How to Discover Your Authentic Self — at Any Age | Bevy Smith | TED

I am a late bloomer. In fact, a friend of mine
you may have heard of — Chris Rock — he once called me the most
late-blooming mofo he’d ever met. (Laughter) Now, some people
might consider that snide, but I revel in it. I’m 55, and I’m here in this curvy body
as someone who has done the work, lived the life walked the walk
in these very high heels — (Laughter) and therefore is qualified
to testify in the church and in the court of law that it does, in fact, get greater later. (Applause and cheers) Now coming to this
realization wasn’t easy. At the age of 38, I was a very successful
fashion advertising executive, and I was really living
what most people considered a dream life. I was jet-setting to fashion shows; I was receiving free designer clothes; I was double-kissing
my way across the globe. (Laughter) I was. And, you know, it was everything
that I ever wanted it to be, and then one day I realized
I was only pretending to be happy.

But I couldn’t blow up my good life
in my prime earning years, right? Wrong. Which leads me to lessons
my mother Lolly taught me. Lolly’s number one lesson: don’t settle. Don’t settle. Now I’m aware that my
well-paying, glamorous career is not exactly the humdrum,
“I hate my job” stereotype that most people equate with settling. But it was a settle for me, because when I actually did
quit my job at the age of 38, it was with the intention
that every day be a great adventure. Now sometimes it was
a very scary adventure, like being broke from the age of 40 to 45. But even still, I wouldn’t trade that
for the safe and settled version, because if I had, I would not
be here with y’all today. (Applause and cheers) Yeah. So you know how when you like,
buck the system and go against the status quo, it makes people really uncomfortable? And invariably, people will ask, “Where do you get your confidence?” (Laughter) Now some people mean it as a compliment, but very often it’s shady …

(Laughter) and it's a silent judgment. And to those people, I respond with a quote from this Brooklyn
poet you may have heard of, Jay-Z. (Laughter) “She get it from her mama.” I am she, and my mama is the epitome
of a grown-ass woman: someone who has always
been very comfortable in her skin. In 1965, my mom was 37 years old. She already had one child, my big brother, Gerry, and she married my dad,
but she kept her maiden name. And then she had my sister
Stephanie and I back-to-back, but she continued to work because she refused to be
beholden to my dad for money. And I bet my mom was the only woman
in our neighborhood who cooked once a week. She made Sunday dinner. It was an extravaganza, but that’s all she did. She cooked one day a week. My mom is just amazing. And she also had this ability
of talking to her children about real life and making sure that we understood
the virtues of going your own way, which is why I believe
today at the age of 94, and a recent widow, my mom is still carving out ways to find and determine and define
her own version of happiness.

She cooks for herself. She maintains her home
exactly as she sees fit. She enjoys champagne and R-rated films. (Laughter) (Applause) My mom has managed
to maintain her glamour, her sex appeal, you know, her independence. And I really hope
some of that rubs off on me. You know, recently I’ve been
thinking about one of the best lessons that my mom ever taught me, which is the literal beauty in aging. Now, we all know
that Black don’t crack, right? OK… Black don’t crack. So at the age of 50, my mom could have
easily passed for the age of 35. And you know, that’s back
during the time when people — women were really coy about their age.

“Oh, a lady never tells her age.” My mom never subscribed to that. She was always proud of her age. As a matter of fact, she believes you may not tell your age, but your hands and your neck will. (Laughter) So make peace with aging, or prepare for an entire wardrobe
of gloves and turtlenecks. (Laughter) Yeah, my mom has always done
these wonderful things like that, but I wish she could rub off on everyone because I feel like now I’m looking
at even 20-somethings who have a fear of aging. I watch them on social media, like, you know, compulsively practiclng
the latest 10-second dance craze, and it feels like their angsty and asking, “Is that all there is?” And I just want to yell, “Yes, that is all there is
if all you’re going to do is settle for dancing to someone
else’s TikTok beat!” (Laughter) (Applause and cheers) Settling is very insidious. It keeps us dancing on this string, waiting for this elusive, better day
to miraculously appear.

Now thanks to Lolly’s tutelage,
that’s not my story. In fact, I take each day as it comes but I try to make it better than the last. So, you know, I’m single … but I’m always ready to mingle. (Laughter) I’m an entrepreneur, but I keep multiple revenue streams. I’m a solo traveler, which means I’ve done the sepia version
of “Eat, Pray, Love” on six continents. Because I don’t settle. What that means is that I also
don’t second-guess my decisions, and I’m also not worried about my future because I’m firmly rooted in the present. Settling is a really sinister thing. It will keep you up at night
tossing and turning, trying to figure out why and trying to answer that age-old question
of “Is that all there is?” Personally, I don’t have time for that, because the only time I want to be
kept up all night long tossing and turning is when I’m in the company
of a fine-ass man.

(Laughter) (Applause and cheers) That's it. (Applause) I wish I could tell you guys that I learned all these valuable
lessons from Lolly and they were instilled in me
and it was great, but alas, I am a late bloomer
in all regards. So I had to learn a couple of lessons
from the era of Bitchy Bevy. What kind of person
has 10 assistants in five years? Bitchy Bevy, that’s who. (Laughter) Now I didn’t start out my career
with a toxic attitude. No, initially I was really happy
to be in the fashion industry. You know, but then I began
to compare my trajectory to others, and I also began to feel burned out because I was burdened
by these personas that I had created that were allegedly going to help me
progress in my career. I made a couple of mistakes. One, I thought that being snarky
was a good career move. It wasn’t. I also thought I look good
in the color brown.

I actually don’t. (Laughter) Yeah. (Laughter) And, you know, I just — in my dream montage, I wanted to get away from Bitchy Bevy. I wanted to get away from the color brown. And so in the movie version of my life, as soon as I quit my job, I’m a yoga guru. I’m extremely limber and very happy. Come to think of it though, guys, I’m actually limber and happy right now. But I would be lying — and I believe it is against
international law to lie during a TED Talk — (Laughter) so I’m not going to do that. And as a matter of fact, my insecurities
popped back up as late as last year. I was minding my business,
as one does, perusing social media, and I saw people excelling in a space where I, you know,
traditionally had a lot of success. So I’m looking at it and I’m like, “Well, why the hell
they ain’t call me for that job?” And I have this, like, angst, and then I realize
they didn’t call me for that job because you already said
you didn’t want that job.

You told the universe
you weren’t into working like that. You don’t want a job — I really don’t. (Laughter) I’m not into it. So… that’s why it happened. And what I realize is that intellectually
I had grown and evolved, but emotionally … I was Tom Petty and I was living in “Petticoat Junction.” (Laughter) I told y’all that brown
doesn’t look good on me; petty looks even worse. It’s not my shade. And so what I wound up
having to do was really get a grip. I had to assess a few things about myself, and I decided to do
a little self-help ritual called … “Take a note, give a note.” It’s easy. When you see someone having something
that you believe you deserve, you take a note. You ask yourself a few questions. Is it something that you really want? Perhaps that person is better suited
than you are for that.

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Does the universe — is the universe conspiring
for you to have that? Really kind of try and be honest
with who you are and where you’re at in life. Once you do that, you take
a deep breath — (Inhales) and you say, “Their wins
have nothing to do with my worthiness.” And then you’re ready to give a note. You go on social media, and you say congratulations.

Or my personal favorite, you pick up the phone,
like it’s the 20th century, and you say, “Congratulations, kudos, you did that, Al! You go, girl!” You do all the things. Instantly you feel
like a better human being because you have actually extended grace. You’ve extended grace. You’ve extended grace to someone else. And I believe that when you remove
malice from your heart, not only do you feel better,
you look better. I think you lose your frown lines
and your wrinkles lessen and your age spots disappear. I believe it’s better than Botox, extending grace. I do. (Applause) Yeah. No, but let me get back
to the note thing.

So one of my favorite notes
is from Willie Shakespeare. “To thine own self be true.” Now we’ve all read self-help books, and the first line of defense
is always “Be your most authentic self.” And I believe in that. I believe that nobody can be you but you, so you might as well show up and show out. But here’s the quandary
that the bard never put forth. What if you don’t really know who you are
because you suppressed your inner self? You’ve suppressed the core of you. You’ve suppressed the best parts of you because you took on these other
identities and these personas in an effort to make your life better. Because, you know, we all
buy into some things about what we’re supposed to be doing
and who we’re supposed to be. So what if you squelch that? Because I know I had to excavate
to dig up a Little Brown Bevy.

But the way I found her
was with three questions. Who am I at my core? How am I being perceived? How would I like to be perceived? Who am I at my core? At my core I’m looking
to authentically connect with people. I don't like a cursory,
you know, interaction, and I do not believe in networking. I like an authentic connection. I’m also curious and I’m adventurous and I’m kind and I’ve got big dreams. How am I being perceived? Well, y’all know
the nickname, Bitchy Bevy … so, duh. But here’s the problem. There’s a lot of power in that persona, and I actually really enjoyed it
for a time, you know, because you can make
a lot of money being a bitch, especially in fashion. (Laughter) But it’s also incredibly
lonely and isolating, and I didn’t want to live
that life anymore. And so I decided to change my life. And I left all of that alone. I really did, like, just change my spirit.

And leaving fashion obviously helped. And when I did that, all of a sudden, I let
Little Brown Bevy out to play. Little Brown Bevy. I love her so much. Little Brown Bevy is a nerdy girl, and so I let my nerdy pursuits
come out to play. I must have joined every museum
on Museum Mile in New York City. I began to travel the world just to look at architecture
I had always dreamed of. I learned how to be alone
without being lonely. My spirit shifted. I became a better person. You can ask people — I became a better person. And now I get to stand here
in front of you guys with no bravado, with nothing to prove, I tell you, with nothing to prove.

I’m not trying to prove nothing to y’all. (Laughter) (Applause) (Cheers and applause) Thank you. (Applause and cheers) I have an open heart. And I can’t even believe that Little Brown Bevy
from 150th Street and Eighth Avenue, from the hamlet of Harlem, is now an award-winning radio and TV host, an author, an actress, a creative consultant. I would do all those things for free. But here’s the thing. I ain’t cheap,
and I’m definitely not free, so don't get any ideas. (Laughter) (Applause) But I am here in this
“Mama I made it” moment as someone who can show up
as her most Bevyest self because I’ve done the work. Yeah, my most Bevyest self.

So, you know, I’m going to show up — some of you’ve met me — you know I’m vibrant
and boisterous, AKA loud. OK, you know that I’m going to show up, and I’ve got a pep in my high heel,
red-bottom step. I do have heaving cleavage. (Laughter) And I’ve got a tell-it-like-it-is
approach to life that’s always dosed with a ladle of love.

It took me 55 years to get here. So, Chris Rock, you’re right. I’m a late bloomer. And that’s OK. Because I’m right on time, Because it gets greater later. Thank you. (Applause and cheers).

As found on YouTube

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