By Tiffany Brown

Have you ever been a part of a team that failed miserably on a project, until someone swooped in to pick up the pieces and make things right? Perhaps you’ve witnessed a fellow citizen take a stand, whether it be rescuing someone from danger, resolving an injustice, or simply sharing an act of kindness when it was needed the most? Maybe this person was you? At TEDxUniversityofNevada 2017, many of our speakers asked for us to do more, take control, think beyond ourselves, and make a difference.

Dr. Albert Lee is Director of Vocal Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, and also happens to be a tenor. He kicked off the day’s talks with a patriotic bang, performing his fine-tuned rendition of the national anthem, a song that he has sung over 100 times and in front of as many as 10,000 people. Following a standing ovation, he reflected on the depth and meaning of our national anthem, ultimately asking: “have we embraced the responsibility of American citizenship?” By carefully and gloriously reflecting on the various lines of the anthem, he led the audience through a journey that outlined the depths and triumphs of our shared past. He asked for us to consider our collective hopes for the future and decide whether or not we are honoring our dreams and fulfilling our highest aspirations.

During former U.S. Navy SEAL Jocko Willink’s talk about extreme ownership, he shared a gut-wrenching story about a particular situation he endured on the battlefield. Pausing to reflect, he stated: “war teaches you about death, but also about brotherhood, honesty, humility and leadership.” Through an intense and heart-stopping account of a terrible experience—which commanded the audience’s attention in such a way that you wouldn’t have heard a pin drop—he urged us to stop blaming others, take ownership of our lives, and lead. Using his own story as an example, he shared extraordinary insights that motivated people to not only wake up, but to grow up, and shape up.

Bill Eckstrom supported both Dr. Lee and Willink’s statements by providing background for understanding growth as a process, and particularly why it’s important to embrace discomfort and complexity. He shared: “when you hit discomfort, you hit complexity, and that creates growth.” Reflecting on a personal situation that created unexpected, sudden and deep discomfort, he later understood that this change was necessary for his growth. When your concept of order is disrupted, complexity ensues, and through reshuffling order (experienced as a state of complexity), you grow. In other words, “what makes you comfortable can ruin you; only in a state of discomfort can you grow.”

Following the heavy but inspirational talks given by Dr. Lee, Willink, and Eckstrom, comedian Michael Jr. provided some much needed lightheartedness and laughter. Reflecting on his comedic journey, Michael Jr. talked about a defining moment in his career when he felt a shift between getting laughs and giving people a chance to laugh. He likened this shift in his comedic approach to the experience of setting up a joke and getting to the punchline, which is actually nothing more than a change in expected direction. He explained that while most people know their setup, few know their punchline. “The punchline, is when you realize that it’s not about what you can get, it’s about what you can give … your setbacks are part of your setup, which will get you to your punchline. Find your punchline and deliver.”

Photo credit: Tim Dunn and Chris Holloman

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