Keynote at a CTSO Conference – Setting the Stage
A couple months ago I hopped on a plane to Seattle to give a TED style talk to a whole heap of Washington DECA members and teachers. They were attending Fall Leadership Conference, where they’d be diving into workshops and activities to sharpen their leadership skills with other CTSO members. Around 1,200 of them were in attendance, which meant this would be my biggest speaking gig ever. No pressure, right?
PS Want to skip straight to the video of the speech? Click Here
A few months before that plane ride, the stars aligned and I found myself talking about EXP Trips and my own experiences with Eliza Webb. Eliza is WA DECA’s Programming Director, and is always on the lookout for DECA & CTSO alumni that have a cool story to tell. I was humbled that she thought my story fit the bill. I always jump at the chance to share how CTSO leadership shaped my life.
We started chatting about potential topics for the talk. As usual over the past couple years, my trip to North Korea was top of the list. As life-changing as that trip was though, I wanted to dig a little deeper. There was a bigger lesson at-hand. I wanted to explore it, and then share it with my new CTSO friends at Washington DECA.
I started to think about the recurring themes in my life, and what led me to the spot that I’m in today. I realized that every major memory or success in my life was the result of running towards a new experience.
These new experiences had three things in common:
1.) They were terrifying at first glance. 2.) They were riddled with uncertainty. 3.) They could easily be written off as “crazy”.
In spite of these things, I knew that running towards those new experiences was the real foundation for my life and story, and also the story of EXP Trips…
Bam! That was my CTSO topic!
I would spend 15 minutes talking about how important it is for CTSO members to run towards new experiences, and hopefully convince a few people that I wasn’t crazy for going to North Korea along the way. A tall order indeed. It also fit perfectly with our mission at EXP Trips. We believe the more CTSO students experience the world through travel, the better off we all are. Our life revolves around helping CTSO advisors give their students new experiences through travel (re: our 77 second story video).
The stage was set. The fog machines were on. And I was terrified.
Here’s how it went…
You can check out the full video of the actual speech below. If you’re in a hurry, just skim through this blog. That’ll give you the TL;DR version, and hopefully a few nuggets of wisdom to chew on, spit out, or otherwise digest.
Running Towards New Experiences (CTSO Quickie Version)
Going to North Korea. Quitting a job 2,500 new grads applied for after 2 weeks. Marrying someone from a whole other world after only dating for a year. Canyoneering in the world’s most dangerous slot canyon…
These are things that a lot of people would “smh” at, and who could blame them? They seem like risky propositions.
If that’s the case, then why did all of these risks work out so well for me?
- Am I just really gifted or smart? Negative. I took remedial math classes all my life and generally struggled with education (except for my CTE & CTSO curriculum).
- Am I just charismatic enough to weasel my way outta any North Korean prison? Nope. I’m as shy as they come.
- Am I just ultra-rich and able to throw caution to the wind? No way. I’m admittedly privileged and blessed, but I’ve also been dead broke and experienced the terror of debt collectors.
None of those are the case. The answer is actually much simpler…
The universe rewards people who recognize opportunities to grow, take a chance, and then work hard (and smart) to take full advantage of the opportunity. Fortune doesn’t always favor the bold, but growth does.
It all has a funny way of working out, one way or another. That doesn’t always mean they’ll work out how you had hoped, or even worse…expected them to (yuck). It means that if you challenge yourself to experience something new, in an effort to grow, then grow you shall.
That could mean:
- You fail, and learn something new.
- You stumble upon a different opportunity along the way.
- It works out exactly as you imagined.
The important thing is not whether the experience is a success or not, it’s merely the fact that you put yourself in a position to learn and try something new.
I’d like to set this up as much like a win-win as possible for you.
Let’s think through some of the possible outcomes together. Imagine each of these being read to you as a fortune cookie cracks in half, unveiling the great mystery to you in one tasty crunch.
The selfish outcome: You’ll make your mind happy, engaged, and exploding with colorful new synapses. The world will seem a lot more exciting. You’ll feel confident knowing that you weren’t a scared little chicken or a lazy sloth (although, we do love sloths).
The altruistic outcome: You’ll understand the world, and its people, much better. Because of that you’ll have way more meaningful relationships, and a much greater chance of making positive change.
The eventual outcome: You’ll become masterful with patterns, connection, storytelling, and dozens of other things. New experiences will become second nature, and the cumulative effect of your journey will start to reap very real benefits for you and those around you.
The worst case outcome: You’ll have a lot of interesting stories to tell, and experiences to share. Not so bad, eh?
To ensure the worst-case outcome is mundane, put bumpers on your risk-taking bowling lanes. How?
1.) Don’t do anything mortally (life or death) or morally (wrong or right) risky, and 2.) Earn a good outcome by doing what you know you need to do. That way no matter how it turns out, you’ll know that you did your best. A Final Note About Worst-Cases: Make sure you really take your worst case into the ring and challenge how bad it actually is. Can you still survive? Do you still have your family? Are you still being true to yourself?
If you can answer those questions positively, then it’s probably not all that bad. Take the risk. Embrace all of the possible outcomes.
Don’t forget that along the way (before any fortune cookie outcome), you’re going to be blessed with some amazing gems because of this mindset…
The most obvious benefit of running towards new experiences has got to be the chance at bigger adventures. Life, and the world, is out there just waiting for you to explore it. There’s so much to see, taste, smell, hear, experience, and learn…it’s a wonder to me how many people never do any of it.
Don’t do that. Go after it. Chase down new things and big adventures.
That doesn’t necessarily mean traveling the world. What’s in your backyard? One of my biggest adventures (canyoneering in Lower Waterholes) was a 6ish hour drive away. That adventure changed who I was forever, and all it took was some good friends, borrowed gear, and a car.
Maybe the big adventure isn’t a destination, but instead a conscious choice to try something a little scary and embrace the journey.
My wife and I have embraced a big scary journey together, and I’d say it worked out pretty well for us. Marriage is tough enough as is, but marrying someone that comes from a totally different world than you? That would scare most people into losing out on 1.) Falling madly in love with the person they’re meant to be with, and 2.) Being adopted into a beautiful new world they never knew before.
I can’t imagine not having that big adventure with her, or not embarking on any of the other adventures in my life.
I know it’s a little scary at first, but trust me…after your first few, you’ll be hooked…and suddenly new will become the norm for you.
Bigger Appetite for Risks
A great business mentor of mine (David Berg of Redirect Health) once mentioned to me that the difficulty people have with trying new things, is that they have the sequence all backwards. People want to feel confident in the new thing they’re going to try, before they’re willing to do it. That’s simply not how it works, unless you’re delusional and just think you’re the bees-knees at everything.
This is how it goes:
- You have to have the Courage to try something new.
- Then through learning and struggle you’ll start to develop a Competence in that thing.
- Finally, once you feel competent and look back on how far you’ve grown, you’ll feel Confidence.
Courage > Competence > Confidence. That’s the order.
Once you master this sequence, you’ll start to really get into a rhythm with trying new and seemingly risky things. The magic happens when the idea of those risks starts to excite you, rather than terrify you. At that point, you can strategically try new things with a confidence that it will lead you to new discoveries and opportunities.
Whatever you do, do not keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result (see: insanity). Success requires motion. Happiness requires motion. Start moving towards new things right now.
Challenge yourself ferociously, quit something if necessary, and try new projects with a feverish passion. Throw yourself into whatever you’re doing with courage.
Do that for a decade, and then pick your head up and be stunned by the places you end up. I promise you, it’ll all be worth it.
Bigger Capacity for Life’s Challenges
If nothing else, view this as practice. You’re running towards new and uncomfortable experiences when you have the choice, to prepare you for when you don’t. Life has a tendency to test us, and you’ll want to be ready to make the most of whatever challenge it throws your way.
Just look at fire drills, 2 minute drills in football, or training for Navy SEALS. We know intuitively that it’s important to ready ourselves for whatever comes our way. So let’s do it.
I did this while practicing for the speech (did you watch the video yet?).
After rehearsing the full speech 30 times, I had my family watch me perform it. I told them to interrupt me if they had a thought, joke, comment, or otherwise…and to move around and be noisy if they felt like it. Why? Because if/when those things happened on stage, I wanted to be comfortable with the idea of adapting and going with the flow. It worked. I was able to naturally adjust things on the fly, and it made the speech way more authentic.
The real beauty of this for you is that you don’t have to have someone dump a bucket of water on your face at 4 AM, have your ear drums shattered by a big red bell, or even rehearse a speech 30 times…you just need to get out there and get your mind used to the idea of being unfamiliar with feelings, circumstances, challenges, and the like.
Your practice doesn’t have to be intense, just get out there and enjoy new experiences. The rest will come with time.
Soon enough you’ll be racing through the Cs (Courage — Competence — Confidence) no matter what’s in front of you…whether it’s a trip to North Korea, getting married, a big surgery, or anything else.
You’ll feel ready to take on anything that comes your way.
Convinced yet? It doesn’t happen overnight. It will though. For now, start simple by finding a few specific new things you can try out. Maybe a quick road trip to hike with friends? Maybe tell that person you’ve always liked how you feel? Maybe quit that job you’ve hated since you started? Maybe decide to fight your way to your CTSO’s National Conference?
OR…maybe take your students on a life-changing trip with EXP Trips *wink wink*!
Whatever you do, just be sure you get out there soon and start experiencing all our world has to offer. And be sure to come back and tell us all about it when you do.
We love a good adventure story, and we can’t wait to hear yours. Drop a comment below about new adventures in your CTSO chapter!