Humbling Moment at The Do

brenda chapman the do lectures Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re supposed to go on stage, but you can’t remember your lines? Or there is some big mistake – people think you’re someone else, and you can’t convince anyone that you’re not who they think you are? I had that exact feeling as I sat in on my first day of The Do Lectures.

I’d been invited to speak about what I “do” – what my work is and why I’m inspired to do it. I think, “Well that’ll be easy enough!”

So I’m sitting in the audience listening to the speakers, feeling my blood drain slowly out of the tips of my toes. “Why am I here?” I keep thinking. These people were talking about saving the world. I make cartoons! One woman explained how she ran an organization that helped women in Africa build their own water systems for their villages so they didn’t have to walk miles to carry water home every day. One man talked about how he was part of a law firm that did advocacy work for underprivileged and abused people all over the world. I could go on for another five or six world-saving speakers!

The most heart-wrenching and uplifting talks were two that were back-to-back. One was a video of a previous talk that had been done two years ago at The Do Lectures in Wales. It featured a woman named Maggie. She talked about how as a young woman of 18, she decided to go out into the world and see for herself what she could do. She ended up in Nepal, where she saw and got to know several orphan children who were either surviving on their own or enslaved by relatives or other families. She got to know some of these children and found out that one of their biggest desires was to go to school. So what did she do? She called her parents back in the USA and asked them to send her her life savings that she had saved since she was a little kid babysitting. The whopping sum of $5,000. She bought some land, built a school and a house and took in the orphans. She organized the local women to help with the kids. She has fundraised and built a larger school and a bigger house and now has more kids.

One of which was the next speaker. A 12-year-old girl named Anjali. This amazing little girl got up in front of a bunch of American well-to-dos, English being her third language, and read her story to us – pausing occasionally to look up from her paper to see if we were understanding the import of what she said. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she told us about when she was four years old how her mother came home sick with a fever, shared a meal with her from the same plate, then went into the house and died. How her father and brother were both killed a year or two later. She was orphaned by 7 years old. Some relatives took her in, fed and clothed her, but she was basically a household slave. No school. No love… until Maggie found her and offered her a home and an education… and lots of love. She is a very joyful little girl now, with many brothers and sisters.

So I’m sitting in the audience wondering if anyone would notice if I just slipped away. But I’d agreed to talk and I was on the agenda. I’d already turned in my keynote. There was no backing out.

So when my time came, I got up on stage and apologized that I wasn’t saving the world, and proceeded to tell them all why I loved to do what I do.

When my little speech was over, as with all the lecturers, I was surrounded by people with questions. As I was talking to a lovely woman who runs The Oak Grove School, an amazing school in Ojai, Calif., I suddenly felt this jolt hit me and found myself looking down into the joyful little face of Anjali as she hugged me around the waist. She was so excited to meet me, because she had seen Brave on the plane over from Nepal! I had erroneously assumed that she didn’t watch movies, but American Maggie had made sure her children got to watch all the old animation favorites, some of which I had just mentioned working on. Anjali was my little shadow for the rest of the weekend.

I realized that while I might not be saving the world making “cartoons,” my colleagues in animation and I do something special, too—we bring a lot of joy to the world… all over the world! And I’m learning that counts for a lot, too. Anjali said so! And I’m ever grateful for the journey I’m on—the one that lets me bring joy. Because it means I sometimes get hugs from little girls like Anjali.

  • Kenny Barillas

    I don’t know, I’m speechless for such a beautiful story. Your testimony touches my heart and makes me think, “How hard!”, well, I don’t know what to say, without words, I can only comment that you had the most beautiful experience, and that leaves you an incredible and important lesson.

    • brendachapman

      Indeed it does. Thank you.

  • Roberta Grubman

    Brenda, lives touch. Through that people grow and learn. You are in a position to touch so many lives, and thankfully do so with wisdom, grace and laughter too. Never doubt the importance of your impact. And thank you so much for sharing this!

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Roberta. You’re a good friend. xo

  • Steve Moore

    You have a “Sullivan’s Travels” remake here. Seriously.

    • brendachapman

      Hmmm…. 🙂

  • Brenda,

    Your talk was amazing! Despite your best efforts to convince us that you didn’t belong on that stage now more than ever I know that you were supposed to be up there. I rewatched that “B-Project” (Lion King) and Brave again since getting home and they are more touching now knowing your story!

    Once again, thank you so much!

    • brendachapman

      Aw… Thank you! Glad you liked them both. 🙂

  • sianychick

    I totally see why you feel that way when you got up there. I have noticed that people show very little enthusiasm when I say I left teaching and want to work in animation. Teaching gets much more respect. And it is a very valuable and important profession where the children taught me as much as I taught them.
    However I REALLY believe in the power of movies to inspire and like you say bring joy in a world that is sometimes very hard. A world without movies would be very grey indeed. Many of my most treasured childhood memories involve movies that I watched with family and friends. In fact my all time favourite memory of my dad growing up is that fact that we watched Star Wars together. He isn’t a dad that talks much but we have always been able to bond over movies. Plus I REALLY wanted to be Princess Leia 😉
    The first time I ever went to the cinema was to see the Jungle Book and I never forget how special that felt. There have been many times in my life that I have finished watching a movie feeling totally motivated and inspired as to the kind of person I want to be.

    • brendachapman

      Books, movies, paintings, music – art in general has an impact I often forget. I enjoy it all, but don’t often think how bleak the world would be without it.

  • Brenda,
    This brought a tear to my eye.

    Each of us has work to do. Though we might not think what we do is as “important” as what someone else does, it all makes a difference – sometimes sweeping, sometimes one person at a time.

    You have a storytelling gift that lets you touch hearts and open minds. Though you may not always get to see the results of your work in people’s lives, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I’m sure there are thousands of other little girls (and boys, and adults!) whose lives you have touched … and changed.


    • brendachapman

      Thank you for the kind words. I think we all have something to offer. Hugs back. 🙂

  • crinderk

    Brenda, you summed it all up beautifully, we do what we love and it brings joy to people around the world. I once said, “If I can change the life of one at risk child who dreams to be (fill in the blank) then my world is better. You are an inspiration to women (young and old…I pushing 60). Love you! Char

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Char! xo

  • David Gardner

    The older I get, the more important the idea of “service” becomes to me. Your story can serve as a touchstone: Artists of all stripes DO play a vital role in lives all around the world, especially when we do what we do with love.

    Thank you for this moving reminder, Brenda.

    (And I have had those dreams about being on stage, forgetting all my lines — just last week!)

    • brendachapman

      It certainly was a reminder for me. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Aga

    I strongly believe that artists and any creative persons do very important job: they inspire, they bring joy, and they show us how we can become better persons, and how to build a better world

    • brendachapman

      And I think you might be right. I’m learning, still.

  • Very inspirational story Brenda. Thank you for sharing and for encouraging us to pursue our passion – you never know who you will help. (Also – saw Brave today – excellent film!)

    • brendachapman

      Thank you, Angela!

  • Jon

    How inspiring! This was one of the issues I had with going into animation. How the heck am I contributing to society with art?! One day my theology teacher lectured us about apathy- not doing anything with yourself or your talents. He said even if you’re just volunteering at a soup kitchen or painting a mural, you’re doing small things that’s making the world a better place. I know animation won’t feed hungry children, but it does inspire others and brings joy to those who need it. Thank you for posting this. 🙂

    • brendachapman

      I’m so glad you could relate. We really are clueless sometimes about how we do contribute. It’s so unconsciously done most of the time, we are so wrapped up in the day to day job of it. It’s good to make ourselves step back and make it a purposeful thought – then maybe we can feel a little better about things. 🙂

  • Corretta

    Very Inspiring story Brenda. It brought tears to my eyes. I am a 3D animator in Jamaica and the first female 3D animator at that. I don’t think I am the greatest animator by any means…I am still a student of life and experience is my teacher (a tough one at that). Sometimes I just feel like what I do is not important enough to warrant talking about, and that, can take a toll on my “self-worth-o-meter”.
    But, this story you shared made me realize something very important…What I do may not save the world…but it may be important to someone out there and that is why I should keep at it. Thank you, I really needed this 🙂

    • brendachapman

      I’m so glad… I needed it, too!

  • Brenda, you really touched me and my life with Brave, that film is my life and I think that my life wouldn’t be like it is right now without the film. I don’t know what else I can say, just that thank you for sharing your story it was wonderful

    • brendachapman

      Now I don’t know what to say… I am very honored by your words. Thank you.

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