You may have heard of a little thing called TED. You know, the nonprofit conference where people from all walks of life come together to discuss global issues – everything from art to business to health to science and technology – performed in short, powerful talks of 18 minutes or less. Yes, that’s the one.
Speakers include some of the world’s most inspirational forward-thinkers – leaders, educators, students, and storytellers of all ages and backgrounds. My first introduction to a TED event was the viral YouTube video TED Talk of Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking” about how she crowdfunded a million-dollar rock album by asking her fans for help. Her examination of the artist and fan relationship helped spark my own quest for music-based entrepreneurship and got me hooked on TED for life.
But, I digress. … TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) began as a conference in 1984 and has since spread ideas about global issues and discoveries in more than 130 countries and in 100 languages. Pretty impressive, right?
On a local level, independent TEDx events are developed on a community-by-community basis. On March 16-17, 2018, TEDxNashville took place at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, centered around the theme: IMAGINE. Thought-provoking speeches aimed at redefining the future of Nashville, Tennessee, as well as personal stories about overcoming the odds became the foundation of the two-day event.
Here were some of the highlights. I decided they were also useful life lessons, too, so here you go. You’re welcome.
I. Lost dreams can become reawakened.
According to a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who one day dreamed of owning his own company (and actually made that dream come true), the 12 Steps and other guiding principles practiced every day by the attendees of meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can mean the difference between life and death.
According to Michael Brody-Waite, CEO at Nashville Entrepreneur Center, co-founder of InQuicker and founder of Leader Confidential, success can be achieved through predictable results and integrity. “Being authentic is impressive,” he said.
As the first speaker at day two of the TEDxNashville 2018 event, he gave the audience three important life lessons in one short presentation centered around the idea that to be a successful leader, you must practice the same three concepts as a recovering addict.
- Practice rigorous authenticity. Develop a manner of living that demands honesty. Set aside false pride, your ego, and any unnecessary fear. By throwing away the “masks” you wear every day in society, you open yourself up to showing people who you really are on the inside, which builds trust and connections between yourself and other people – including peers and clients. For addicts, “Honesty in recovery is absolutely necessary if you want to maintain long-term sobriety.”
- Surrender the outcome. Taking risks is the only way to achieve greatness. If you don’t try, who will do it for you? Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s how you grow.
- Do uncomfortable work. Get out of your comfort zone, work hard, celebrate successes (including the successes of those around you), and good things will follow.
II. There is no greater burden than an untold story.
For Brody-Waite, being his “honest self” meant telling potential employers about his recovering addictions, as well as telling clients when his company’s software malfunctioned. As fellow human beings, they were refreshed at his honesty and gave him a second chance.
A second chance at life is also exactly what people who have experienced any form of trauma need.
By trauma, I mean real trauma like domestic violence, not the “trauma” of missing out on that exclusive, impromptu Lady Gaga show at The Five Spot last year.
For adults, trauma like abuse or even PTSD from time spent serving in Iraq, for instance, can leave a severe and lasting impression, such as emotional, mental and often physical scarring that they must heal – through therapy or other means. But for children who encounter abuse or other forms of traumatic events, their young, undeveloped minds and emotional inexperience makes it even harder to deal with and to express and eventually recover from.
“Play is the primary language of children, and toys are their words,” said Paris Goodyear-Brown, founder and director of Nurture House, play therapist and trauma expert.
As the second speaker at day two of TEDxNashville, she described how trauma gets stored in the right hemisphere of our brains, as well as in photographic memories and other parts of our bodies. Post-traumatic reactions become muscle memory once you experience something painful over and over again. For instance, when a soldier hears the “Bang!” of a car backfiring, he or she may drop to the ground, convinced that it’s a gunshot or a bomb. That’s because although joyful experiences can trigger clear sensory memories of an event, the same is doubly true for the atrocities that happen to us.
For children to express their trauma, they have to know the answers to the questions, “Am I safe?” and “Am I loved?” before they can turn on their “thinking brain” and consider the answer to the question, “What can I learn from this?”
When Goodyear-Brown meets an abused child for the first time at Nurture House, for example, she first feeds them a wholesome meal, lets them nap on a cot in a dark room, and then invites them to play with toys in a playroom. This formula helps meets their basic hierarchy of needs. Then, kids are able to freely draw pictures and play with toys that eventually help them to express the trauma they’ve been through in a safe way by giving her small clues (i.e., excessive hand washing as a cleansing ritual; violence in drawings; baby dolls unclothed and put in odd positions with scarier toys, etc.)
This type of play through music, toys, and art helps to digest and slowly break down trauma little by little for each child, but their story must first “be held and then told.”
That’s exactly what Maya Angelou taught us in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
While hearing about childhood trauma at a TEDx isn’t the first thing someone would want to experience, the speech was eye-opening in many ways. Goodyear-Brown explained that there are three chemicals released in the brain that help determine how a child expresses their trauma and if they will recover from it. Cortisol is a stress hormone that in large amounts can make us sick, but it can also help us move forward after trauma. Oxytocin is a bonding chemical, such as what’s shared between a happy mom and baby. Dopamine is the joy chemical. Kids need more of those last two brain chemicals to start the healing process mentally and emotionally.
Adults need more of that too. So, start removing the toxins poisoning your life as soon as possible, or it may leave a lasting negative impact on who you are.
III. Optimal health means maximum wellness.
Another TEDx speaker who touched upon the idea of eliminating toxins (such as toxic behavior, toxic foods, toxic habits, and toxic people) from your life was David Haase, chief medical and innovation director for Xymogen, founder and CEO of MaxWell Clinic, and co-founder of MDOmics.
His main message was that good health is determined by a balanced harmony of the mind, body, and spirit – which is also the philosophy behind Ayurvedic medicine. “Everything else is dysfunction,” Haase said.
Human bodily systems are unique and require individual experimentation through various bouts of trial and error to see what it takes to maintain their best health – usually through a blend of nutrition, supplements, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, friendship, hobbies, and more.
If things feel out of whack, there are five steps you can take to “reboot the system,” and achieve better health, according to Haase.
- Examine your physical and mental health and your life choices.
- Replenish anything that’s missing, such as nutrients, positive relationships, etc.
- Remove toxins/toxic people from your life.
- Retrain yourself to practice healthier habits.
- Over time, doing the least harm to your mind, body, and spirit will help naturally heal your body.
For Haase, these steps ring true. They even helped his best friend survive cancer.
IV. Engage with people who don’t share your belief systems.
For Haase, friendships are a necessary piece of the puzzle which makes up human health. However, diverse friendships and relationships are more important than spending time with people who have your exact belief systems, according to author, democratic theorist, and “Why We Argue” podcast host Robert Talisse, the philosophy department chair and professor at Vanderbilt University.
Using the “How to Avoid Talking Politics at Your Family’s Thanksgiving” example, Talisse gave his TEDx speech explaining how spending too much time with likeminded people (especially who have the same political beliefs as you) will make you a “more extreme version of yourself.”
Instead, he urges that people engage in activities and projects outside the political spectrum with those different than themselves. Not only will this coming together of different minds help protect democracy and the ability for people to have respectful, honest and intelligent discourse, but it will also help make an individual a more well-rounded person.
V. Socially awkward people can achieve extraordinary things.
Speaking of differences between people, according to societal norms, those individuals who are deemed socially awkward usually are shunned in some way – perhaps overlooked for a promotion or left out of the dating loop. But for Ty Tashiro, Professor of the Year at the University of Colorado and University of Maryland, social scientist, TIME magazine contributor and author of AWKWARD: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome, he believes that socially awkward people are very valuable to society.
“They tend to look at the world differently” and catch things others may have missed, he said. “The same traits that make people socially awkward empower them to achieve extraordinary things.” This leads to new discoveries and ideas that can propel society forward – something that modern society is greatly in need of since the evolution of social media.
Nowadays, “there’s a broad sense of social malaise due to fewer meaningful relationships and connections in our lives caused by social expectations that don’t matter (i.e. from social media, etc.),” Tashiro said. “We’ve got to get back to the things that matter most.”
VI. You control how you react to the world.
For Tim Shaw, a former NFL Tennessee Titans linebacker, not taking his time for granted supersedes everything else. Since being diagnosed in his early 30s with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) – the same disease that recently killed physicist Stephen Hawking – Shaw has changed his life around.
As his once muscular football player body fails him, his heart and mind become stronger than ever. He’s becoming a new kind of superhero.
Shaw is now a motivational speaker and an ALS educator who travels the country to tell his amazing story. He wrote a book, Blitz Your Life, has gone on several mission trips and still helps out the Titans however he can.
“My true strength comes from my heart and my mind,” Shaw said. “Life isn’t fair, and that’s okay. You can’t control what’s happening to you or around you; you can only rely on your own attitude and mindset.”
The whole room of TEDx attendees would soon applaud and stand up from their seats.
“There are a lot of people living their lives from a position of strength, but there’s only one you. Please don’t count your strength by external things,” Shaw said. “Your strength is who you are, your desires, your ambitions, your character, and how you treat people. And nobody, no disease, no disaster can take that strength away from you.”
Now, get off social media, turn off your phone, go out into the world and be your best self.