A speechwriter’s reflection on “3D Public Servants: The Courage to Be Human”

"You can't talk about vulnerability without a willingness to be vulnerable yourself. And this speech required so much of it, from both of us."

I quit my job and moved across the country for this speech.

It started out with a question I saw written on a white board during my final interview at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: Can leaders be vulnerable and strong? When I asked about it, the Bank’s new President & CEO, Mary C. Daly, said she wanted to give a talk on the topic. And I knew right then that I had to be a part of it.

It took about six months for us to find the right venue for what we shorthand called “the vulnerability speech.” We’d just come off a successful event at Aspen Ideas Festival, so when I suggested we pitch SXSW, it didn’t seem like such a crazy idea. This didn’t make our eventual session acceptance any less sweet.

With the event booked for March, we started planning in November. Our first meeting was at Mary’s house – a small group gathered around a dining table with big sheets of blank white paper. We debated questions like: Why do we love stories? What makes a person who they are? What are the qualities we all share? What’s at the root of our divisions? What do we expect from leaders? What do we expect from ourselves?

In the months that followed, these conversations continued outside the Christmas markets of Frankfurt, in the back of an RV driving through the Arizona desert, on a train ride between Belfast and Dublin. We worked through enough ideas for ten talks. But we kept pushing, kept interrogating ourselves. We’d ask: Is this fully honest? Is this fully real? If not – keep digging.

The “queasy” feeling Mary describes in the opening of the speech became our literal gut check. We knew it intuitively – you can’t talk about vulnerability without a willingness to be vulnerable yourself. And this speech required so much of it, from both of us.

I remember finishing what became the breakthrough draft on a Sunday morning, sitting on my bed with tears in my eyes. I felt sick – like I’d uncovered something sensitive and raw that might not be ready for the harshness of the world. But I knew it was honest. I knew it was real.

When SXSW got canceled, the heartache that followed was also very real. But Mary and I agreed that, even if no one ever heard what we worked on, all of the effort was worth it. Writing this talk changed each of us for the better. It forced us to define an idea we’d both felt and tried to capture for a long time. It gave us words to live by.

And for that, I am grateful. I’m grateful I get to work with a leader who is brave enough to deliver this kind of message. And I’m grateful we’re finally able to share it with the world.

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