TED—the Catalyst for Growth / by Shivang Patel

Over the month (and since my last blogpost), I have spent time in more than a dozen cities. Currently, I am enjoying the bright sun and blue waters of the Aegean.

Over these weeks while sitting on beaches, on top of mountains, and everywhere in between I have had lots of time to reflect on this journey, the last few formative years of my life, and life in general. As expected, this trip has allowed me to be very introspective. 

Throughout my time in college, I was very involved with the TED and TEDx community. It was indeed a keystone of not only my time at Ohio State, but also in my growth and development as a person. The process of organizing a TEDx event is taxing and can seem endless especially if you are a part of a team for multiple years. As TEDx organizers we look at the impact and influence our talks and events can have on our communities and those individuals that are a part of it, but often don’t consider how TED/TEDx has affected us. I didn’t (and think many don’t) build in time for reflection, more than just how to improve the event/experience the next time around. Through lots of introspection and also conversation with fellow TEDx organizers I have met up with on this trip, I have realized that because of TED/TEDx my life is on a completely different trajectory than I thought it would be going (and for the better). In many aspects of my life I cannot think of what it would be like without TEDx, but the most impactful has been in terms of relationships. There are many experiences during college that help shape a person during these formative years, and for me TED/TEDx was indeed THE catalyst for my personal growth.

As a child I wasn’t the greatest at making friends, to which my mother could probably attest. I had wonderful and long-lasting friendships as a child, but there were only a handful. I was not anti-social, but I think I was bad at expressing my emotions and just felt out of place at times. I’ve always been energetic, but when it came to non-familial relationships I would clam up. Throughout the subsequent years I did get better with building relationships naturally as one does with age and did create many friendships, but I still did not allow myself to really be open and vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a skill I have learned during college; one that has allowed me to be the very social and extroverted person I think I am now.

At the beginning of my sophomore year at Ohio State University, I was attending a mandatory information session for a new program called STEP that was intended to enrich sophomores’ academic careers. To be honest, I had signed up for the program because it offered $2,000 to be used in basically any way I wanted. In this particular session, which was about leadership, the program had brought in a panel of student leaders, staff, and professors to discuss different aspects of leadership. One of those panelists was Dr. Amy Barnes, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, who teaches undergraduate and graduate students about leadership studies. The moderator of this panel had mentioned that Amy was the faculty advisor for TEDx at Ohio State, and as someone who loved watching TED Talks this piqued my interest. After the event, I uncharacteristically went up to Amy to ask how to get involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity. At the time I did not know how significant that one conversation would be, or how Amy would be the most influential staff member I met at Ohio State. That day, and TED, started a chain of dominos that is continuing to this day.

Over the next several months I became increasingly involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity, and really loved the work I was doing as well as the people with whom I was working. I had felt that I had found my home, my niche, at this university of 60,000 students. TEDx helped me find a purpose at Ohio State outside of academia, and it continued being a part of my growth as a student and as a young adult. In the second half of my sophomore year, I was surprisingly given the opportunity to go to the TEDActive 2014 in the beautiful British Columbia. I had no idea what to expect but was excited. 

Throughout that week I had terrific experiences and watched amazing TED Talks, but the most profound aspect of going to TEDActive that year (and then again the following year) was the relationships I had been able to make and the ability to make them. TED created an environment that allowed one to flourish and meet so many interesting and genuine people from all over the US and the world. At TEDActive one could go up to a random person from the other side of the world and have a two-hour long conversation about each other’s deepest thoughts and feelings. I had never been in such an open and kind environment where every individual was willing to share and be vulnerable. TED allowed me to create relationships with inspirational people from all over the world at that conference. Many of these are still intact to this day.

An example of this is when I went to Stockholm a few weeks ago. I had met Dick Lundgren of TEDxStockholm for a brief 10 minutes on the last day of TEDActive 2014, and decided to hit him up while I was in his city not knowing what to expect. Not only did he meet up with me, but he also gave me a personal tour of Stockholm in his car, took me out to dinner, and introduced me to another TEDx organizer. It was so unexpected, but so delightful. And to top it off, he gave me a small but super neat gift from his design company, Men at Work.

Another example of the how great TEDx relationships have been was when I was visiting Vienna. After posting on Instagram about how excited I was to explore the city, TEDxVilnus organizer and general badass Ruta Kruliauskaite put me in touch with her sister, Eglė. Although I had never met her, Eglė invited me to hang out with her friends and I had a wonderful evening and felt like I was out with friends I had known for years. That is the power of the global TEDx community.

TED has allowed me to not only grow the number of relationships I have with people all over the country and the world, but also the ability to build relationships very quickly. It gave me the confidence to strike up conversation and build relationships with a complete stranger and not feel hesitant. An example of this was when I was in Budapest. I happened to be at book signing for Canadian astronaut and former ISS commander, Chris Hadfield. While waiting in line, I struck up conversation with this Croat who was living in Budapest. After conversing for a while I found out he was super passionate about olive oil and owned a shop in the city. He invited me to come do a tasting, so the next day I did just that. For an hour, this super passionate and complete stranger let me taste a dozen distinct and delicious extra virgin olive oils, taught me about how it's produced, and he even gave me the contact info of a producer whose farm I'm going to visit when in Croatia next month.

TED has immensely changed my life, and I would never look back. I owe much gratitude to TED, to my TEDx friends all over the world, to Amy Barnes, and to all those with whom I created relationships at Ohio State. I truly feel like I have come into myself as an individual over the past couple years with TED being the catalyst.

If you made it this far reading this post, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my thoughts on something about which I am very passionate.