This weekend my university played host to two really awesome conferences: TEDxUofM and the Voices of the Middle West literary festival. I spent all day Friday listening to TED talks and part of Saturday at Voices of the Middle West, hearing about writing and literature from some of the premier authors from my part of the country.
What all this means is that my brain is basically exploding with inspirational advice now.
So, I figured I’d share some of my favorite lessons from the two conferences with you.
1. Put yourself out there.
One of the TEDxUofM speakers graduated from the university only a few years ago, but already she has a job at the White House. How? She asked for it.
She talked to us about Impostor Syndrome and how even if something seems like a long shot, it’s better to go for it and fail than to not go for it at all. She’d been working on Obama’s re-election campaign in 2008 when a job she was not at all qualified for opened up in her division and she decided to ask her boss for it. Her boss of course said no, but a few months later he did give her a huge promotion–because she’d proven herself determined and courageous by asking for the other job. And now she’s working in the White House only a few years out of college.
2. What makes you say “I can’t”? Do it.
Another TEDxUofM speaker talked about how we pass up far too many opportunities due not even to fear or pessimism, but because of the genuine disbelief that we cannot accomplish those things.
Really look into why you’re saying no to something. Think about Impostor Syndrome again. There’s a good chance you could do it, if you’re willing to believe and work hard enough.
3. Connect what you’re doing to what’s important to you.
A U of M math professor spoke about how her Calc II students started scoring wayyy better when she taught them to connect what they were learning in class to the real world. I think this is important when working on anything. I know I do better in all my courses when I can connect what we’re learning to writing, because that helps me process things, and I do better on writing projects if I can connect them to my life.
Basically: Anything can make sense and feel important to you as long as you put it in a context that makes sense and is important to you.
4. Don’t forget where you’re from.
This one came from the keynote address at Voices of the Middle West by Stuart Dybek. While I didn’t make it to a lot of the festival yesterday (yay homework), it seems like a general theme was the way the Midwest has influenced the writings of those authors from it. Dybek talked about how this is important, because your background influences your writing (and who you are as a person) in a ton of ways and being aware of that influence allows you to understand both it and yourself.
5. Don’t give up on your dreams.
One of the TEDxUofM speakers founded a nonprofit in another country with which she built and ran a nursery school for underprivileged children. Then a woman found a legal loophole that allowed her to steal the land and everything on it.
The speaker’s nonprofit hasn’t been able to get the school back, nor is she sure if they’ll ever be able to. But, despite this and a ton of other struggles, she hasn’t given up on helping the people in that village. The amount she cares about them was so, so obvious as she spoke first about building the school, then losing it, and while in many ways her speech was heartbreaking, it was also inspiring.
Caring that much about something is a horrible, beautiful thing. We should all aim to care that much. And we should all persevere for our dreams as much as that girl has and continues to.
She told us how her goal when she was younger was to change the world, but now she realizes how naive that is. Instead, she simply wants to make the world better in some way.
We all can do that. It’s almost impossible for a single person to change the world, but everyone can make it just a little better, and together we can make it great.
Take risks. Care as much as you can. Look to your past to help you understand your present and figure out where you want to go in the future.
And more than anything else, don’t forget to dream big.