22 Jun How to Become a TED Speaker
I was in her bedroom. I was only in 6th grade. She was my first real crush. Blonde hair, blue eyes. She was beautiful. Once a month, she ran away from home and came to my screened in porch. I would comfort her. Then my parents would drive her back home. She was smart. She was edgy. Even at age 11, she thought for herself. I admired that. Her name was Natalie Taylor.
I was in her bedroom. But we were not alone. Our friend Bridie was in the room with us. Then Natalie’s mom called her downstairs, and I had an idea. As soon as Natalie left the room, I begged Bridie to suggest we play a game. It was called ‘Truth or Dare.’ I told Bridie to suggest the game and then ask me to go first. I explained to her that I would choose the ‘Dare’ option, at which time, I pleaded that Bridie dare me to kiss Natalie. She agreed. Thanks, Bridie. I kissed Natalie that day. On the lips. It was the best day of my life at that point.
Fast forward 14 years later and I was leaving my internship at the Lennox Hill Neighborhood House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I walked towards the 6 train when my mom called me. ‘Natalie only has a day left, Brian.’ I stopped walking. I was right outside of a bookstore on Lexington Avenue. I looked inside. The books towered from floor to ceiling, but I saw nothing. Instead, I remembered kissing her. I remembered her eyes. I remembered everything. She died the next day. Cancer sucked every ounce of life from her 25-year-old body. And like that, she was gone.
5 years later, I turned 30, and there was another death in Natalie’s family. Her grandmother passed away. She lived 65 years more than her own granddaughter. None of it seemed fair, but I went to the funeral and the lunch that followed. My life changed again when I was invited to a pub crawl that night in my hometown of Peoria, IL. The bar crawl was organized by a friend of mine and her husband. Their names were Sean and Tyler.
Sean, Tyler, and I had been friends for years. They were good people. I enjoyed hanging out with them. Every year, we would meet for dinner in New York City and then again in Chicago. We meet on Christmas night at the Taylor’s house. I spent time with them because I liked them. I liked the conversation. I liked their company. That was it.
There we were on an icy night in Peoria, IL. We wore Santa Claus hats and drank $1 PBR’s from a can in some dive bar full of Marines, and it happened. Sean, who was organizing a TED talk asked if I would be interested being featured as a speaker. I accepted immediately. This was a dream of mine. We toasted and went to the next bar. That’s how I became a TED speaker. A couple of guys in Santa Claus hats toasting with cans of $1 PBR’s. Two months later, I gave my TED talk. Two years later, people still write thanking me for the message I delivered. I thank Sean for that.
I am sorry if you wanted a step by step ‘how to’ for getting on TED, but there is a bigger point about this opportunity of a lifetime and these opportunities in general. I spent years of my life building relationships with people solely because I thought they would advance my career. In many cases, they were bad people. They did not care about me. They did not care about my success. At all. One night in New York City, a group of these men took me to a strip club. I don’t even like strip clubs, but they insisted I join. They made me all kinds of promises. They must have spent thousands of dollars on lap dances and top shelf cocktails. One of the strippers told me the guy who brought me spent at least $10,000 every week in the club. At that time, I only owned 3 suits and made my own lunch every day to save money. I did not spend $10,000 in a year, much less a week, on anything. In fact, that night in the strip club I had farmer’s market produce in my purple tote bag that I bought at a flea market in Fresh Meadows, Queens a few days earlier for $5. That was more my style. Not strippers and drugs and expensive suits. I stayed for 45 minutes. That was 45 minutes longer than I should have, but I was weak then. I did not know how to say ‘No.’ I kept rationalizing everything in my head. These are powerful people in NYC. They can help you. These are the kinds of people who make big money. You need to know them. It’s not so bad. They’re not so bad.
But they were, and they never helped me. In fact, they did the opposite. They brought me stress and made me feel bad about myself. They asked me for favors that almost always seem to border illegality. They did not care about me or my health or my future. They manipulated and drained all of my energy. 100% of the times I invested in people only because I thought they could help me, my life became worse. Exponentially worse, 100% of the time. Even if these people helped me, it meant I owed them. It meant they were now present in my life. It meant they became a part of my success. And that is not success. It’s stress and headache and anxiety. You are owned. You are not free. It is the exact opposite of success.
Sean was a friend of mine. We explored new restaurants and talked about making ice cream from scratch. We laughed and walked around cities and made jokes and people watched. Never in a million years did I think he could help me professionally. Never in a million years would I have predicted he would be the reason I would give a TED talk. I could say the same for every major professional success I have to this day. Every one. My biggest clients, deals, opportunities, accolades, life experiences, you name it, were because of people that were good for me. This took me years to figure out, but it’s the truth. So now I have a rule. Maybe it will help you.
I only spend time with people I love and that love me. I only spend time with people that encourage my creativity and support the execution of my ideas. I never spend even one second with anyone simply because I think they can help me professionally. They never have, and never will. I don’t have a step by step answer for you to become a TED speaker, or published author, or millionaire or whatever you want to do. But give this a shot. Only spend time with people you’d hang out with anyway, without any alternative agendas. People that support and love and encourage you to be better. Watch what happens to your personal and professional life.
They say you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most amount of time with. I will never forget my time with Natalie, Sean, and Tyler. They made me a better person. I have many things I’d like to accomplish with whatever time I have left on Earth. So tonight, I am going to take a proactive step to achieving those dreams.
Tonight, I am taking my best friend to dinner for his birthday. That makes today a success. Even with all the noise and alternative agendas and distractions, today will be a good day. Today will be a success. And I believe that the best way to have a successful tomorrow is to have a successful today.
Happy Birthday Alex.
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