What I Learned at TEDxToronto

See that cover photo above? I literally had the same expression when I woke up on Friday morning knowing that I’ll be attending my first-ever TEDx event. I was way too excited.

But take a closer look. Who do you see? In between Jamie Clarke and Catherine Reitman. You guessed it, that’s me!

Now I know what you’re wondering, “how the heck was he able to sit front row at Canada’s largest TEDx event?”

I had a client call at 10am, and even though I knew I was at the event all day, this was the only time the client could make it. The Talks were to start at around 10:15, so as the attendees were told to take their seats, I was the only one outside the venue with my AirPods in my ears and a laptop on my lap. Finishing my call, I immediately ran towards the entrance, hoping it wasn’t too late for them to let me in. In luck, I was let in, but to a sold out room with barely any visible seats left. I was stuck with the ones on the far right corner. This was my view:

I was a little bummed out, I’m not going to lie, but I still had a huge smile on my face grateful that I didn’t miss the first session. Then, all of a sudden Jamie Clarke (who did an awesome job moderating the entire event) asked people to put their hands up if they had an empty seat next to them. I looked towards the stage to see if anyone was raising their hands, and spotted a perfect spot, one right in front of the stage. I immediately grabbed my stuff and headed straight for it.

This served as a good reminder to stay positive when something doesn’t go your way and to chase opportunities when they present themselves.

Now let’s get to the good stuff.

I’ll be sharing lessons from some of the Talks/Performances I particularly enjoyed. The only Talk I missed, unfortunately, was the last one and that of The Honourable Ahmed Hussen (Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) – due to a work-related commitment that I couldn’t bypass.

Gimmy Chu, Co-Founder & CEO at Nanoleaf (a company focused on pushing the limits of smart lighting and revolutionizing how the world experiences light).

The desire to question, drives innovation.

In 2013, Gimmy had the desire to question the traditional lightbulb and was on a mission to build a better, more eco-friendly one. The question he challenged was “does the lightbulb have to be round?” For at least a century, the lightbulb, which was modelled after the candle, was left unchanged. That is until Nanoleaf came in with a product that was adjustable in shape, changes colours based on pre-set impulses (like music for example), was friendly to the environment, and has LED bulbs that can last up to 30 years.

He reminded us that although we are all knowledgeable in some things, we also have an abyss (a space, void of knowledge, but that someone else may possess). So by connecting with and learning from others, we can see the world through their eyes and gain invaluable insights that a book, article, movie, or classroom can’t teach us.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo walk on stage in a minister outfit, I was positively surprised. For the last 11 years, Cheri has been the Member of Parliament for Parkdale, holds the record for most Private Member’s Bills passed by an MPP and the most pro-LGBTQ legislation than anyone in Canadian history. She highlighted several examples on how Christianity and in particular The Bible served well those who were, in her words, “queer” (or seen as different in society). My biggest takeaway from Cheri’s speech:

Be comfortable with and proud of who you are and accept others as they come.

It was also my first time watching Cirque du Soleil, and I was blown away. They are absolutely incredible! I mean it’s not everyday that you get to see this:

Crazy right? After the performers finished their act, they were asked about fear and how they dealt with it. Here’s what they said:

You have to take whatever scares you and throw it away because when you do something you love, nothing will hold you back.

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 17? Well, Penny Oleksiak is Canada’s youngest Olympic gold medalist and holds the national record for most Olympic medals in a single summer.

Every morning, Penny wakes up at around 6am and goes straight to the pool for a 7km swim (which usually takes 2 hours) and then goes to the gym to lift some weights. After putting in the sweat and hard work, she heads over to school. For Penny, having a big team pushes her to become the best she can be. When she jumps in the pool, “the race is on” and her true competitiveness comes out.

Don’t be obsessed with the end product, enjoy the process.

Although Penny is a super athlete in the pool, she also seems really chill – someone you can just kick back with on the weekend. She also shared this piece of advice:

You can’t always be tense, you can’t always be on. You have to know when to separate work and play.

I learned a lot from Nastassia Subban, who is a Course Director at York University & a social justice advocate. One day in class, Nastassia received word that one of her students got his life taken away at the young age of 23. As a teacher, Nastassia had always tried to keep a firm guard in front of her students, taught to never show emotions and to always stay in control. But in that moment, she decided to, for the first time, be raw & vulnerable. It was a true teachable moment, one where she felt like she was a real human being. By putting her guard down, Nastassia’s student opened up and were also more willing to share personal things with her.

Vulnerability strengthens the relationship with yourself. Break down the wall that’s blocking your light from shining.

Have you ever walked down the street and saw something that was artistic, in an unconventional non-traditional way? Let me introduce Elicser Elliot who’s a well-known Toronto graffiti artist and has had his work featured in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum (to name a few).

For Elicser, art is all in how you look at it. He told the story of how he once painted a tree and had ‘HUG’ written in the middle (which originally stood for History Unleashes Genius), but people instead understood it as the literal sense of hugging someone. For 6 years, people would walk by, hug the tree and take pictures like this:

Then one day, a car hit the tree, and broke it in half. Instead of throwing it away, Eliscer still saw beauty in it and refurbished it as a new piece for a Museum art show. As part of his quest to see beauty in the unconventional, Eliscer started a hashtag movement on social media for people to take pictures of cool, artsy things they run into and add the hashtag #dontknowitsart to it, so he can see and share it out to his community.

See the beauty in ordinary things, level the playing field of what art means, and open your mind to see what you can become.

Do you remember being taught in school that ‘success’ was something fixed, something linear, where one would graduate from a university with good grades and work for a big company to make money? That’s how Satish Kanwar (VP Product, Shopify) felt. Instead of going through the traditional route, he co-founded his own company called Jet Cooper, a UX design agency that was acquired in 2013. After selling his successful business, Satish found himself feeling down, unmotivated, as if though a piece of him (or his identity) was also taken away along with the company. He then realized:

Entrepreneurship is a mindset , it’s a journey and not just a business.

If entrepreneurship was just about owning a business, does that make every person who incorporates an idea an entrepreneur? The question is how much of entrepreneurship is right for you.

Although I missed getting a picture of Satish, he did give us 3 key pieces of advice when adopting the mindset of entrepreneurship:

  1. Say YES! – opportunities open the door to more opportunities.
  2. Don’t wait for “they” – you’re the captain of your destiny, don’t wait for anyone or anything to make a dream become a reality.
  3. Find small wins – Rome wasn’t build in a day, so remember to plan for the long-term but execute in the short-term (it’s what you do today that matters, not what you will do tomorrow).

You see that man in the picture above? He left practically everyone in tears after his speech, with a standing ovation, and a long-lasting thunderous applause.

That’s Jeremie Saunders, an award-winning actor, producer, and host of popular Canadian media (most notably Podcast Host at Sickboy Podcast). Jeremie lives with a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis (where his lungs operate at approx. 60% capacity). At 10 years old, he picked up a pamphlet that was titled “All About Cystic Fibrosis” and in that pamphlet was a sentence that would change his life forever. The sentence read “Cystic Fibrosis is a fatal genetic disease. The life expectancy of someone living with Cystic Fibrosis is 30 years of age.”

When he was 16, Jeremie wrote this letter:

“My Future: when it comes to thinking about my future and what to do with my life, I don’t really know what to think. About 40% of children with Cystic Fibrosis live beyond the age of 18 and the average lifespan of those who live to adulthood is 30-33 so if you think about it, what’s the point of getting married if I’m only going to live a few years into the marriage. These kinds of things are hard to think about and it makes me feel kind of useless.”

I wasn’t able to properly live in the present moment, because I was spending too much of my time being afraid of the future.

Today, the word Cystic Fibrosis, carries a very different meaning for Jeremie – it represents freedom rather than imprisonment, life rather than death, and gratefulness rather than regret. This change in mindset was definitely not easy, but knowing that his time here on earth is limited made Jeremie embrace death, not fear it.

Why in the world would you embrace death!?

Because it’s something you and I can’t escape from. It’s something that WILL happen, and the date/time is unknown for EVERYONE. To Jeremie, Cystic Fibrosis was the single-best thing that ever happened to him. It made him wake up to the realization that with every second that passes, we all get closer to dying and should therefore live every day as if though we also have just 3 months to live.

To end his speech, Jeremie pulled a very nice quote from Mark Twain, who said:

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

The theme for this year’s TEDxToronto event revolved around Legacy, so before wrapping this up, I want to leave you with the following question to think about:

What legacy do you want to leave behind and what impact do you want to make given your time here on earth?

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