T x Aspire Women’s Conference

Last week, after sharing the challenges I’ve had previously with public speaking, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on risk, reward and decision-making to a 400+ strong audience of incredible women.

When I was invited to speak, I said yes even though I had no idea what I would possibly say. I mean, what could this 21 year old, Kenyan, Students’ Union representative tell a group of highly accomplished women about risk?! I’m the type of person who will accept to do something even when I feel inadequate at the time. I take the challenge because I know it’s an opportunity to learn something new and grow.

I reflected on my own experiences and realised that there was something to share with fellow women, even where our paths were completely different.

I was worried that I would speak and ramble too much. So I found a way to ensure I delivered everything I wanted to say- I wrote my points down, exactly as I wanted to say them. That’s what worked for me. When I got scared, I had to remind myself- I have something unique to offer this audience.

Here is what I shared:

My name is Tessy and I’m so excited to be here with you all today!

Risk is scary. Risk elevates you to the next level of your life. Risk is what enables you to reach your full potential. Risk may even become a defining moment in your life, as it has been for me.

Last year I took a risk and put myself forward to be elected as the Diversity Officer of my Students’ Union. The position is on the highest board of the Students’ Union. It involves representation of students, high levels of financial and project responsibility and an opportunity to work with the university and learn skills like negotiation, activism and teamwork. For a 21 year old like me, the opportunity presented was invaluable.

As I made the decision on whether I should do it, I asked myself.. What do I have to lose? And the first thing that came to mind was ‘What if I put myself forward and I don’t win, people will laugh at me and think, who did she think she was thinking she could be voted in?!‘.. And as I was reflecting on that, I remembered a quote by Theodore Roosevelt which says that “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out where others stumble or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.. the credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.” The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena. The people on the sidelines, laughing, mocking or ridiculing you as you step in to the arena to take a risk, don’t matter. It’s really none of your business what other people think of you.

And with that it became apparent to me that taking this risk meant I could only win- if I lost the election, I would have gained the experience and skills from running a campaign- persuading people to vote for me, marketing my brand and maintaining visibility across campus, speaking in public etc; if I won the election, I would obviously have the position.

I won the election. But that experience was beyond just winning the position. In fact, when people ask me what my greatest achievement in life is- I say it’s when I put myself forward for election. Not winning- putting myself forward was the win.

And that’s because it taught me everything I now know about taking risk. Taking risk is putting yourself out there. And putting yourself out there is making a conscious decision to take your life a step forward. That’s what risk is- taking your life forward.

That one moment of taking risk has opened the floodgates of risk-taking in my life. It’s made me fearless. Never a failure or loss- always a lesson learnt.

I want you to remember a few things from my story:

1. People like to be ready before they take risks but if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never move because you can never be truly ready. As has been said before, feel the fear, do it anyway.

2. Change the frame of reference- risk doesn’t enable you to reach reward. Risk is reward. When you start to see the benefits afforded to you when you put yourself forward, you’ll start to see that risk can only take you forward.

3. Comfort zones are the enemies of progress. I came to the UK as an international student 4 years ago to study Law. I could easily and comfortably have done my degree and not been concerned with developing other skills. After all, that’s the minimum my parents expected of me. But it’s important as you sit in your offices and classes, that you broaden your horizon and think about what you could do to take your life forward.

4. I don’t think you can talk about risk without speaking about courage. They feed into each other. Courage enables risk. Love and support enables courage. So surround yourself with the people who make you feel capable. And most importantly, believe that you are worthy, so that even if you miss out on what you’re trying to achieve, you have the wisdom to know that it doesn’t define you and can swiftly move on.

5. Taking risk fulfills you. It makes you feel alive because your life is not stagnant, you’re making moves and constantly growing.

Always remember- opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor. This is the message I’m trying to send out to young people in Kenya through an organisation I founded called The Arena which has the vision of empowering young people to realise their potential early in life.

I wish you all the best, and may you open the floodgates of risk-taking in your life.

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I had such a great time! Run towards your fears- they will diminish right before your eyes.

I look forward to more speaking engagements!


© Tessy Maritim