TED@UPS

Kate Adams: 4 larger-than-life lessons from soap operas

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Soap operas and telenovelas may be overblown and exaggerated, but as Kate Adams shows us, they often reflect the intensity and drama of real life. As Adams, the former assistant casting director for "As the World Turns" explains, "Soap operas teach us to push away doubt and believe in our capacity for bravery, vulnerability, adaptability and resilience." In this talk she highlights four lessons for life and business that we can take away from melodramas, reminding us, "And most importantly, they show us it's never too late to change your story."

- Digital storyteller
UPS's Kate Adams spends her days dissecting digital communications to find a better way to tell brand stories and connect with customers. Full bio

In 1987, Tina Lord
found herself in quite the pickle.
00:13
See, this gold digger made sure
she married sweet Cord Roberts
00:16
just before he inherited millions.
00:20
But when Cord found out
Tina loved his money
00:22
as much as she loved him,
00:25
he dumped her.
00:26
Cord's mother Maria was thrilled
00:27
until they hooked up again.
00:29
So Maria hired Max Holden to romance Tina
00:31
and then made sure Cord didn't find out
Tina was pregnant with his baby.
00:34
So Tina, still married
but thinking Cord didn't love her
00:37
flew to Argentina with Max.
00:40
Cord finally figured out what was going on
00:42
and rushed after them,
but he was too late.
00:45
Tina had already been kidnapped,
00:48
strapped to a raft
and sent over a waterfall.
00:49
She and her baby were presumed dead.
00:52
Cord was sad for a bit,
00:55
but then he bounced right back
00:58
with a supersmart
archaeologist named Kate,
01:00
and they had a gorgeous wedding
01:03
until Tina, seemingly back from the dead,
ran into the church holding a baby.
01:04
"Stop!" she screamed.
01:09
"Am I too late?
01:11
Cord, I've come so far.
01:12
This is your son."
01:15
And that, ladies and gentlemen,
01:19
is how the soap opera "One Life to Live"
introduced a love story
01:21
that lasted 25 years.
01:24
(Laughter)
01:26
Now, if you've ever seen a soap opera,
01:27
you know the stories and the characters
can be exaggerated, larger than life,
01:29
and if you're a fan,
you find that exaggeration fun,
01:34
and if you're not,
01:38
maybe you find them
melodramatic or unsophisticated.
01:39
Maybe you think watching soap operas
01:42
is a waste of time,
01:44
that their bigness means
their lessons are small or nonexistent.
01:46
But I believe the opposite to be true.
01:50
Soap operas reflect life, just bigger.
01:53
So there are real life lessons
we can learn from soap operas,
01:58
and those lessons
are as big and adventurous
02:01
as any soap opera storyline.
02:04
Now, I've been a fan since I ran home
from the bus stop in second grade
02:07
desperate to catch the end
of Luke and Laura's wedding,
02:11
the biggest moment
in "General Hospital" history.
02:13
(Applause)
02:17
So you can imagine
how much I loved my eight years
02:18
as the assistant casting director
on "As the World Turns."
02:21
My job was watching soap operas,
02:24
reading soap opera scripts
02:26
and auditioning actors
to be on soap operas.
02:28
So I know my stuff.
02:31
(Laughter)
02:33
And yes, soap operas
02:34
are larger than life,
02:37
drama on a grand scale,
02:39
but our lives can be filled
with as much intensity,
02:41
and the stakes can feel just as dramatic.
02:44
We cycle through tragedy and joy
02:48
just like these characters.
02:50
We cross thresholds, fight demons
and find salvation unexpectedly,
02:52
and we do it again and again and again,
02:56
but just like soaps,
we can flip the script,
02:59
which means we can learn
from these characters
03:02
that move like bumblebees,
03:04
looping and swerving through life.
03:06
And we can use those lessons
03:09
to craft our own life stories.
03:11
Soap operas teach us to push away doubt
03:14
and believe in our capacity
03:17
for bravery, vulnerability,
03:20
adaptability and resilience.
03:22
And most importantly, they show us
03:25
it's never too late to change your story.
03:27
So with that, let's start
with soap opera lesson one:
03:31
surrender is not an option.
03:34
(Laughter)
03:36
"All My Children"'s Erica Kane
was daytime's version of Scarlett O'Hara,
03:38
a hyperbolically self-important princess
03:42
who deep down was scrappy and daring.
03:45
Now, in her 41 years on TV,
perhaps Erica's most famous scene
03:49
is her alone in the woods
03:52
suddenly face to face with a grizzly bear.
03:54
She screamed at the bear,
03:57
"You may not do this!
03:59
Do you understand me?
04:01
You may not come near me!
04:02
I am Erica Kane
04:04
and you are a filthy beast!"
04:06
(Laughter)
04:09
And of course the bear left,
04:11
so what that teaches us
04:12
is obstacles are to be expected
04:14
and we can choose to surrender
or we can stand and fight.
04:16
Pandora's Tim Westergren
knows this better than most.
04:21
You might even call him
the Erica Kane of Silicon Valley.
04:24
Tim and his cofounders
launched the company
04:28
with two million dollars in funding.
04:30
They were out of cash the next year.
04:32
Now, lots of companies fold at that point,
but Tim chose to fight.
04:35
He maxed out 11 credit cards
and racked up six figures in personal debt
04:38
and it still wasn't enough.
04:43
So every two weeks for two years on payday
he stood in front of his employees
04:44
and he asked them
to sacrifice their salaries,
04:49
and it worked.
04:53
More than 50 people deferred
two million dollars,
04:54
and now, more than a decade later,
04:57
Pandora is worth billions.
04:59
When you believe that there is a way
05:02
around or through
whatever is in front of you,
05:05
that surrender is not an option,
05:07
you can overcome enormous obstacles.
05:10
Which brings us to soap opera lesson two:
05:14
sacrifice your ego
and drop the superiority complex.
05:16
Now, this is scary.
05:20
It's an acknowledgment
of need or fallibility.
05:22
Maybe it's even an admission
05:25
that we're not as special
as we might like to think.
05:27
Stephanie Forrester
of "The Bold and the Beautiful"
05:31
thought she was pretty darn special.
05:33
She thought she was so special,
05:35
she didn't need to mix
with the riffraff from the valley,
05:37
and she made sure
valley girl Brooke knew it.
05:39
But after nearly 25 years
of epic fighting,
05:42
Stephanie got sick and let Brooke in.
05:46
They made amends,
05:49
archenemies became soul mates
05:50
and Stephanie died in Brooke's arms,
05:52
and here's our takeaway.
05:55
Drop your ego.
05:57
Life is not about you.
05:59
It's about us,
06:01
and our ability to experience joy
06:02
and love and to improve our reality
06:05
comes only when we make
ourselves vulnerable
06:08
and we accept responsibility
for our actions
06:11
and our inactions,
06:14
kind of like Howard Schultz,
the CEO of Starbucks.
06:15
Now, after a great run as CEO,
06:19
Howard stepped down in 2000,
06:21
and Starbucks quickly overextended itself
06:23
and stock prices fell.
06:25
Howard rejoined the team in 2008,
06:27
and one of the first things he did
06:29
was apologize to all 180,000 employees.
06:31
He apologized.
06:37
And then he asked for help,
honesty, and ideas in return.
06:39
And now, Starbucks has more than doubled
06:43
its net revenue since Howard came back.
06:45
So sacrifice your desire
to be right or safe all the time.
06:48
It's not helping anyone, least of all you.
06:52
Sacrifice your ego.
06:55
Soap opera lesson three:
06:59
evolution is real.
07:00
You're not meant to be static characters.
07:04
On television, static equals boring
and boring equals fired.
07:07
Characters are supposed
to grow and change.
07:11
Now, on TV, those dynamic changes
07:14
can make for some rough transitions,
07:17
particularly when a character
is played by one person yesterday
07:19
and played by someone new today.
07:22
Recasting happens all the time on soaps.
07:26
Over the last 20 years,
07:29
four different actors
have played the same key role
07:31
of Carly Benson on "General Hospital."
07:34
Each new face triggered a change
in the character's life and personality.
07:37
Now, there was always
an essential nugget of Carly in there,
07:43
but the character and the story
adapted to whomever was playing her.
07:47
And here's what that means for us.
07:51
While we may not swap faces
in our own lives,
07:54
we can evolve too.
07:57
We can choose to draw a circle
around our feet and stay in that spot,
07:59
or we can open ourselves to opportunities
08:04
like Carly, who went
from nursing student to hotel owner,
08:07
or like Julia Child.
08:11
Julia was a World War II spy,
08:13
and when the war ended,
she got married, moved to France,
08:16
and decided to give
culinary school a shot.
08:19
Julia, her books and her TV shows
revolutionized the way America cooks.
08:23
We all have the power
to initiate change in our lives,
08:29
to evolve and adapt.
08:33
We make the choice,
08:35
but sometimes life chooses for us,
and we don't get a heads up.
08:37
Surprise slams us in the face.
08:41
You're flat on the ground,
the air is gone,
08:43
and you need resuscitation.
08:45
So thank goodness
for soap opera lesson four:
08:48
resurrection is possible.
08:51
(Laughter)
08:53
(Applause)
08:55
In 1983, "Days of Our Lives"'
Stefano DiMera died of a stroke,
08:59
but not really, because in 1984
09:03
he died when his car
plunged into the harbor,
09:05
and yet he was back in 1985
with a brain tumor.
09:08
(Laughter)
09:12
But before the tumor could kill him,
09:13
Marlena shot him, and he tumbled
off a catwalk to his death.
09:15
And so it went for 30 years.
09:20
(Laughter)
09:22
Even when we saw the body,
09:25
we knew better.
09:27
He's called the Phoenix for a reason.
09:28
And here's what that means for us.
09:32
As long as the show is still on the air,
09:35
or you're still breathing,
09:37
nothing is permanent.
09:39
Resurrection is possible.
09:41
Now, of course, just like life,
09:45
soap operas do ultimately
meet the big finale.
09:48
CBS canceled my show,
"As The World Turns," in December 2009,
09:52
and we shot our final episode
09:57
in June 2010.
09:59
It was six months of dying
10:00
and I road that train
right into the mountain.
10:02
And even though we were
in the middle of a huge recession
10:06
and millions of people
were struggling to find work,
10:09
I somehow thought everything would be OK.
10:13
So I packed up the kids
and the Brooklyn apartment,
10:15
and we moved in with my in-laws
10:18
in Alabama.
10:20
(Laughter)
10:21
Three months later, nothing was OK.
10:25
That was when I watched
the final episode air,
10:27
and I realized the show
was not the only fatality.
10:33
I was one too.
10:37
I was unemployed
and living on the second floor
10:39
of my in-laws' home,
10:41
and that's enough
to make anyone feel dead inside.
10:43
(Laughter)
10:46
But I knew my story wasn't over,
10:48
that it couldn't be over.
10:50
I just had to tap into everything
I had ever learned about soap operas.
10:52
I had to be brave like Erica
and refuse to surrender,
10:58
so every day, I made a decision to fight.
11:02
I had to be vulnerable like Stephanie
11:06
and sacrifice my ego.
11:08
I had to ask for help
a lot of times across many states.
11:10
I had to be adaptable like Carly
11:14
and evolve my skills,
my mindset, and my circumstances,
11:18
and then I had to be
resilient, like Stefano,
11:22
and resurrect myself and my career
11:25
like a phoenix from the ashes.
11:27
Eventually I got an interview.
11:30
After 15 years in news and entertainment,
11:33
nine months of unemployment
11:36
and this one interview,
11:38
I had an offer for an entry level job.
11:42
I was 37 years old
11:45
and I was back from the dead.
11:47
We will all experience
what looks like an ending,
11:50
and we can choose to make it a beginning.
11:53
Kind of like Tina, who miraculously
survived that waterfall,
11:56
and because I hate to leave
a cliffhanger hanging,
12:00
Tina and Cord did get divorced,
12:03
but they got remarried three times
before the show went off the air in 2012.
12:05
So remember,
12:11
as long as there is breath in your body,
12:13
it's never too late to change your story.
12:16
Thank you.
12:19
(Applause)
12:20

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About the Speaker:

Kate Adams - Digital storyteller
UPS's Kate Adams spends her days dissecting digital communications to find a better way to tell brand stories and connect with customers.

Why you should listen

Kate Adams is an advocate of iteration -- testing, learning and refining at each step, both professionally and personally.

Starting in television news and moving to event production, daytime drama and digital marketing, storytelling has always been the common thread. Each job taught her more about the creation and cultivation of story and brand -- and how we use that story arc to build our own journeys.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in journalism and mass communication, she was the assistant casting director at the Emmy-winning soap opera "As the World Turns" for eight years. She joined UPS in 2011 and is now a managing editor of UPS.com.