Here is the full transcript of Kevin Bahler’s TEDx Talk presentation: How To Introduce Yourself at TEDxLehighRiver conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to introduce yourself by Kevin Bahler at TEDxLehighRiver
Kevin Bahler – Grant Writer, Allentown Symphony Association
Thank you. Hello, my name is Kevin Bahler and I am the grant writer for Allentown Symphony Association. I always find that it’s a strange way to introduce myself. It is not that I don’t like my job, I’m very proud of it. But why is that our only introduction?
When I was five, I had lots of introductions. Hi! My name is Kevin, and my favorite color is green. Hi! My name is Kevin, and I have a cat named Tiger. Hi! My name is Kevin, and I love finger-painting! Admittedly, that last one was kind of playing it safe because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love finger-painting. But I didn’t pick it because it was safe, I picked it because I was always honest and upfront about who I was and what I loved.
When I was in elementary school, I changed my introductions to match my newest interests. Hi, my name is Kevin and I like watching Power Rangers. Hi, my name is Kevin and I do the martial art Aikido. Hi, my name is Kevin and my favorite food is quiche! Yes, I was a very weird boy and I admit it. But there reaches an age when being honest and open about yourself is a social equivalent of getting kicked me tattooed across your forehead.
So as I got older, I slowly picked the safer options. By the time I was in high school, I had changed my introductions to match what was normal. Hey, I’m Kevin and I like watching The Simpsons. Hey, I’m Kevin and I like eating corn pops. I didn’t even tell people I did martial arts. And it’s not that I ever lied about myself, I just told people the parts of me they expected to hear. How come?
Well, in case you don’t remember high school very well, you need to fit in. And whether you want to fit in with the popular kids, or if you want to fit in with the counterculture, if you want to have any friends, you need to have something in common with somebody. And the safer your introduction, the more likely you’re to connect. So I figured out how to say the right things and I survived high school without being ostracized as a “quiche goblin wanna-be ninja” and that was a victory.
But when graduation day came, I was so excited for college. This was the place where people pay the money to learn. It had to be filled incredibly passionate people, right? Yeah, guess how wrong I was; I’ll give you a hint. It was a lot. It turns out that passionate or not, everybody on campus had one introduction. “Hey, I’m Kevin and my major is…” and nobody cared what your major was. It was just the only allowable introduction. But you know why? Because everybody had one, it was this way to kind of define yourself, but always within the safety of the established programs.
Now I have to admit, I have not always been the charming charismatic sharp-dressed man you see before you. In fact, I used to be a huge nerd that would do anything to have friends. So when I was in college, I mastered the safe introduction, and I mastered the safe conversation, and I mastered the safe friendship. And you know what? Safe friends are boring! We didn’t do anything. We sat in our dorms, complained about teachers and homework and that was “hanging out”.
By the time I was in junior year, I had more “friends” than I had time to spend with them. And I wasn’t even enjoying myself. When I realized this, it pushed me over the tipping point and I finally stopped caring about fitting in and I started caring about being happy. So instead of being safe, I started being honest. Hi, I’m Kevin, and I’m fascinated by chemistry and physics. Hi, my name is Kevin, and my favorite band ever is Muse. Hi, my name is Kevin and I love finger-painting! You don’t grow out of it, you don’t.
And the funny thing about allowing myself to just be me, is that all those boring people stopped wanting to hang out with me. Because I wasn’t safe. And all the people who stuck around were awesome! These were people that did things: we hiked, we swam, we practiced martial arts together, we could discuss anything from black holes to stand-up comedians, from [Zick Einstein] to Winnie The Pooh, and all the while we were laughing. And it’s so easy to get lost in having a good time. So I made sure to remind myself of one simple fact: I would never have my true friends if I wasn’t willing to be rejected by everybody else.
So when I graduated college, I was ready to enter the real world. I’ve learned to let go of the safety of conformity. And I was ready to meet other self-actualized adults and guess how many I met! Yeah about the same as you. No, it turns out that it was just the same introduction from college only now with more suits or more often a name tag “Hello, my name is meaningless and I am my job.”
Now like I said at the beginning, I am proud of my job. I’m privileged to be able to earn my living by raising money for the symphony. But when I was nine, I never introduced myself by saying: “Hi, my name is Kevin, and when I grow up I want to be a grant writer.” I wasn’t that weird of the kid. And even today as an adult there are things that I’m far more passionate about than mailing out project budget and annual reports. And passion is what this is really about. I find it so mind-blowing that so many people have so many passions and so badly want to share them with the world. But they don’t, for fear of being criticized by people they don’t even care about.
I’ll talk about my passions with anybody, some crowd at a party, the woman in line at the grocery store, and you there in the back. Whoever. Because if some stranger doesn’t think that old Kung Fu movies are totally awesome, so what? I’m probably never going to see them again, and it doesn’t make me love them any less. But if that person is totally into The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, then I’ve just made a new best friend. So no matter what I win, and so can you. The ultimate question here is ”How do you introduce yourself?” And that’s tricky, you know me pretty well by now, but I have had a good eight minutes to tell you who I am. How do you convey all of that in a single sentence? And that’s something you have to figure out for yourself. And I challenge you to do it. But I know that it helps to have an example to inspire you. So allow me to close with my introduction. Hello, my name is Kevin Bahler, and I love it when people are truly happy.