This summer I attended TEDSummit to fulfill my STEP Signature Project in the Leadership Category. TEDSummit is a conference put on by the non-profit TED which strives to bring together the best and brightest minds to one place. Through an integration of talks, interactive sessions, outdoor activities, and opportunities to network, this week long conference made me rethink the ways I viewed leadership and knowledge and how I apply that to my life.
The conference brought together people from all over the world with the mission of sharing new ideas. Though a series of workshops and lecture sessions I was able to meet incredible people with backgrounds and viewpoints incredibly different from mine. These people had amazing stories and advice and were able to share their knowledge with me.
My view of the world changed because I realized the power of knowledge in our society. More importantly, I left with the confidence that no one should have the right to hold knowledge over me. In every aspect of our life, we should become informed consumers. From asking tough questions about the products and services we buy to investigating truth when it comes to politics and science, it is our right to know what we are buying into and the implications of those decisions.
My experience as a college student paled in comparison to other people at the conference. I met people who started their own successful business or non-profits or made it their mission to improve the world in some measurable way. Going into the conference, I was very much still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. After talking with people that had been in my shoes before I realized that it okay to still be figuring out my life and that my life trajectory will take many interesting turns along the way. The one thing that must remain constant is a passion for helping others and a passion for understanding problems from all perspectives.
While the conference was an incredible experience, I found the conversations during break times to be even more interesting. I would ask others how they began their careers or became interested in their passions. They would recount stories of influential role models in their life or incidents and events that eventually led them to be invested in their passion. Over dinner one night I met a social worker who became passionate about HIV education and prevention after one of her close friends was diagnosed. I met another individual who invested his life in studying nuclear energy and how to make nuclear energy a safe alternative energy source which could power our world. Even though each and every person had an entirely different story, they all still developed their passion and were able to act on it at some point in their life.
One common denominator in all of these people is that they valued knowledge and sought it out when they were uncovering their passions. They weren’t afraid to ask for help or advice from peers and mentors, who ended up becoming their greatest champions. When they exhausted their personal resources, they took a risk and reached out to other people who were experts in their respective field. Even though those experts were not obliged to help, in most cases they gave insights or a framework for how to proceed.
I have stayed in touch with many people from the conference which has reinforced my experience. I see the growth of their passions which has made me more willing to pursue mine. Even further, I have begun to develop a network of individuals who support me no matter what. I can ask them for their advice and their knowledge without fear of rejection. The community the TED has created is really unmatched from any other group I have seen. No matter if I had deep conversations with a person from TEDSummit or not, I know they would be willing to assist me because I am a part of their TED Family.
This experience mattered a lot for me. It broke down the barrier in my mind that prevented me from asking for advice or for information. In fact, I realized that no one should have the power of information over me. Even though I am a student, I am still a human being. By asking for knowledge or information I should be treated with the same respect that they would treat anyone else. At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that the other person says “No” and you will have learned a lesson for the next time. I think this is the most significant discovery I made through my experience at TEDSummit.