On February 2, 2019, I got the opportunity to present at the inaugural TEDxUTEP conference. The theme of the event was “Access and Excellence” which is the dual mission set by our long-time University President, Dr. Diana Natalicio. I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences I received at UTEP, and I love El Paso, so I decided to speak on the growth mindset imparted on the people of the desert. Friends have been asking for a video of the presentation. I don’t know when that will go live, so in the meantime, I thought I’d share the transcript I wrote to prepare my talk. This isn’t 100% what came out on stage. I’m less eloquent in speaking and memory isn’t perfect. But the message I wanted to deliver is here.
One of the most common questions I get as a teacher and mentor is around being exceptional. People want to be special or they want to be interesting and they don’t know how to get there. There are infinite self-help books on the subject of working hard and tons of new marketing schemes on developing a "personal brand," but my personal take is that they start with the wrong assumption that setting yourself apart begins with doing something special. I think the simplest first step to being exceptional is in not doing things.
"New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old." - The Guru Laghima
The idea of creative destruction isn't new. The creation of anything new entails the destruction of something old. This is especially true for individuals. Every decision made is not just a selection or a choice, but rejection of all alternatives.
Keeping that in mind, I don’t start each new year with a resolution to achieve something new. Instead, I identify the things that I know I spend too much time on and work to reduce the amount of time I spend on them.
Our time is finite, and rather than cram in more stuff into an already busy schedule, it may be more productive to find where you can do more with less. If your 24-hour day is already full, you won’t succeed in doing something new unless you clear time for it first.
One of the most glaring cultural problems I’ve found in the city is that few people seem to be proud of being from here. I must’ve felt the same sentiment as a youth, but the more time I’ve spent outside of the city, the more fondness and respect I develop for the upbringing the city afforded me.
Manifestos for their own sake are stupid. This isn’t that. Rather, I think it's important for people to level with who they are so they can track a course for who they want to be. Unfortunately, there’s an odd disconnect between what the city is and what every local campaign claims it to be.
I've noticed that good people tend to have good friends. Many people chase the friendship of people who are rich and famous or entertaining and lavish and loud. But good people don’t seek the same thing. Good people simply enjoy good people.
This has left this vague curiosity in my mind: Why do good people end up surrounded by other good people?
When I graduated from law school, I wanted to start making contributions to my college. I didn’t have any money, but I’d just spent a few years in Silicon Valley learning about startups. So I contacted some people at my college to see if there was any way that I could share some of my experiences with current students. One thing led to another, and I ended up with an offer to teach a business law course.
Yes, law school classmates, I know it is unbelievable given my class attendance, but I am an adjunct professor.
I was excited to start. I thought it would be fun to talk about all these interesting things I knew. I’d waltz into the room and inspire the class with my words and intellect. But instead, I seriously got my ass kicked. Not by the students, but by the sheer amount of work that goes into teaching. It’s a huge investment. During my courses, I lecture five hours a day for two weeks, spend all afternoon preparing for the next class, and use the night to catch up on my day job. I lose weight, fall behind on work, and end up exhausted. Despite the amount of work and the challenges teaching creates for me, I’ve likely benefitted more from the experience than anyone else.
Today I turn 26. I get oddly depressed and introspective every year around my birthday. There’s something heavy about having the clock tick off another year. As my 20s wane, I’ve become worried that I haven’t been learning or developing as much as I should. So in an effort to determine whether I learned anything in the last year, I sat down to write to me from one year ago to tell him what it is he would learn at 25. Some of the lessons are things that other people have picked up earlier in life, but they’re things I didn’t internalize until this past year. While these lessons are deeply personal, one of the big lessons I’ve learned is that should I share interesting learnings with people. So now I’m following my own advice to myself. It’s really meta.
Some people find reminders of their death depressing, but thinking about death can actually make you happier. I first heard about this idea in Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken. Jane McGonigal designs and researches games, and in her 2011 bestseller, she explores the ways in which game mechanics positively influence human psychology. McGonigal proposes that we apply the structures and mechanics of games as solutions to problems in reality.
One particular problem McGonigal discusses is depression. The World Health Organization calls depression “the leading cause of disability worldwide.” Being unhappy is a big issue, and thinking about death is one simple, although non-obvious, solution.