I have an awesome job that sometimes sends me to really interesting things, and I had a chance to grab a couple of tickets to the local TedXUCincinnati event at the University of Cincinnati.
TED talks has basically replaced what Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul used to do for me.
I was super late to the event because it’s Saturday and in honor of attending a college event I slept in like I too was in college, but I was able to get there in time to see five of the ten speakers- Sean Connell, David Coleman, Puneet Sharma, James Barnet, Reuben Moreland, Christina Brown, and Rajiv Satyal.
I hadn’t been back to UC in a while and the event was being held in the Patricia Corbett Theater, where as a teen I once performed Fiddler on the Roof. During a live performance I knocked over a glass candle during the dinner scene and it shattered all over the ground. It was really great and not at all traumatizing to be back at CCM again.
I’ve been deeply introspective about things since moving back to the Midwest from Brooklyn and pivoting my career into design agency work. The sometimes unnerving quiet of not having roommates has also given me a lot of time for even more existential crises, and also a couch I don’t have to schedule time to sit on for date nights.
A few of the speakers really touched on some things in a way that actually gave me goosebumps. These are the three ideas that I felt hit me in my gut.
- Go native. Moving has been a much bigger challenge than I thought it would be for me. I’m six months in and there’s still some basic discomfort that I thought should have faded by now, and I still feel very much out of place most of the time. It’s a strange feeling because I grew up here. I should be better at this. When I travel I am the complete opposite of how I feel at home here in Cincinnati. I seize moments. I take chances. I talk to everyone. I go out of my way to eat the weirdest stuff I can find. I think I truly am most comfortable when I am outside of my comfort zone. That’s where the growth is.In his talk Sean Connell spoke about how his gregariousness in travel directly impacted and helped his career in global market research for P&G, but it was his ability to shut up and listen to the people he met in his research that led to his biggest breakthroughs. There’s a certain finesse to dealing with life in an office, especially when it comes to breaking through a new culture as a new employee. I still have a ton to learn from my teammates and maybe a few trips to Skyline Chili might help ease some of the unease. I don’t know if I’ll ever not feel like an alien when I’m meeting a new co-worker’s baby, though.
- The world is really small. I was constantly reminded of this while I was living in New York. There’s nothing like running into the same person randomly in 3 separate neighborhoods in the same day in a city of 8 million people. Or finding out an entirely new friend to you, disconnected from anyone else you know met someone you went to college with in Turkey. Digging through your “related friends” on Facebook can be eerie, and also amazing. I would give almost anything to get a peek at a visual degree-of-seperation chart of every Facebook profile.
Puneet Sharma’s talk, out of anyone’s, was the one that stuck with me days later. He spoke mostly about globalization, but perfectly verbalized things I’ve mused about in my own unfocused thoughts. When most people talk about globlization they speak about how it’s affected jobs or economies, but Puneet spoke about how it’s starting to affect the way we think as citizens. The Swiss Economic Institute has it’s own Index of Globlization, and while the USA sits at a surprising 34th on that list while being called the world’s melting pot, it’s clear that things are changing. I truly and hopefully believe that the arbitrary borders we have now between nations will someday be textbook history, and I’m not alone. Millenials in the US in general have lost interest in nationalism, and weary of notions of American exceptionalism. The even-hand of the global market is slowly making equals of us all, and if business increasingly doesn’t care about borders, why should we?
I’m very lucky to work for a global design firm and interacting with our global offices is always exciting. And a lot of the design work I do is for countries I’ve never even been to yet. I recently worked on a pattern for a package that won in research in Western Europe and I’ve only been to Denmark once. The more I travel, the more I see we’re really all basically the same. The things that make me “American” are sometimes no different than what makes my old roommate “Danish”. We both like thick-cut bacon and going to music festivals. She just has better healthcare.
3. “What priveleges am I willing to give up for equality?” Christina Brown ended her speech on this note and it was almost haunting. It was a statement even the provost thought to repeat during her closing marks, adding that she isn’t scared that we’ve all been wringing our hands at the thought that this is the first generation post-boom years in the USA that will face the reality of living smaller than their parents. We’ll be okay. It was interesting hearing this sentiment being murmured in the Midwest, especially in Cincinnati. In New York this isn’t an abstract musing, this is a reality for most of the population. Finding a room to live in with a window to the outside is considered a blessing. I, even, with a privileged Midtown design job lived in a windowless room for a year because that’s the only thing I could afford at the time, but I am thankful for every moment of it. I think we should live with less. I believe we’re happier living with less. Most of the world lives with less.