Merry Neitlich ice skating

Finding Your Edge – The Ted Talk

Back in 1990, author Deborah Tannen published her first bestseller, “You Just Don’t Understand” and I’ve been inspired by Ms. Tannen ever since. This breakthrough book was on the NY Times best seller list for almost four years and was among the first blockbuster books on men’s and women’s communication.

Over the years, I’ve used the myriad of examples from this particular book while training attorneys in gender awareness conversations. One story in particular has stayed with me over the years. Dr. Tannen was consulting in a large corporation meeting with its CEO. There was a knock on his door and the senior VP of HR, Susan, entered his office to inform him that they had finally had to fire an employee, Tom. They tried to remediate and train Tom, but he would not change his behaviors. Susan told the CEO she was sorry. After Susan left, Deborah Tannen asked him what her apology meant. He replied, “Oh, she was apologizing for failing.”

Later that day Dr. Tannen asked Susan what she meant by her comment. Susan responded, “Oh, we all felt so sorry we couldn’t correct the behaviors Tom was exhibiting. We tried to remediate the situation and provided him with quite a bit of training but he just wouldn’t change. My apology statement simply meant that we were sorry we that we had to terminate him as he is basically a nice man with a wife and two small children.”

Eye opening how the two of them perceived the exact same comment, right? But probably not all that surprising to most of us. Hopefully we’ve moved the needle a bit since 1990.

I continue to use Dr. Tannen’s books almost thirty years later in my work as a law firm marketing consultant as the lessons are invaluable. From time to time I get asked how I wound up becoming a law firm marketing consultant so long ago. It’s a simple story, really. When I was ten years old, I went to my parents one morning and said, “When I grow up, I want to become a law firm marketing consultant”, said no one EVER! LOL

But actually, what really did happen to me when I was young was that I had to figure out and find my edge, which I did over time. It’s part of the reason I fell in love with figure skating at the age of six.

Gliding over the ice, jumping and spinning simply delighted and inspired me. But unfortunately, growing up in a world class dysfunctional family with not one, but two alcoholic parents ended that joy by the time I was twelve. Let’s just say that if the police had GPS back then, our address would have been on their speed dial!

I struggled with this loss of my love of the ice but gradually learned that something good could come out of that loss. I had to learn to accept that if I wanted something done, I would have to do it myself. I developed great coping skills like staying focused, reducing friction (peace at all costs), listening for subtle sea changes, getting it right, and oh, trying to be likable as on some level I felt responsible for what was going on at home. I was running constantly while learning these valuable life lessons though. By the time I turned fifteen, I may have been ready for my first law firm marketing job. I mean I had acquired some great skills!

Somewhere along the way, those lessons learned started to inspire rather than drag me down. I discovered how to conquer challenges. I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed helping others.

Maybe some of the kids in my class thought I was being pushy when I went over to their desks and told them what to do, but to me, I was just focused on helping them achieve their goals. Oh, misguided energy!

As I grew, well, well, I was not popular in high school, at all. I was a late bloomer and even at seventeen, I looked more like I was fourteen. It was horrible. I had this pipe dream that if I could just become a cheerleader, I would be eternally happy. I missed the squad as a junior but throughout that entire year, I literally practiced in front of my bedroom mirror every day. I visualized myself cheering at football games in my senior year. The joy I experienced when my name was finally announced as having made the squad taught me such a valuable lesson. It more than reinforced the notion that if I wanted something badly enough, I had to make it happen myself. And one of the best parts of this experience was helping another friend who also struggled to make the squad. But she made it too and we helped each other stay inspired throughout that whole year.

This was a turning point in my life, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I internalized the notion that I could find joy in pursuing goals and helping others achieve theirs along the way. Inspiration became my “why message” which has stayed with me throughout my life and invigorates me daily. One of the most watched TedX Talks of all time, given by Simon Sinek, taught us that people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.

And I realized my why was inspiring others. Along the way I replaced running on empty with a productive and balanced life filled with energy and a lot of joy. Of course, there were years of introspection, Alanon and lots of therapy involved too!

I took this passion of inspiring others into my career and continue to be motivated by helping to enthuse others. When a practice group lands a major client, or a marketing team I have been working with successfully helps its partners engage clients in conversations about creating better innovation and legal operations, well, that is just inspirational.

Moving ahead with my story, when I was in my forties, a skating rink opened in my home town. Something motivated me to buy skates and I started to take a few lessons. Before I knew it, I started to train for competitions.

Over the past 17 years I have had great fun and achieved some wonderful successes. And this year, I am proud to say I am the reigning national champion in my age group – you know – the mature women’s group! I applied my focused behavior of “getting it done”, to my training. For me, skating is pure joy and it drives me daily.

So, what have I learned from all of this? Well, it turns out there are many blessings we can experience in life including being raised by imperfect parents who did their best, learning to share our lives with a partner no more flawed than we are, and to count on a few friends who understand and accept us for who we truly are. Along the way I learned that one of the most beautiful and freeing things we can do in life is to forgive a wrong. These are life’s blessings. We should not forget to count them.

Every one of us has had to overcome challenges in our lives. We all know it was not just me! But I also know that everyone has a gift, a talent, a place in which they find inspiration. And don’t most of us feel our best when we have helped to inspire a win for a client, a co-worker, for friends or family? So, what is your gift? Your why message? What is your cause? What gets you out of bed each morning other than a paycheck and perhaps some strong coffee?


I challenge you to Find Your Edge, hone your gifts. I promise you it’s there. Finding and continuing to refine your talents is your edge in life. This will not only continue to inspire you, but it will help you to inspire others along the way. After all, finding that edge is all about inspiration.

I believe this quote from C.S. Lewis sums things up very well, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”