I recently spoke at the 2013 MLOVE ConFestival, a celebration of mobile tech and its potential to inspire us. The event is something like a TED – Burning Man mash-up. Even better, this particular event took place in a castle, tucked away in a German village. Needless to say, it was an adventure.
So, why was I there? My colleague Fred and I were invited to share HopeLab’s resilience initiative with the MLOVE community. I was going to present key empirical findings illustrating how three psychological experiences (purpose, connection, and control) can help us all bounce back from adversity. I had a million questions heading into the event: Could I move technologists to join us in a mission to use mobile technology to help people thrive? Could I be authentic? Would I belong there?
Before joining HopeLab this year, I was a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, running my own research lab with graduate students, giving talks to scientists, and teaching undergraduates. Fast forward a few months, and I’m on stage before a few hundred developers, designers, and thought leaders in the tech world. I felt unsure in this new role, even though I’ve given hundreds of lectures in the past.
Then right before my presentation – the opening keynote, no less – fellow speaker Jonathan MacDonald stepped on the stage to set the tone for the gathering. He spoke of his experiences as a black boy growing up in England in the ’70s. Of being adopted and severely bullied. He also spoke of his rise. From finding allies after being stabbed with a barbeque fork and losing consciousness. To building a successful business in the music industry despite the odds, losing that business to a corrupt partner – and building it again. The mandate Jonathan delivered to all of us present shot straight to my heart:
Keep your eyes on the main thing in your life, and keep the main thing, the main thing.
Fred and I both had tears in our eyes when Jonathan left the stage. And that is when I felt a jolt of energy. I experienced a renewed sense of purpose for what I wanted to communicate to this community – my main thing:
I love science. I believe science can change the world and reduce human suffering. And I love proselytizing the empirical word.
In that moment before stepping onstage, I found myself again. And then I gave one of the most memorable talks of my life.