From White Habit to Grey Hoodie

A few weeks ago when I hopped back into what I hoped would be a regular, consistent blogging practice, I began with a post Quick Notes Saved for Later where I briefly recapped ideas I’d had that never became full blogs. [Of course, I’ve missed a few weeks now – maybe a month – but I’m still eager to get back into the regular swing of things.]

One of the topics from those notes that I didn’t include was, “Why I’d wear a grey hoodie if I ever presented a TED talk.”

I’ve wanted to do a TED talk for many years – about one thing or another. Mostly because I’ve always enjoyed public speaking. And I think I have some “stuff” worth saying.

And to be honest, for years I had two secret wishes: to write a great American novel and to be a nationally known speaker. Notice – I said a wish – not a goal. And while I’ve spoken at professional webinars to hundreds and thousands of nonprofit fundraisers across the country, I wouldn’t say I’m nationally known by any stretch of the imagination. And now, my wish is no longer secret!

Over the years I’ve spoken to crowds in the hundreds – and even thousands. In fact, simply speaking to our high school students in Hong Kong meant I spoke (and even led the singing) before over 1200 students at each morning assembly.

One of my favorite stories from life as a missionary in Hong Kong was when I was asked to give a “vocation talk” at four Sunday masses at a church on the other side of the island. I was a young (late-20s) American Catholic nun, who’d been in Hong Kong about 5 years by this time. This wasn’t my first time speaking in a crowd – but it was one of the first where I was expected to speak in Cantonese before hundreds of total strangers. I’d already completed several theology courses in Cantonese – so my vocabulary was sufficient even if my pronunciation was less than perfect.

Of course, I prepared diligently. As the morning progressed, with each talk, I became more comfortable.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

I’d completed my four talks and thought I’d be free to go – until the pastor approached me with, “Okay, the next mass is in English – are you ready?”

I froze. I hadn’t prepared to speak before an English crowd that day. Yes, my native language is English – but I’d been thinking about the topic in Cantonese for weeks. And I’d just delivered the same talk FOUR times in Cantonese. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off in English with just minutes to prepare.

When the moment arrived, I stood before the microphone and began – only to find myself frequently stumbling for the right English words! Thankfully, I could explain my conundrum to the congregation, and we all had a good chuckle.

Alas, I digress.

I was talking about doing a TED talk and why I’d wear a grey hoodie. I certainly wasn’t in a grey hoodie that day (I was in a white habit).

But today, today I had my chance – not to deliver a TED talk but to videotape a pitch to be included in an upcoming TEDx conference. I wore a grey hoodie – and offered an alternate subtitle of “WHY I’m wearing a grey hoodie to give this talk!” And my pitch for “Resisting the Myth of Professionalism” was accepted!

I’m not offering any spoilers here just yet – and I’m not sure when this talk will officially be on air – but I’m excited for the opportunity and will keep you all posted. Hopefully, I’ll write a future blog about why I WORE a hoodie to deliver a TEDx talk.


  1. That’s fantastic Janet! I had no idea you were such a prolific public speaker (and in Cantonese too!) I look forward to seeing the link to you presentation when the time comes. If I ever gave a TED talk I’d want to be in an outfit that made me feel comfortably chic – because every speaker’s outfit is critiqued nearly as much as their talk is! Wearing a grey hoodie definitely defuses that 🙂


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