Dan Meyer on Cutting Through Fear at TEDxMaastricht (Full Transcript)

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.

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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?”

He said, “Thromes are major life goals. They’re like a combination of dreams and goals, like if you could do anything you want to do, go anyplace you want to go, be anyone you want to be, where would you go, what would you do, who’d you be?”

I said, oh, man, “I can’t do that. I’m too scared. I’ve got too many fears!”

That night I took my little rice mat up on the roof of the bungalow, laid out underneath the stars, and watched the bats dive bombing for mosquitoes. And all I could think about were thromes, and dreams and goals, and those bullies with the dodgeballs.

A few hours later I woke up. My heart was racing, my knees were shaking. This time it wasn’t with fear. My entire body was convulsing. And for the next five days I was in and out of consciousness, on my deathbed fighting for my life. My brain was burning up with 105 degree malaria fever.

And whenever I was conscious, all I could think about were thromes. I thought, “What do I want to do with my life?”

Finally, on the night before my 21st birthday, in a moment of clarity, I came to a realization. I realized that little mosquito, Anopheles stephensi, that little mosquito that weighed less than 5 micrograms, less than a grain of salt, if that mosquito could take out a 170 pound man, 80 kilo man, I realized that was my kryptonite.

Then I realized, no, no, it’s not the mosquito, it’s the little parasite inside the mosquito, Plasmodium falciparum, that kills over a million people a year.

Then I realized no, no, it’s even smaller than that, but to me, it seemed so much greater. I realized, fear was my kryptonite, my parasite, that had crippled and paralyzed me my entire life.

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You know, there’s a difference between danger and fear. Danger is real. Fear is a choice. And I realized I had a choice. I could either live in fear, and die in failure that night, or I could put my fears to death, and I could reach for my dreams, I could dare to live life.

And you know, there’s something about being on your deathbed and facing death that actually makes you really want to live life. I realized everyone dies, not everyone really lives. It’s in dying that we live. You know, when you learn to die, you really learn to live.

So I decided I was going to change my story that night. I did not want to die. So I prayed a little prayer, I said, “God, if you let me live to my 21st birthday, I will not let fear rule my life any longer. I’m going to put my fears to death, I’m going to reach for my dreams, I want to change my attitude, I want to do something incredible with my life, I want to find my purpose and calling, I want to know that the impossible is not impossible.”

I won’t tell you if I survived that night or not; I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

But that night I made my list of my first 10 Thromes. I decided I wanted to visit all the major continents, visit the 7 Wonders of the World, learn a bunch of languages, live on a deserted island, live on a ship in the ocean, live with a tribe of Indians in the Amazon, climb to the top of the highest mountain in Sweden, I wanted to see Mount Everest at sunrise, I wanted to work in the music business in Nashville, I wanted to work with a circus, and I wanted to jump out of an airplane.

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