a highly motivating Dutch organisation that also coaches the speakers of several TED events. Especially after that training, we felt as if we had “stepped into the arena”. Like what we were working on mattered. Céline and I used all the time we had (left) to prepare and fine-tune our talk, which we agreed to do by heart.
Our final rehearsal on the night itself was flawless. Then, the actual talk. Nervous but fine. Fine? Too eager not to forget my text, too focused on the order of words, the timing. And so I faltered at some places, forgot my text at others. It felt bad. Towards myself, the audience, Céline. On the night itself, I tried to let go of that feeling of “failure” and I somehow managed. But after that night, no matter how hard I tried, that nasty feeling remained.

And then we were sent the public link to our talk.

Before our talk, we had decided to promote that link, no matter what. But when the time arrived, I wasn’t that determined anymore. “Screw PROJECT96’s mottos, we need to perfect the talk and let this one disappear. What will people think?!” A dilemma as big as a pink shiny elephant. I blocked the subject, hoping the answer would present itself to me. Initially nothing happened but then I read the following.

“If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error. You can get depressed when fired (…). If you hurt your toe, you can take six weeks watching television and eating potato chips. In line with that mind-set, most people think of injuries as set-backs, something they have to recover from or deal with (…). Almost without exception, I am back on the mats the next day, figuring out how to use my new situation to heighten elements of my game [martial arts].”[1]

I had felt injured over the past weeks, eating chocolate instead of potato chips. Telling myself and the outside world that the talk wasn’t bad for “a first timer”. In all fairness though, I had only been licking my self-inflicted wounds and in that way, preventing myself from doing any work at all.

When I had allowed for that realisation to materialise, I rediscovered the essence of experiences like these: they are part of my adventure, they ignite my hunger to carry on, practise more, do better next time. I need them. They make me realise that I do love getting our story out, connecting to new, interested and interesting people along the way. In order to become better, I need to go out there and make an effort, experiment. There’s no way around the real world, the adult playground, and I don’t want there to be one. Sometimes I’ll win sometimes I’ll lose. Sometimes I will be bloody mediocre. But at least I will be learning.

So, experience is everything. Experience equals adventure. Hunger for adventure is what keeps me moving. Up.

Got you curious? Here’s the link to our talk.