5 highlights from TEDxBYU

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Kate Hansen, BYU student and former Olympian, address the crowd at the sixth annual TEDxBYU event. (Marcos Escalona)

Olympic athletes, grassroots philanthropists, startup business owners and other experts joined together at the sixth annual TEDxBYU event on Thursday, March 24.

The Covey Center was packed with a sold-out crowd of 700 people. The Peery Institute, a program of the Marriott Business School, independently organized the TED event. With the theme of “In Plain Sight,” the speakers focused on simple steps to solve bigger problems. Here are five takeaways:

1. “We do not choose our futures, but we do choose our habits.”

Randall Bell, a socio-economist and CEO of Landmark Research Group, discussed his career as a strategic problem solver.  He remarked the individuals who cultivate little rituals or routines — “rich habits,” as Bell put it — were far more likely to thrive when placed in tough circumstances. Setting small goals, like exercising 15 minutes a day or writing thank you notes, can have large, positive impacts over time. An even simpler task? Make your bed in the morning. Those who do are “207 percent more likely to be billionaires,” Bell noted.

2. “Anything that is worth pursuing requires us to suffer.”

Chris Burkard had a dream job: traveling to touristy, tropical locales to take photos of surfers. But even in paradise, he started to feel his career was becoming monotonous. To challenge himself, he began traveling to rough, frigid locations and surfing waves no one else dared. His photographs, often featuring soaked, wetsuit-clad surfers hunting for the perfect wave amidst flurries of snow and floating chunks of ice, evoke greater significance because of the sacrifices made to get them. Commenting on a raging blizzard that struck while surfing an icy Norwegian fjord, he remarked how precious photography had become to him now. “All this shivering taught me something: in life, there are no shortcuts to joy,” Burkard said.

3. “Be present in who you are.”

Kate Hansen is a 23-years-old business and public relations student at BYU and an Olympian competitor in the luge. She shared her life story with the audience, speaking about her training to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. After breaking her foot shortly before the trials, Hansen continued her training undaunted. Instead of her squat routines, she switched to an all pull-up routine.

“I was absolutely huge. I was gigantic,” Hansen said, showing photos of her workouts to laughs from the audience. She remarked how it was ironic that the Sochi Olympics, she became most famous for her pre-race dance routine to Beyonce, which earned her both adoring fans and detractors. Hansen remarked on how important it is to remain true to yourself no matter the circumstances. “Don’t let your environment change you,” she challenged the TEDx audience. “Find out what your struggle is and give it a big, awkward hug.”

4. “We need to build a system to beat a system.”

Two students pose at the 2016 TEDxBYU event. Tickets were sold out the same day they were made available online. (Marcos Escalona)

Markus Covert, a distinguished professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, called the nature of such complicated ailments as Alzheimer’s and cancer a “concurrence of circumstances,” because of the many factors that make these diseases more of a system. His lab created the first wholesale computer model of a cell, capable of showing metabolism, gene expression and DNA replication. He credited the partnership with other labs for this scientific breakthrough, noting that ending cancer cannot be undertaken alone. For superior solutions, it’s necessary to use more than your own set of skills and abilities — only by working together can solutions for the future be found.

5. “If you want your message to be heard, use comedy.”

Dave Vance knows how important humor is to share a message. A writer for the comedy show “Studio C” and director of marketing for VidAngel, Vance referenced his own hugely successful online ad campaign of the Squatty Potty, a toilet stool that improves posture. The use of humor in the online advertisements helped increase online sales by 600 percent, though Vance admitted to the “very real fear that this will be my legacy.” He remarked on the power of comedy to make a boring topic interesting, to make controversial topics safe and to connect the disconnected. He challenged audience members to share their passions and use humor to reach out in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. “You have a message that can make the world better,” Vance remarked in closing. “And comedy can help you to do it.”

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