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99U Conference

Google’s Tea Uglow: How to Share Something About Yourself that You’ve Never Told Anyone

The 2018 99U Conference theme is about overcoming creative challenges, so we’re asking our speakers to reflect on a pivotal pressure-cooker moment and share how they navigated it.

Tea Uglow works on a range of projects enabling artists, writers, and performers to use digital tools to fuel their artistic practice. Her output includes seven books, 17 websites, six apps, a feature film, three plays, two concerts, four museum exhibits, and some teddy bears that talk. Uglow, the Creative Director of Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney, will be speaking at the 10th Annual 99U Conference taking place May 9-11 in New York City. Since our 2018 conference is all about overcoming creative challenges, we asked Uglow to reflect on a moment when she faced a tough decision and how she pushed through.

“Doesn’t everyone find life to be daunting? I find life completely terrifying. I am sure there are professionally daunting prospects, but most of my real challenges have been being myself; finding myself, growing into myself, growing out of old selves, closing chapters, turning pages, starting fresh.

Overcoming my denial about my sexuality, my gender dysphoria, and face blindness have been  a 40-year-long program of assembly, delusion, disassembly and reconstruction. The singular most daunting part of that is: how do you communicate to everyone a truth about yourself that you’ve never told anyone? Not a lover, not a therapist, not even a pet.

The whole ‘project’ ultimately became the consolidation of everything I never wanted to admit, unpacked into a series of open letters. It wasn’t an act of bravery. It was an act of obligation, to myself and the people around me who I desperately wanted on the journey: my creative team, my colleagues, my professional collaborators and my friends.

I wrote 350,000 words during the first two years of my transition. Most of it was garbage. Three thousand words made it to my first open letter—a coming out letter. Two further letters followed.

I’ve learned that letters are a far better way to share information than blog-posts or social media. They scale way better than trying to tell everyone.

I learned that the internet is fickle.

I have learned never to read the comments.

I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s useful to insist people ask ‘How are you today?’ rather than ‘How are you?’

I’ve learned that people do want to hear from you, your story. I’ve learned never to trust a newspaper sub-editor. I’ve learned the average time-to-burn-out for a truly supportive friend (about 6 months). I’ve learned what a mess clothes sizing is for women, and how broken or under-acknowledged many female-oriented systems and models are. I’ve learned to love getting my nails done, and to take a certain pleasure in being occasionally objectified. I learned how to use Tinder. I learned loads of stuff.

I’ve mainly learned that however much you think you know yourself, your mind, your beliefs, or your history, that the world can flip on a dime. And you cannot even try to be ready for it. But you shouldn’t try to stop it when it does. I’ve learned that the human mind is incredibly powerful, and incredibly fragile and that you should look after it. Exercise it, support it, nurture it, love it.”

See Tea Uglow  along with more creative leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists, at the 10th Annual 99U Conference.

More Posts by Emily Ludolph

Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer. 

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