The TEDxUniversityofNevada 2015 event was a complete success, with all 20 speakers absolutely knocking it out of the park, each sharing dynamic and engaging talks aimed at communicating a “big idea worth spreading.” The overall theme of the 2015 event was “bridge,” which is fitting, because when defined literally, a bridge is simply a structure built for passage over an obstacle. No less than six speakers talked about the concept of facing and obstacle, as well as tips for either how they overcame their own obstacles in the face of fear, or how to overcome an obstacle rooted in fear.
Fear can at best be limiting, and at worst debilitating. Whether that be University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) student Juan Lopez’s discussion about coming to terms with his stuttering problem, or the fact that prostate cancer survivor Michael Russer remained in a loveless marriage for over 12 years, afraid to face the reality of what his life had become. At one point Lopez stated, “I was misunderstood and ridiculed for most of my life.” Fear caused him to ponder questions like “who will hire me?” and “will I find a girlfriend?” Meanwhile Russer explained, “I felt that my life of shutdown and disconnect was slowly killing me.” The fear of making a change in his life began to overshadow it so much that he eventually became closed off to all feeling.
UNR’s Chief Diversity Officer Reginald Stewart also talked about fear during his discussion on cultural illiteracy when he stated “cultural illiteracy limits our ability to communicate with other people in society, based largely on a fear of the unknown.” UNR staff member Jo Harvey, a recovered alcoholic who gave an eye-opening talk about addiction, also alluded to fear when she talked about her path to recovery from substance abuse. Because addiction is defined as “anything we do or use compulsively to feel better,” Harvey shared about the fear involved in needing to face reality and dig deep in order to heal and recover from addiction. In choosing to make a change, she said: “the process of inner-healing allows you to re-write your story.”
Attorney and former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores also gave a riveting talk about fear, and more specifically, choice. In discussing her upbringing that was generally marked by fear, she talked about losing siblings and friends to gang violence, spending time in prison, and having a mother who walked out on their family at age nine. Against these odds, Flores chose to face the fear of being stuck in her situation—and at one point thinking she was “just going to be in prison forever”—and instead chose to better herself by focusing on her own education, eventually attending USC and then UNLV Boyd Law school and working her way into politics.
The one element that the above-referenced stories have in common? The need for making a choice in the face of fear. According to the General Manager of Microsoft’s Operations Center, Owen Roberts, who leads a team of over 2,000 employees: “fear of the unknown prevents us from being as successful as we can be.” However, we all have two choices to make. Will you choose to be predictable, stable, and average? Or are you willing to step outside of your comfort zone to take a risk, step into the unknown, and potentially be rewarded with growth and adventure? According to Roberts, the predictable/safe path is referred to as “door one,” and the unpredictable/risk-taking path as “door two.” Which door will you choose?
In the case of Lopez, Russer, Stewart, Harvey, and Flores: all chose door number two. At one point Lopez stated: “a simple shift in your perspective can change your life forever,” which was in reference to making the decision to accept his stutter for what it was as opposed to letting it define him. For Russer, after 12 years of ignoring his situation, he “made a decision to step headfirst into the abyss of not knowing what’s next.” With that frightening personal change, he was able to close the book on one chapter of his life and begin writing the next. Meanwhile, Stewart’s advice for achieving cultural literacy begins with shutting down any fear of the unknown and embracing continuous education. His suggestions included choosing to live life way outside of your comfort zone, and never de-valuing the experiences of others. For Harvey, to overcome the fear of being trapped inside the perpetual cycle of addiction, she reminded us that one need to look deep within themselves in order to complete the hard work that needs to take place before overcoming an addiction. And then of course there is Flores: a true testament to someone who was able to break through a cycle of fear and circumstance with the power of choice. Ultimately, her advice was this: “You can overcome whatever challenges are handed to you, if you just keep your eye on the prize.”
In summary, perhaps Roberts said it best at the end of his talk when he said: “Make better choices. Choose door two, and don’t be average.” According to Roberts, continuously choosing that risky path of the unknown adventure has led him directly to where he is today, having worked in leadership positions for such companies as IBM and Microsoft, and moving him from countries like South Africa, to the United Kingdom, and the United States. If nothing else, remember this: we all have the choice to make decisions that lead us to better outcomes, no matter what the set of circumstances.