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Feel the fear and do it anyway... TEDx

TEDx Talk "I am not a ROBOT!"

Last Saturday as I was standing waiting to go on stage and do my TEDx talk I thought: "I cannot do this, I need to leave right now…" Panic was rising and it was an awful feeling. I've only ever had one panic attack that I can remember and that was when chased by a mommy rhino in South Africa (but that's another story).

I knew my speech inside out, we'd had two formal rehearsals that week but still this crushing fear took over. This was different in that I couldn’t do the fight, flight or freeze - our normal responses when we feel unsafe. I had to consciously work my way through it. I've presented to CEOs and board members, run group workshops and stood up and given a speech, a month or so ago, to 150 student at ENAC (National School of Civil Aviation) - and never a problem. Why now was I having this reaction?

The backstage assistants, both a decade or two younger than myself, encouraged me to ‘breathe’ – a technique I use with my clients! I thought: 'I can't, I need to leave NOW!'

I have to say they were both marvellous.

Then it was my turn to go on stage – stand on the small circular red carpet, face the audience, the lights beaming down, be filmed - and the scary part - remember my speech. I could feel my left leg shaking so I did the ‘warrior stance’ to steady myself. I could hear my voice quivering however I did it, well most of it. I am proud that I faced my fear.

I am not a ROBOT… by Irena-Marie Makowska

"I grew up in South Africa – it was the place where I learnt to be connected – being in the wilderness, the vast expanse, surrounded by mountains, ravines and wildlife... I felt so alive.

It was a place where I also learnt about people – hope and despair, compassion and loss, vulnerability and prejudice. Most of all I understood what it felt to be really present in the moment. I learnt about me.

I see our world now as so disconnected – from ourselves, our environment and each other. And here we are at the forefront of a technological revolution – robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). What does this mean to us, our work, our future? We’ve created a machine with partial intelligence that way surpasses our human academic intelligence; it sees more efficiently, it hears more efficiently and it makes decisions more efficiently.

AI is taking over our minds, not just our jobs. It’s addictive – and I do not use the term lightly as it really does interfere with our neural pathways in the brain – it creates psychological cravings and physical side-effects.

What will we do when robots have taken our jobs? Because it’s inevitable on a pretty large scale. Work gives our life meaning. Work is our key drivers of well-being, social status, relationships, identity, financial security, daily structure and goals… I know for myself, my work is a fundamental part of who I am.

Deloitte University, a renown leadership centre in the US, carried out a survey with 800 top business executives. 67% believed that technology will drive greater value than human capital – I get that - however 64% believed people are a cost NOT a driver of value. Now can you imagine going to work and interacting with robots and artificial intelligence? How your body language would change over time. Who will you moan to about the boss, or laugh with and share human moments?

Microsoft’s Future Proof Yourself report suggests: “65% of today’s school students will be doing jobs that don’t exist yet.” So as teachers, parents, coaches how are we encouraging them to differentiate – to discover who they really are – their core values? To feel self confident, to develop empathy, to use their intuition, be compassionate – that imagination is more valuable than knowledge?

We are not ROBOTS – we breathe, we feel, we dream. The more we humanise robots – the more we dehumanise society and ourselves.

We need to go back to basics of what it means to be human and from there we can discover our full potential, what makes us thrive. If we do not understand our passions, our weaknesses, we will not be able to maintain our mental, emotional and physical well-being because we won’t know who we are.

Now more than ever we need these skills in life, in schools, in businesses. Things like creativity, imagination, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, emotional intelligence – how we connect and emphasise with one another, how we interact, our goals and values, resilience, self knowledge and self acceptance… who we are.

Recently I was involved as a coach at an engineering school here in Toulouse – it was a project on Leadership and Self Awareness. The students were in their early 20’s. At the beginning of the programme they really couldn’t see the value of knowing about themselves and thought ‘we're engineers why do we need to know about self awareness, it's all a bit fluffy!’ ​Over the weeks they realised that to be a leader - whether its of yourself or a group - you need to know the inner you, be able to identify with others, be compassionate, how to communicate and motivate others...

When I think about my qualities I believe resilience is my strongest quality – I’ve picked myself up and dusted myself down – a term my Mom used – so many times I know that one way or another I’ll be ok. For example when I returned to South Africa in 2001, I was involved in a hijacking/carjacking – I was physically hurt, extremely frightened and an emotional mess. I went back to the UK to be with my parents, abandoning my business. I cried a lot and slowly with the empathy of my fellow being, I then picked myself up and dusted myself down and started all over again.

My imagination and intuition keeps me focused and client centred, skills I need for my work. It’s me acknowledging who I am – all the good bits and the not so good bits.

So how do we know if we’re self aware of ourselves and emotionally aware of others? It’s when we stand up to bullies to protect someone else because we feel their pain; it’s when we recognise that being perfect is impossible because we’re human, gloriously human. It’s when we can lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by – without needing our mobile or some app to help us meditate.

Working as a mind management coach I see anxiety and depression increasing, I see young kids, teenagers, executives in their 50’s battling each day because they haven’t had the opportunity to learn about themselves, to understand their strengths and weaknesses and to not fear when things go wrong.

By being free thinkers, being true to ourselves and vulnerable, by being connectedthis is what makes us human – we are not robots”

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