The TEDx Portland event which I attended this Saturday offered many tales of transformation and inspiration. They were about using available technology, knowledge, and resources to visualize a compelling future, searching for humanity and purpose in the always-on, connected digital world, and overcoming limitations and stereotypes to accomplish amazing things. The presenters, who were from diverse backgrounds, turned adversities and challenges into opportunities, created a culture of sustained habits, embraced imperfection, built communities, and led mission-driven lives despite expectations of people around them.
The theme of this year's event was exploring, What if?
So many tangents from the What if resonated in my head throughout the event. It felt as if there were kinships between the challenges and struggles of the presenters and various slices of my life experiences. The event begged the question about how I spent my first 45 years on this earth. What if I had followed the action steps of the inspiring speakers at TEDx Portland earlier in my life? What would I have accomplished by now? I wonder what I would have become?
What if I used limitations as a challenge? Around 1993, I recorded more songs in my apartment "studio" when I owned just one used synthesizer, a drum machine, and a four-track tape. My output declined significantly after I expanded my personal studio with additional gear. The four-track days were inefficient at times, but having limitations forced me to work within constraints. Just as critically-acclaimed chef Naomi Pomeroy created a successful restaurant with limited funds and lack of flames in the kitchen, limitations force creativity and ingenuity. Illustrator Kate Bingaman-Burt transformed constraints into rules and discipline for her successful projects.
What if I didn't let the others' expectations and naysayers influence my career direction? I've spent decades trying to please others whose opinions I thought mattered. I bought into the cultural expectations of the patriarchal "keep quiet, please the people whom you work for and with, don't make waves, and you'll keep getting promotions" ruse for over few decades. It wasn't until few years ago that I realized that following the old way of thinking is completely useless in the modern world, and the pursuit of obedience interfered with my learning goals and aspirations. Creative genius and successful Internet entrepreneur Ben Huh didn't buy into the cultural and stereotypical expectations that were applied to him when his family immigrated from South Korea to the United States at the age of 14 to take up custodial work. Instead of being resigned to a stereotypical occupational path of menial laborers, corner grocery store ownership, or dry cleaning services ownership, he attended college, found his passion in Internet media, and broke expectations. What if I stop believing that my professional career path is that of a front-line IT technician--a blue (screen) collar IT worker? What if I proceed with the journey of learning, experiencing, and sharing--without giving a damn about seeking approval of those who want to regulate me and control what and when I can learn? My job title and work situation are limitations only if I give into the naysayers and let their expectations define me.
What if I had built upon the successful events in my life? There are many accomplishments in my life that I'm proud of, but I felt that I had slept on my bed of laurels without taking the next steps. Singing in my high school choir gave me a sense of confidence and stoked my creativity. I earned a spot in the all-state choir couple of times. I sang in my school's elite choir. But I didn't put in the work to succeed at the next level. I earned a college scholarship right after high school, but the scholarship was revoked after one semester due to atrocious grades and lack of academic discipline. I've earned lead positions at various jobs in the past, but I didn't use those opportunities to seek additional responsibilities or learning opportunities. I won a contest sponsored by a local radio station for remixing one of my favorite musicians' songs (and met the artist). But I didn't capitalize on that potentially high-profile moment of success. But it's never too late for me to adopt a new mindset and focus on making positive actions instead of just engaging in positive thinking.
What I discovered my passion and ran with it? Through years of intense work and discovering a passion for addressing the potential extinction of cheetahs, Dr. Laurie Marker helped create an ecosystem in Namibia where integrated solutions that addressed economic, environmental, and agricultural issues of the affected region were initiated. Her work now involves transforming the quality of life and revealing economic opportunities for the residents of Namibia--in addition to promoting awareness of cheetah extinction. What if I continue to build a solid body of work and discover my passion?
The speakers at TEDx inspired me to ask myself about what is possible, on a personal level. The legendary media journalist Tom Brokaw implored the attended to pursue big ideas--and not become broken down in the pursuit of divisive little ideas. That is something that can become the basis of my What if curiosities.