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Home » Andrea Pennington: Become Who You Really Are at TEDxIUM (Transcript)

Andrea Pennington: Become Who You Really Are at TEDxIUM (Transcript)

Andrea Pennington

Here is the audio, transcript and summary of popular physician and medical journalist Andrea Pennington’s TEDx Talk: Become Who You Really Are at TEDxIUM conference. Dr. Andrea Pennington is the Founder and President of Pennington Empowerment Media.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Andrea Pennington – Popular physician and medical journalist

I am obsessed with transformation, specifically how dreams in the head and heart are transformed into physical reality.

For the last two decades, I have reverse-engineered peak performance behavior and hacked motivation to empower people, to transform their lives and their business in honor of their dreams and passions.

So whether it’s starting a new business or relationship to building a better brain or body, how many of you out there feel that you have the potential to do something great in life? All right.

Well, Marianne Williamson once said, “If you feel like you’re wasting your life’s potential, you are.” The truth is you have far more power over your physical well-being and your impact in life than you give yourself credit for.

Now, over the last several years as a documentary filmmaker, I have immersed myself in cultures around the world to see what it takes to really thrive and flourish. What I noticed is, in many cultures like in the Western world, when we set out in life, most of us are programmed to fit into social norms.

In business, we look to the marketplace to compete for better sameness. And when we suffer, physically or emotionally, most of us look outside of ourselves for the cause and the cure.

Now, the shift for me came in my final year of medical school, when I started the study of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. I learned that people could have heart and brain surgery while awake without anesthesia. Women could deliver their babies painlessly, and people could recover from drug addiction and craving with a few tiny, well-placed needles.

I realized there was more to the body and mind than what the American medical system was teaching me. I came to understand that our programmed beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world dictate a large part of our health and happiness as well as our level of success.

Now the challenge is: our concept of self is often inauthentic or weak. To transform what you see on the outside, you’ve got to transform who you are on the inside.

In the next few minutes, I will summarize the soul and science of my work to leave you with three vital keys to unlock your potential for transformation. It’s a simple prescription really, one small shift that can yield big results.

I’ll even tell it to you now: Become who you really are.

When you look yourself in the mirror, past the makeup or blemishes, do you ever sense that there’s more to you than what you see in your reflection? So who are you really?

When asked, “Who are you?”, most people respond with their age, ethnic background, job or position in life. Why? Because we’ve all been programmed. The programming of your self-image and how you describe yourselves to others begins in childhood.

As author and biologist, Bruce Lipton, so passionately explains, during the first six years of our lives, our brains exist in a hypnotic, trance-like state, such that we passively absorb, record and believe the things that are impressed upon us from the outside world.

So from birth, the socialization process shapes our sense of self-identity, and little by little a social mask is formed, and we behave according to the rules of our family or religion. We adopt the cultural, political and gender norms that are thrust upon us, causing most of us to lose sight of and compromise who we really are.

Now, the sad thing is most of us end up forcing the unacceptable parts of our personality into the shadows, and we end up masquerading as a half-baked version of ourselves. We embrace the qualities of our peers or the ideals of our parents, all in an attempt to fit in and be accepted.

Meanwhile, the authentic, original you, that glimmer you see reflected deep in your eyes, takes a back seat. Often we don’t realize who we are meant to be because we’re so busy trying to live out someone else’s ideas.

But what if who you thought you were is wrong? What if, by being your most authentic perfectly imperfect self, you could transform your health and your life while having an extraordinary impact in the world? You know, the challenges that our world faces today, from economic collapse, crumbling political regimes, environmental crises and global health problems, we need new solutions, not rehashed versions of old thinking.

Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

In 2010, IBM conducted a study of CEOs around the world. 60% of these CEOs said that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success in business. So, you see, we need people who will be creative enough to think outside of the box, those who are bold enough to go for their dreams, and those who are free enough to be truly themselves. That’s from whence that creative spark of genius often comes.

Now, a Greek philosopher believed that we have a telos, a purpose or an end toward which we are pointed. And — that end is the self. And the best life, says Aristotle, is spent trying to understand what that self is, and to become it. And that’s what people who want to transform the world need to hear: Become who you are.

Now, that’s also the title of one of the positive psychology courses I teach here at IUM in the business school. One of the first assignments is to research the class title. Now, many people have heard “Become Who You Are,” or they’ve seen it in online social networks, these cute little postcards. Most often, the phrase is attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. But Nietzsche was actually quoting Pindar, the lyric poet.

Upon further research, we see that Pindar’s line, when accurately translated from the ancient Greek, reads: “Become such as you are, having learned what that is.”

So you see, your first key to becoming who you really are, is to learn who you really are.

So how do you do that? Shift your focus inward. Question your thoughts and beliefs. Seek to rediscover your true self through inquiry, contemplation, yoga. Or, as Matthieu Ricard said, through meditation.

Now, one way that you can see what is truly you and not just programming is to look at your biology. Dr C Robert Cloninger from my alma mater, the Washington University School of Medicine, developed the TCI. The TCI is the temperament and character inventory. You take it to learn what your true personality traits are that have come from your family, those aspects of our personality that are actually transmitted in the DNA. Now it is a good place to start, but as you’ve heard today, your biology doesn’t limit you, it’s just a starting point.

Next, look at your positive traits and talents. Now, we all have a variety of strengths, abilities and resources, but they don’t reflect who you are at your core. But your character strengths are those aspects of your personality that make you unique, feel engaged, and actually make you feel like life is worth living.

Now, you can learn about your character strengths by taking the VIA survey. This was developed under the guidance of Dr Martin Seligman. While studying applied positive psychology, he taught me that when we use our signature strengths more in our daily life, we can achieve authentic happiness, create more flow, and a feeling that what we do in life matters. When you feel that life has meaning and purpose, you take your better care of yourself. You will express yourself more freely, and… you really start to feel happy and hopeful. And these positive emotions and optimism go a long way towards setting you up for success, better health and longevity.

In fact, a Dutch men’s study found that optimism alone could decrease all types of mortality and, in particular, death from heart disease, as did the Women’s Health Initiative. So, this type of optimism is critical.

I can tell you from personal experience that denying your self-expression can actually lead to depression. For most of my life, I have traveled two parallel paths. By training I am a scientist, but by passion I’m an artist. My mother encouraged me to boldly go onstage on television and to play music. But it wasn’t that she pushed me into the arts, it was our home environment that shaped my decision. Children ought to be seen, not heard. This was one of those leftover Victorian ideals from England, where my mother grew up.

But when I was on stage, I felt free to finally express myself. And by performing, I could naturally get into the zone and that flow state.

Now, my father’s influence was equally impressive. He told me that only one in a million artists can make it in the world so go to school and get an education. I wanted to keep my father happy, so I sacrificed my biggest passion for performing to become a doctor. And, for the most part, I was miserable.

So what if the way you’ve molded yourself, or allowed others to shape you, was based on false information? If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you can be. And may she rest in peace.

Now, during the first 10 years of my medical practice, I discovered that no matter how many acupuncture needles, medications, surgeries, or even psychotherapy given, some people just wouldn’t get better. Or worse, they’d get better, and then come down with some other illness or addiction. And when I asked why and probed deeper, I discovered that some of them didn’t love and accept themselves. They didn’t value their lives, and they didn’t even feel that they deserved good health and happiness. And somehow that felt very familiar to me.

When we are coerced to be something that we are not, or forced to pursue goals that are not of our own choosing, we often take on the beliefs of others that can literally cause our own self-rejection and self-loathing.

Now I did use my on-camera skills to work successfully with some of the largest media brands in the world. But the persona that we created was not authentically aligned with who I really was. I didn’t feel comfortable with my pseudocelebrity status, and I even started to hide some of my success because I hated the image that we created.

I also hid my sadness, smiling on the cover of magazines and doing talk-show interviews, I wore a happy mask while internally I suffered.

Now, that subset of patients that lacked self-love was actually a mirror to what I was experiencing. When we don’t utilize or live up to our full potential, we risk becoming hopeless and depressed. We may be functional, but not fulfilled; we may be successful, but not satisfied. To numb our pain we often overeat, overdrink, overachieve or shop.

But we’re not the only ones who suffer in that scenario. We have a profound impact on the people around us, our co-workers, our romantic partners and especially our children. The very ones who could and should benefit from our unique gifts are deprived of the beauty of our talents. Takes a lot of courage to grow up and become who you really are. This sort of practiced conformity can make it very difficult, and even scary, to live your truth. Often we’re paralyzed by fear, or so racked with pain, that we feel like we just can’t go on. And that’s what happened in my case.

Now, I don’t recommend it, but hitting rock bottom can be a blessing in disguise. Our very own downfall can propel us to new heights of self-expression and self-acceptance.

Now for me, my rock bottom came in 2005 in the form of a dark depression, an existential crisis. And while I don’t have the time to share the details, I can tell you that in deep meditation and crying my eyes out before God, I had a near-deathlike, out-of-body, experience that rocked my world, including a life review on the other side, where I understood in a flash how my choices shaped my present life. I got it that we are the ones that should choose who we will be in this lifetime. And we are meant to express ourselves fully, and we are all so totally lovable.

In those moments, I experienced the most pure, absolute love for myself and for everything in humanity. Now following that, I dove into the research of near-death experiences, the neuroscience of consciousness, and even the link between quantum physics and how we manifest our deepest desires. And no matter which perspective appeals to you, it all boils down to this: authentic happiness and total wellness are your natural birthrights.

You have a unique purpose to fulfill in this lifetime, even when your role seems small. So, your second key to transforming your dreams into reality is to love who you are. From there you can revive the true self, rewrite your self-description, and rebuild the living temple of your authentic self.

Now the positive psychology research and my own experience shows that there’s nothing short of miracles that are available to each and every one of us. From overcoming depression, bouncing back after chemotherapy and cancer, to revolutionary new business ideas, the possibilities are endless.

How will you use your potential? Gandhi said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. So it’s no surprise that your third key is to live who you really are. Uncover your dreams and your passions, and share them with the world; your ideas, your voice, but most importantly your presence, because you are a gift to the world. So there you have it.

There is my one small idea: Become who you really are.

First learn that you are more than your body; you are not the monkey mind. You are more than a present illness or a number on a scale; you’re more than your past success or failures. You are an infinite being, full of potential to make a difference in this life, starting with your own.

Love yourself, accept yourself flaws and all, shine a light on your shadowy parts to integrate and heal them, embrace your strengths and celebrate your uniqueness. You are lovable just as you are.

And, finally, live who you really are. You’ve heard it: use your talents and your ideas in service to others. Because we need you, the world is depending upon it.

I will leave you with this: be yourself, because an original is always worth more than a copy. And that’s my idea worth spreading.

Thank you.

Want a summarized version of this captivating TEDx Talk? Here it it.


In her captivating TEDx talk, Andrea Pennington delves into the profound topic of personal transformation and the journey towards becoming one’s authentic self. Drawing on her extensive background as a peak performance behavior specialist and documentary filmmaker, she offers insights and strategies for unlocking one’s potential and creating a life of purpose and fulfillment.

Pennington begins by expressing her fascination with the process of turning dreams and aspirations into tangible reality, a theme that has guided her work over the past two decades. She engages the audience by inviting them to reflect on their own potential for greatness and introduces Marianne Williamson’s quote, emphasizing that feeling unfulfilled is a sign of untapped potential.

Her central message revolves around the concept of authentic transformation by embracing one’s true self. Pennington highlights the societal norms that often steer individuals away from their genuine identity, causing them to conform and suppress their uniqueness. Drawing from her experiences in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, she underscores the significance of the mind-body connection in achieving holistic well-being.

Pennington discusses the profound impact of childhood programming on self-image and beliefs, leading to the creation of social masks that prevent individuals from living authentically. She explains how rediscovering the true self involves looking inward, questioning beliefs, and cultivating self-awareness through practices like meditation and contemplation.

The speaker emphasizes that authenticity isn’t confined by biological predispositions; one’s biology is a starting point rather than a limitation. She introduces the concept of character strengths and explains how these unique qualities contribute to a fulfilling life. Pennington encourages embracing these strengths and living in alignment with them to achieve authentic happiness and success.

Drawing on personal experiences, Pennington candidly shares her struggles with conforming to societal expectations and masking her true self. She delves into her journey of rediscovery, including a profound realization during a near-death-like experience that prompted her to dive into researching near-death experiences, neuroscience, and quantum physics. From this exploration, she deduced that genuine happiness and total wellness are inherent birthrights.

In closing, Pennington provides three essential keys to personal transformation: first, the importance of learning who one truly is beyond societal programming; second, the significance of loving oneself, embracing flaws and strengths alike; and third, the imperative of living authentically and sharing one’s unique gifts with the world.

By weaving together personal anecdotes, scientific insights, and philosophical wisdom, Andrea Pennington offers a powerful and actionable roadmap for individuals to break free from societal norms, reconnect with their true selves, and create lives filled with purpose, meaning, and genuine happiness.

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