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  • I'm going to take you back to a day in 1995, December 5th.

  • I hadn't even graduated from college yet,

  • but somehow I found myself standing in the vestibule of a church,

  • with my arm looped around my father's.

  • and I was wearing the dress of my dreams.

  • It was this silken fairy tale,

  • with a train that stretched out 5 feet behind me.

  • And it was all held together by this curious combination

  • of tape, corset and pantyhose, and a petticoat

  • that would pretty much make any junction jealous.

  • And for the first time in my life

  • I felt like a princess.

  • The music started and I started to see my bridesmaids

  • peel down the alley, one by one,

  • and I froze.

  • I turned to my dad and I said:

  • Dad, I'm not sure I want to do this.

  • Have you ever been afraid of what people might think

  • about a decision you have to make?

  • (Laughter)

  • A decision that could potentially be very unpopular.

  • And unpopular, that's a pretty ominous word, in and of itself.

  • But is it the horrible thing that my formative years

  • would have me to believe, or is it the one thing

  • that could bring me more joy than I could ever imagine?

  • Well, today I'm OK with unpopular,

  • even though some people lump it together with another "UN" word,

  • which is Unlikeable.

  • But I maintain that there is a difference.

  • See, in my life, and with the branding clients that I work with,

  • being unpopular is about making decisions

  • that honor the two most important audiences we'll ever have:

  • the people who'll love us for everything that we are

  • and everything we're not, and ourselves.

  • Now, the unlikeable people, they seem to think

  • that it's all about them, and they forget that

  • those people are the reason that they get

  • to get up everyday and do what it is that they love.

  • So that is why I am a stark raving maniacal fan of unpopular.

  • Love me, hate me, just don't be indifferent,

  • because to me indifference is like looking ...

  • at this!

  • (Laughter)

  • It's confusing,

  • (Laughter)

  • you're not really sure what it is that you're seeing,

  • and you'd kind of like to forget you'd seen it

  • as quickly as possible.

  • Thank you, Sarah Palin.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • See, we spend our lives trying to build ourselves

  • into something that other people think that we should be,

  • when, in fact, we should be spending our time

  • trying to actively polarize our audience.

  • Give them tools to help them know whether or not

  • they should love us, and give it early and give it often.

  • Because that's when we stop wasting time,

  • both ours and everyone else's.

  • So how do we get there?

  • How do we stop wasting time and start rethinking unpopular,

  • to make our lives and the lives of other people around us better.

  • For my life it came down to two simple things:

  • One, I had to stop apologizing

  • and two, I had to start being honest.

  • Let's start with honesty.

  • "I wish I had more people in my life who would lie to me",

  • said no one, ever.

  • (Laughter)

  • Yet, from a very early age we are taught to turn down

  • that honesty knob and turn up the one on polite.

  • And it's no wonder that by the time we get to be adults

  • we can't honestly tell anyone around us who we are,

  • what we love and what we're feeling.

  • Now, what I've been working on is turning honesty back up

  • and kicking polite to the curb, which is where I think

  • it belongs, most of the time.

  • But let's talk about, and be honest about

  • the act of being honest for a minute.

  • Because the reality is that there is a pretty fine line

  • between being honest in our desire, and people thinking

  • we are straight up batshit crazy.

  • Case in point: earlier this year I was on a date

  • with a man who asked me if children were

  • something I needed in my life, in order to feel complete,

  • and what I heard coming out of my mouth was:

  • Oh, you know, I'm 39, I know the statistics,

  • and you know what, if kids happen they happen,

  • when my inner monologue is saying:

  • I am 39 years old and my ovaries are screaming,

  • like The Silence of the Lambs.

  • And what I would appreciate is if you could

  • get me knocked up by Christmas.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, over here we have a totally failed attempt at being honest,

  • and over here we have batshit crazy.

  • But there's got to be something in the middle.

  • And what I propose is what I call the "blanket fort solution".

  • See, when I was a kid my brother and I

  • were huge fans of building forts.

  • I mean, the minute my mom left for work in the summer,

  • we were downstairs deconstructing every piece of furniture that there was,

  • I'd dump out the linen closet,

  • and in 30 minutes flat we had a colossal structure

  • complete with TV and Calico Vision console.

  • But we didn't just let anybody into that fort.

  • There was this kid down the street

  • that everytime he came over to our house,

  • he either got us in trouble with our mom somehow, or he broke something.

  • So, you know what? We stopped letting him into the fort.

  • The blanket fort solution is about revisiting trust

  • and what it means to us.

  • And contrary to what Facebook would have us believe,

  • trust, friendships and relationships aren't something

  • that can be awarded with the click of a button.

  • They're something that has to be earned, nurtured,

  • maintained, and over time. So why is it, that as adults we just let

  • any ol' person into our blanket fort?

  • And it's because we're being polite.

  • Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sick of being polite.

  • In 39 years the one thing I have figured out is that

  • not everyone is meant to be my friend, employee, customer or client.

  • An in fact, most people that come through my life

  • aren't meant to stay there for the long term.

  • They are weigh stations.

  • And they come through, they drop off what they're supposed to give me,

  • and then they clean out, leave and head to somebody else's life,

  • which is exactly where they belong.

  • And what I needed to do was take the time to focus

  • on finding more of the right people to bring into my blanket fort.

  • More people who would be just as honest with me

  • as I had just committed to being with them,

  • and I call them front stabbers.

  • (Laughter)

  • Because the people who will go at the back of this building

  • and be honest with me once I am out of earshot,

  • I got plenty of them.

  • And what I needed was those people who would

  • come to my face and tell me how they really felt.

  • Back in 2004 I was dating this lovely man named Dominic.

  • And we were getting ready to go out for the afternoon,

  • so I went into the bedroom, put on my favorite purple skirt,

  • came out, grabbed my handbag, and I'm like:

  • "All right, let's go."

  • He looks at me: "Oh, you are not wearing that skirt.

  • You need to, just go put someting else on."

  • "W-what?! I love this skirt. Are you kidding me?"

  • And he says: "Honey, it makes your ass look like a rectangle."

  • (Laughter)

  • I was like: "Argh", I go into the bedroom and I'm looking in my mirror and I'm like:

  • "Oh my god, my ass is a rectangle."

  • And the funny thing is Dominic never aplogized to me

  • for being honest,

  • and I never felt like I had to ask him to.

  • And that's because you like jalapeno poppers,

  • and you like watching the Jersey Shore,

  • which I can't comprehend and I'm probably going to judge you for.

  • (Laughter)

  • But we all like and dislike things and it starts

  • the day that we come off the boob or bottle,

  • and we spit out our first teaspoon of cream peas onto a bib.

  • We use the words: "Oh, I'm sorry!", like it's some sort of linguistic band-aid

  • that excuses the fact that we are human

  • to other human beings.

  • So tell me this: when are you going to admit

  • that there is something glorious about being you,

  • about the brand that you are building,

  • so that you don't have to wake up every morning

  • and walk on eggshells. And you can look at something

  • that you built because you love it,

  • and it's honest and true to who you are.

  • When I started being honest and I stopped apologizing for it,

  • the universe had a pretty quirky way of letting me know

  • that I was maybe on the right path.

  • Last year was my 20th high school reunion,

  • so I got on a plane and I headed back to Houston, Texas,

  • to celebrate with the Nimitz High School Class of 1991.

  • And I walked in the door, and one of the first people I saw

  • was our class valedictorian who waved, and so I went over and I said hello.

  • And he hugged me and the first thing out of his mouth was:

  • "You know what? You sure do use a lot of f-bombs on Facebook.

  • You should dial that back a little bit."

  • (Laughter)

  • And this is why I love being unpopular,

  • because the class valedictorian? Not my target demographic.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I can guaran-damn-tee you that when I sat down to build a brand

  • that was honest to me about everything I want to achieve

  • I did not envision my brand being friends with him.

  • But you know what? We weren't even really friends in school,

  • but here he was, standing in front of me,

  • ready to tell me what I should and shouldn't be doing.

  • And then it dawned on me.

  • When I started viewing polarization as an asset, instead of a liability,

  • I got to wake up and look around my life everyday

  • and realize that the people who surrounded me

  • were the right ones.

  • That I built something that they loved,

  • and I brought the right people inside my blanket fort.

  • So I want you to think right now.

  • Think about your life, maybe your business,

  • and ask yourself: Who doesn't belong here?

  • And then I want you to grab polarization by the balls,

  • and kindly and unapologetically escort those people out the door.

  • Now, in the spirit of polarization, and because

  • I'm more than just a little bit snarky,

  • I posted the valedictorian's comments on my Facebook page the next day,

  • (Laughter)

  • along with a little graphic.

  • (Laughter)

  • And since we're being honest, and we're not apologizing for it,

  • here's where I think that we need more brands like Chick-fil-A in the market place.

  • Now, it's not because I agree with what they stand for.

  • It's because they're honest and unapologetic for it.

  • And they've told me that if they are a hate-mongering,

  • bigoted purveyor of funny-looking french fries,

  • I can vote with my wallet.

  • Because Chick-fil-A, they're not going to apologize.

  • And me, I'm done apologizing for things that don't require the most sincere of all apologies.

  • And so this brings us back around,

  • this combination of becoming honest and a lack of apology,

  • we bring them together, and it gives us a crucial tool

  • that brings this entire unpopular equation together.

  • It tells us exactly who we want to have standing next to us

  • when life's critical and unpopular decisions arise.

  • So let's go back to that church in 1995 for just a second.

  • Standing there next to my dad:

  • Dad, I'm not sure I want to do this.

  • And he says: Erika, you don't have to.

  • So what I could do is, I could disappoint the sixty people sitting in that church,

  • my pastor, the bridesmaids and my mother who had paid $600

  • for this silken dream that was bound to my body.

  • I could make the unpopular decision and disappoint all of those people.

  • Or I could walk down that aisle and disappoint myself.

  • So what did I choose?

  • I just turned to my dad and I said:

  • Dad, come on, the dress is paid for and the people are here.

  • What am I supposed to do: disappoint them?

  • He just turned to me and he took both of my hands, and he simply said: Yes.

  • My name is Erika Napoletano and I haven't always been,

  • but I'm trying a little harder everyday to be

  • unpopular.

  • (Applause)

I'm going to take you back to a day in 1995, December 5th.

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【TEDx】Rethinking Unpopular: Erika Napoletano at TEDxBoulder 2012

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    li posted on 2013/09/07