The Gift of Inadequacy: Taylor Gahm at TEDxHouston 2013

The Gift of Inadequacy: Taylor Gahm at TEDxHouston 2013


Translator: Esther A.
Reviewer: Denise RQ Alright, alright. I started my art collection “REHUMANIZE”
because, like many of you, I wanted to change the world. I thought I had something to say. Something powerful
about sexual objectification, human value, and self-worth. But after working on “REHUMANIZE”
for a while I started to realize that I was the audience
who needed to hear its message first. So when they asked to share a bit
about what I’ve learned with you today, I knew I had a choice. I could hide behind my accomplishments
and achievements to look cool and advance my career, or I could just be really honest,
lighting myself on fire, with the hopes of connecting
with you today. Which is what my art is really about. So I don’t want to talk
about changing the world. I want to show you how to do it. This is what it looks like
to light myself on fire. You might have noticed I have
a bald spot in the back of my head. I have an autoimmune disorder
called alopecia. Basically, my immune
system attacks itself, and I lose random patches
of hair for no reason. It happens overnight; it’s kind of weird. I know it’s just hair,
I know it’s no big deal. And I know how I look
doesn’t really matter. But what I say I know
and what I actually believe is not the same thing, is it? I know it’s possible to accept myself
with these spots, but it’s hard. I get uncomfortable and self conscious
going out without fixing my hair or wearing a hat. I get embarrassed
because I don’t really believe that how I look doesn’t matter. So my alopecia is a constant
reminder and invitation for me to stop putting so much value
and self-worth in how I look. It’s a daily opportunity for me
to accept myself, just as I am, bald spots and all. Or something like that. Because most of the time
I just don’t know how to forget about it, so I can get on with inviting others
into self-acceptance and vulnerability. (Laughter) instead of going there for myself. Because I’d rather be the good-looking guy
that says, “Beauty is only skin deep.” (Laughter) I want to be the accomplished
artist who says, “Just daring enough to put yourself
out there, not getting recognized, that’s what matters.” I want to be the guy who has it all
so I can tell everyone else that life is about more than having it all. (Laughter) I’m okay with others
not fitting in, as long as I do. I’m grateful for the honor
of being here today, but I have to admit this is how I like it: being in the spotlight, (Laughter) so I can tell others
who aren’t in the spotlight that being in the spotlight
doesn’t really matter. (Laughter) It’s as if I want to take a stand
against the status quo by fitting in to the status quo
just to cover my bases. Seriously, I want to change the world
by lighting the way for others with a flamethrower. Lighting them on fire, right? Instead of myself. Because it’s much easier
to be peddlers of change than it is to let change
hit home in our own lives, to be tourists on a landscape
of self-worth and enough-ness, trying to sell others a brand
of belonging and acceptance that we’ve yet to buy for ourselves. But the thing is,
if we want to change the world, if you want to light the way for others,
you have to light yourself on fire first. I’ve had a really successful career. I’ve worked with some
incredibly talented people. I’ve experienced wealth, power, fame,
and everything that comes with that. I’m super competitive, and I like to win. But the thing about all my winning
and competing is that it wears me out. It’s an endless and exhausting cycle
of trying to prove myself. To prove I’m acceptable,
to prove I’m enough, to prove I fit in. But the problem with this kind
of fitting in, this type of inclusion, is that it requires
the exclusion of others. In order for me to fit in, others can’t. Which sucks, Because inclusion by exclusion
is also the life blood of racism, partisan politics,
and fundamental religion. Exclusivity demands
I must fight to stay on top. And staying on top is exhausting. After years of staying on top,
I finally burnt out in 2008. I walked away from unprecedented success
at the peak of my career. My wife and I sold everything
and we lived in a camper for a year. A year of travel might sound
easy for most of you, fair enough, but for someone so wrapped up
in what I did as the source of my worth, not doing anything was disorienting. It wrecked me. I wrestled with a constant
sense of inadequacy. I was unable to separate who I was
from what I did. It was a painful process; one that didn’t end with a little bow
tied around it when we got back. I still struggle with bouts of insecurity,
inadequacy, self-loathing. We all do. It’s easier for me to receive love
and acceptance from others as long as I feel like I’m earning,
achieving, or deserving it. But that paradigm poisons
the way I see myself and those around me. Which brings me to an interesting thing
that happened to me at a party last year. A life-defining moment. We were all hanging out,
and I decided to go streaking. (Laughter) As you do. (Laughter) So I ran around naked for a while
and then I jumped in the river. Everyone was laughing and it felt good. I was having a lot of fun
until some idiot yelled, “That is a small penis!” (Laughter) I don’t know who he was but I felt sorry
for the guy with the small penis. (Laughter) I tried to play it off but I couldn’t
help but wonder, “Was it true?” Few things hurt like being literally
or figuratively naked, daring enough to be yourself,
only to have someone say, “Hey! You don’t have what it takes;
who do you think you are?” And worse, it came from someone
sitting fully clothed on the sidelines. Right? Revealing our human nature
to choose spectating over participating. I think one of the prevalent
misconceptions in our culture is that criticizing is the same
as participating. It’s not the same thing! I don’t think blasting religious
and political posts on Facebook is taking the stand we think it is
for whatever we believe in. In fact, I think it might literally
be the very least we can actually do to particpate in our lives. Preach! (Applause) Firing off 140-character tweets
with simple solutions to life’s incredibly, insanely
complex problems is not participation. It’s spam advertising
for our arrogant ignorance and inability to meaningfully
connect with each other. (Cheers) (Applause) So there I was, 33 years old,
and I’d never had a person in my life say anything about the size of my junk. (Laughter) I remember having a pretty big one
when I was a kid. (Laughter) But then again, I also had tiny hands. (Laughter) I had to know if I measured up. So I looked up the average
penis size online, (Laughter) and as I took out a yardstick
to measure myself, (Laughter) — here it is — the reality of the situation hit me. This was going to be a paradigm-shifter. Because even though
I know that my genitals have nothing to do with my self-worth
or value, guess what? I don’t want a small penis! (Laughter) I want a big one! (Laughter) So I can tell others with small ones
that size doesn’t matter. (Laughter) (Applause) Like I said before, I want to measure up
before I tell others it’s okay not to. As if to say, “It’s okay
if you don’t have what it takes. I’ve got enough of what it takes
for both of us.” So as I measured myself,
as many of you men will do tonight, (Laughter) it dawned on me
that if I was bigger than average, I wouldn’t have to accept myself
even if I didn’t measure up. I was going to miss out
on that opportunity. But if I was smaller than average,
I was going to have to accept myself, even though I didn’t measure up. So at only 9 inches long,
I’m below average in penis size. (Laughter) What? Why are you laughing? I’m not really 9 inches,
but I am below average. At this point you might want
some concrete answers. (Laughter) By the say, I’ll be at the after party
and yes, you do want to party with me. (Cheers) (Applause) I’m sure you have questions like
“Who are we? Why are we so valuable? Why is this guy still talking
about his penis?” (Laughter) But I’m not offering my answers. I’m offering you an invitation
to discover your own. This idea worth spreading isn’t an answer
to be consumed and discarded. I don’t want to explain your value to you. I want you to experience it for yourself. It’s the only way this works. If you want to find your true self,
you have to set your false self on fire. I can’t do it for you. I can only lead the way
by lighting myself on fire first. I’m inviting you to dive inward
instead of outward, to find intrinsic worth
instead of external affirmation. I’m welcoming you
into your inherent enough-ness to discover a self-worth
that connects us all together, and a profound sense of sameness, without discrediting
our incredibly uniqueness. Because we’re all incredibly unique
and special, just like everybody else. If being unique and special
just like everybody else sounds absurd and it pisses you off,
you’re on the right track; it pisses me off too. When you realize this isn’t something
you can earn or achieve, your inner earner and achiever
is going to get upset. But the part of you that knows
you can’t stay on top forever is going to be able to breathe again. With great resistance comes great relief. My idea worth spreading is that we’re lucky
when we don’t measure up, when we don’t fit in,
and don’t have what it takes, because then we have a chance
to uncover who we really are. It’s our weakness and failures
that show us how perfectly we fit in, when we refuse to measure
our self-worth and sense of belonging against the poisonous paradigm
of earning, achieving, and fitting in. Sometimes, if you want to find out
who you really are, you have to get clear on who you aren’t. We are human beings, not human doings. So if your boobs are too small
or your butt is too big, your butt is too small
and your boobs too big, whatever society is telling you
isn’t enough about you, you’re welcome to explore
what it really means to be enough. If some idiot says,
“You have a small penis!” or, “Your freaking hair
is falling out for no reason!” or if people think you’re a weirdo
for being too honest in your talk today, (Laughter) consider it a personalized, handmade,
engraved invitation to finally be free. You’ve hit the jackpot
when you are at the end of your rope, hitting rock bottom
with nothing left to lose. Because it’s only when you’ve lost it all,
that you can see how much you really have and how valuable and enough
you’ve been all along. We’re lovable, we are acceptable,
and we are enough just as we are, not as we should be. That is an idea worth spreading. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheers)


22 thoughts on “The Gift of Inadequacy: Taylor Gahm at TEDxHouston 2013

  1. Great, thought-provoking content. Thanks for sharing. (Would have more impact without constant pacing. Very distracting I thought, and made the audio fade in and out.)

  2. In this world you don't see who people for who they TRULY are very often and its an understatement to say its refreshing when someone is truly genuine about there flaws and its to say the least the most respectable thing you can do.

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