Dan Meyer on Cutting Through Fear at TEDxMaastricht – Transcript
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Dan Meyer – Educator
Thank you. There once was a king in India, a Maharaja and for his birthday, a decree went out that all the chiefs should bring gifts fit for a king. Some brought fine silks, some brought fancy swords, some brought gold.
At the end of the line came walking a very wrinkled little old man who’d walked up from his village many, many days journey by the sea. And as he walked up the king’s son asked, “What gift do you bring for the King?”
And the old man very slowly opened his hand to reveal a very beautiful seashell, with swirls of purple and yellow, red and blue.
And the King’s son said, “That’s no gift for the King! What kind of gift is that?”
The old man looked up at him slowly and said, “Long walk… part of gift.”
In a few moments, I’m going to give you a gift, a gift that I believe is a gift worth spreading. But before I do, let me take you on my long walk.
Like most of you, I started out life as a little kid. How many of you started life as a little kid? Born young?
About half of you, OK.
And the rest of you, what? You were born full-grown? Boy, I want to meet your momma. Talk about impossible!
As a little kid, I always had a fascination with doing the impossible. Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for many, many years, because today is the day I’m going to attempt to do the impossible right before your very eyes, right here at TEDxMaastricht.
I’m going to start by giving you a gift – by revealing the ending. And I’m going to prove to you that the impossible is not impossible. And I’m going to end by giving you a gift worth spreading. I’m going to show you that you can do the impossible in your life.
In my quest to do the impossible, I’ve found that there are two things that are universal among people around the world. Everybody has fears, and everyone has dreams.
In my quest to do the impossible, I’ve found there are three things that I do around the world, or that I’ve done over my years that have kind of caused me to do the impossible: Dodgeball, or as you call it Trefbal, Superman, and Mosquito. Those are my three keywords. Now you know why I do the impossible in my life.
So I’m going to take you on my journey, my long walk from fears to dreams, from words to swords, from Dodgeball to Superman to Mosquito. And I hope to show you how you can do the impossible in your life.
October 4th, 2007. My heart was racing, my knees were shaking as I stepped out on stage at Sanders Theatre, Harvard University to accept the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine for a medical research paper I’d co-written called Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects.
It was published in a little journal that I’d never read before, The British Medical Journal. And for me, that was an impossible dream come true, it was an unexpected surprise for someone like me, it was an honor I will never ever forget. But it wasn’t the most memorable part of my life.
On October 4th, 1967, this scared, shy, skinny, wimpy kid suffered from extreme fears. As he got ready to step out on stage, his heart was racing, his knees were shaking. He went to open his mouth to speak, the words just would not come out. He stood trembling in tears. He was paralyzed in panic, frozen in fear.
This scared, shy, skinny wimpy kid suffered from extreme fears. He had fear of the dark, fear of heights, fear of spiders and snakes. Any of you afraid of spiders and snakes? Yeah, a few of you. He had a fear of water and sharks, fear of doctors and nurses and dentists, and needles and drills and sharp objects. But more than anything, he had a fear of people.
That scared, shy skinny wimpy kid was me. I had a fear of failure and rejection, low self-esteem, inferiority complex, and something we didn’t even know you could sign up for back then: social anxiety disorder.
Because I had fears, the bullies would tease me and beat me up. They used to laugh and call me names, They never let me play in any of their reindeer games. Ah, there was one game they used to let me play in: Dodgeball and I was not a good dodger.
The bullies would call my name, and I’d look up and I’d see these red dodge balls hurtling at my face at supersonic speeds bam, bam, bam! And I remember many days walking home from school, my face was red and stinging, my ears were red and ringing. My eyes were burning with tears, and their words were burning in my ears.
And whoever said, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. It’s a lie.
Words can cut like a knife. Words can pierce like a sword. Words can make wounds that are so deep, they can’t be seen. So I had fears. And words were my worst enemy. They still are.
But I also had dreams. I would go home and I’d escape to Superman comics and I’d read Superman comic books and I dreamed I wanted to be a superhero like Superman. I wanted to fight for truth and justice, I wanted to fight against villains and kryptonite, I wanted to fly around the world doing superhuman feats and saving lives.
I also had a fascination with things that were real. I would read Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not book. Any of you ever read Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s? I love those books. I saw real people doing real feats. And I said, I want to do that. If the bullies will not let me play in any of their sports games, I want to do real magic, real feats. I want to do something really remarkable that those bullies can’t do. I want to find my purpose and calling, I want to know that my life has meaning, I want to do something incredible to change the world; I want to prove the impossible is not impossible.
Fast forward 10 years. It was the week before my 21st birthday. Two things happened in one day that would change my life forever.
I was living in Tamil Nadu, South India. I was a missionary there, and my mentor, my friend asked me, said, “Do you have Thromes, Daniel?”
And I said, “Thromes? What are Thromes?”