September 21, 2011

Officially Launching AdvanceHumanity.com

I've been dreaming of this day for a long time, when I would finally be able to launch Advance Humanity. Our new website has been up for a few weeks while we have been tweaking the design and getting things together, but now it's finally September 21st - the day I was waiting for - World Peace Day. I chose this day to launch because I want it to be a reminder that each of us can do something, no matter how small, to change ourselves and change the world.

What's the big idea?
Right from the beginning, I thought it would be good to share what I hope to accomplish here. A goal is good, a measurable goal is better, and a publicly measurable goal is best of all.

I want to write… a lot. I’ll be writing about personal development, staying inspired, living simply, doing more of what you love, and working with others to do amazing things. The theme that links all these things together is the belief that the best way to change the world is to change yourself first. With each of us doing that, together we will create a small army of everyday humanitarians at Advance Humanity that will be unstoppable.

Looking ahead from the beginning of this project, here’s what I’d like to see one year from now:
  1. 100 awesome articles that are high-quality, simple, quick-to-read and practical for everyday life
  2. 25 profiles which feature awesome everyday humanitarians with incredible stories
  3. Over 2,000 committed people who are part of our community through updates and Facebook
  4. 100+ Big Ideas which I will distill from reading 50 incredible books and
  5. 2 PDF Guides for everyday humanitarians that explain these Big Ideas and help you do amazing things

Going forward, my focus is on helping you achieve your own awesome goals and sharing resources, projects and inspirations to help you get there. After three years in the Peace Corps, losing 60 pounds, creating some awesome projects, launching a TEDx event, raising tens of thousands of dollars and getting married, I have a feeling we can do it.

While I’m writing, I’ll also be pursuing other important goals.
I also work with several nonprofit organizations, collaborate with social entrepreneurs, consult on international development, try to meditate, stay in shape and do other fun stuff. From time to time, I’ll write about these activities whenever it seems like it will be helpful. But mostly, Advance Humanity will be less about me and more about you and helping you change the world.

I hope you enjoy it and I'm really happy you're here.


P.S. Here is a short welcome video I made when I finally got to ride a motorcycle after three years of waiting (Peace Corps Volunteers can't ride motorcycles) and it even has a special guest!


September 5, 2011

Thank You, Peace Corps

It's been an honor serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer and Peace Corps Volunteer Leader here in Mongolia over the past three years.

I feel very grateful and to the many people who have made it an incredible experience, I really can't thank you all enough. Our amazing Peace Corps Mongolia staff and my fellow Volunteers in Mongolia and around the world have always supported me and humbled me. The Peace Corps really is a huge family that wraps all around the world.

My wonderful friends and family in Sukhbaatar Province and my equally amazing family and friends at home in America have always been there for me, even though "there" has been thousands of miles away.

And of course my wife Tunga who has been my wonderful friend and partner in this amazing adventure, thank you so much.

I've always wanted to be a part of Peace Corps and been amazed by the quality of people I have met in the organization and around the world. I wrote this in my book and I'll keep saying it, I think Peace Corps is a story that all of us have a chance to be a part of. It's up to us how long and how amazing the story is. I hope to make it great, with your help, and to make it last as long as possible. Thank you all so much.





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August 30, 2011

The End of My Time in Peace Corps

After 3 years and 3 months of service, this week signals the end of my time in the Peace Corps. Today Tunga and I finished the lengthy visa process of registering me as a resident in Mongolia and tomorrow night we will be celebrating with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Leader Kyle and the rest of our Peace Corps staff during our Farewell Dinner.

To say that Peace Corps has changed my life forever would be an understatement. Since applying to Peace Corps I completed a silent retreat that I never thought I'd finish, created dozens of awesome projects with my amazing Mongolian counterparts and fellow Volunteers, I lost over 60 pounds, wrote a book, designed a ton of websites, made my own merit badges, created an iPhone app, organized the first TEDx event in Mongolia and was married to my amazing wife. Peace Corps has exceeded my expectations in every way and allowed me to enjoy things I never imagined.

How do you share such an amazing experience with others? When someone says, "Wow, Peace Corps huh? So, what did you do?" how do I begin to answer?

Well, apparently I wrote a lot about it. Looking back, I've written over 300 articles on my blog and fit a bunch of those experiences into my first book. And I have more to write. Over the next 8 months, during my Peace Corps retirement & wannabe literary sabbatical, I plan to launch Advance Humanity and work on my two new book projects: Life is Volunteer and Modern Enlightenment.

I couldn't be more proud of being a Peace Corps Volunteer over the past three years and I am very excited about what lies ahead. Thank you for being here with me and joining me on my next adventure!



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August 25, 2011

Quick Wrap-Up of TEDxUlaanbaatar


This past weekend I was able to enjoy TEDxUlaanbaatar with hundreds of other people from Mongolia and around the world. I am completely humbled by the wonderful things I heard at the event, in the personal e-mails I've received, and the conversations that have been taking place on Facebook. What started out as a simple idea between two friends quickly grew into a talented team of people and an amazing event with hundreds of people who gathering together around ideas worth spreading. 


A year ago I wrote down as one of my dreams that I wanted to speak at the global TED conference. I thought it would take years to accomplish and it probably will, but I've been surprised by how many ways there are to achieve our dreams. Creating and speaking at TEDxUlaanbaatar has been a great start and, more importantly, has encouraged others to dream. Christa, the wife of one of our awesome organizing team members Joe, mentioned that in our audience on Saturday one of the young Mongolian men next to her said that he now dreams about speaking at TEDxUlaanbaatar in the future. By creating this event together the volunteers, speakers, organizers, and attendants encouraged each other to dream about what is possible.

In October we will be leading a TEDx Organizer's Workshop which already has dozens of people signed up to hear about how we can create more TEDx events around Mongolia. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing more about how to start your own TEDx event, including organizing and executing conferences both big and small. I'm certainly no expert and I could've never done this without an incredibly talented team, but I certainly learned a lot of things over last few months that I think are worth sharing.



I hope, no matter if your dream is something like creating a TEDx event or not, that you know it's possible to create anything that you imagine. You aren't alone and the magic is that people come from all around to help you create something valuable for others. TEDxUlaanbaatar is just the beginning of many great things in Mongolia thanks to some really incredible people that I'm honored to have met. Thank you all again so much for making this possible and for sharing in this idea together with me. I think we're going to create some amazing things. As one of our youngest audience members, a teenager named Bolortuya, told us, "To believe in the heroic makes heroes. Let's all become heroes."

To see pictures of our event, please check out TEDxUlaanbaatar on Facebook and Flickr. Soon, after some professional editing and translation, you can watch the videos on our YouTube channel too!

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August 18, 2011

Join Us Live for TEDxUlaanbaatar

TEDxUlaanbaatar will be streaming live!

While we are limited to 100 seats at the live event, there is unlimited seating for our friends who want to watch TEDxUlaanbaatar live on August 20th! Thanks to the incredible technology available to us you can watch TEDxUlaanbaatar live all day on Saturday, August 20, starting at 9am and running until 6pm in Mongolia. In America, Eastern Standard Time, this means the event starts on Friday, August 19th at 9pm and runs until 6am Saturday morning. 

All you have to do is visit TEDxUlaanbaatar.com and the live stream of the event will be available in both Mongolian and English. Invite your friends to join you in watching this all-day event and be sure to join us on Facebook and Twitter to join the live conversation on as we live-tweet and live-blog the event. We would love to hear from you!

Also if you aren’t available to watch the event live, you can always watch the event later. All TEDxUlaanbaatar talks will be available after the event with subtitles in both languages! We look forward to seeing you soon!





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August 14, 2011

Our Letter from The Dalai Lama



It's hard for me to express how much I respect the Dalai Lama. For more than ten years, since I was in high school, I have read dozens of his books, collected hundreds of his quotes, and even had the opportunity to share them with tens of thousands of people. He is an inspiration to millions, including my friends and family here in Mongolia, and he has been a big part of my life.

Yesterday was the first time I received a personal correspondence from him, with his playful signature on the bottom and his inspiring words across the page. Months ago, on behalf of the Mongolian people and our TEDxUlaanbaatar conference, I wrote to The Office of His Holiness requesting his presence at our event. Since he was traveling in Europe during the time of our event, his office said they would do everything they could to provide us with a personal statement in his place. The Dalai Lama is a very busy man, so I understood completely. During our event his letter, which I've included here, will be read by one of Mongolian's most respected religious leaders from the National Gandan Monastery.

It has been an honor to reach out to His Holiness on behalf of so many people who love him, and to be able to share his words at our upcoming event. Almost every home I have been in while living here in Mongolia for three years has had a picture of the Dalai Lama in a place of prominence. For decades under communism the Mongolian people were unable to have pictures of the Dalai Lama or Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan), two heroes who mean the world to millions of people. Although it's hard for me to express how much the Dalai Lama means to me, I've found that I'm among friends here in Mongolia. Even if we can't always express it, I know we feel the same way.

To watch the statement from His Holiness read live at TEDxUlaanbaatar, please join us live on August 20th (which is August 19th at 9pm EST). It should be amazing!

August 11, 2011

TEDxUlaanbaatar on the Way

TEDxUlaanbaatar is right around the corner and it's that thing I've been working on every Saturday for about six months. TED is such an inspiring conference and it had me the first time I saw a TEDTalk. I can't say exactly what will happen at our event next Saturday, but I hope a ton of people have a lot of fun. It's the first conference I've ever helped organize, and the first TEDx conference in Mongolia. It's the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of talented people (including the team at New Media Marketing Agency) and I feel very lucky to know them all.

Advance Humanity is all about creating amazing projects together and sharing valualbe resources, which is why I wrote How to Start Your Own TEDx Event. Maybe in a few weeks I'll write about how to finish one. Until then, please check out TEDxUlaanbaatar.com and watch the event live next week! Wish us luck!



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August 9, 2011

That Thing You've Been Working On

You try not be nervous, you try to think that everything's going to turn out just fine. But you've put a lot of time into this, and the moment is getting close. In just a few days that thing that was just an idea, that thing that you didn't really know how to make happen, it's happening. People came out of nowhere to help you do things you didn't know how to do. A lot of people. Hundreds of people. Countless people that you can't begin to thank enough. But then again, they didn't come together for you, they came together for an idea. They believe in the same thing you believe in and that's more powerful than anything.

When you believe in something with a group of people, it brings you together to become greater than the sum of your parts. What you create might not be perfect, but it doesn't have to be.

Wherever you are, whatever you believe in and whatever you are creating together with others I wish you the best. I hope, when that moment comes, you can be proud of what you've done. I have a feeling that everything's going to turn out just fine.


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August 3, 2011

The Three Year Pizza

The other night Tunga and I were able to order a pizza and have it delivered to our home, pick up a bottle of water from the store, and play basketball with a dozen of the kids from the neighborhood at the park. A normal night it would seem, but actually it's the culmination of years and years of hard work by hundreds of people. There was no pizza delivery a few months ago (and no one in the city knew how to make pizza two years ago), the store we got water from wasn't around a year ago, and the neighborhood park was just an idea and architectural drawings when Alex and I began our service three years ago. "I bet Sukhbaatar has changed a lot since you first got here…" said my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Kate, who now serves in the hospital where I volunteered for two years, "What's it feel like to be back?"

Humbling. Wonderful. Inspiring. Hard to explain. Things change so quickly and I feel very lucky to have been here long enough to see just a few of those changes that I've been able to be a part of.

The Pizza
My first year in Sukhbaatar, starting in 2008, Alex, LP and I helped teach merit badge classes with the local Mongolian Scouts. We taught our Cooking Merit Badge at the local university with cafeteria chefs and taught them what they asked us: how to make pizza, hamburgers and hamburger buns. Everyone loved it, especially the chefs apparently, as one of them now makes pizzas at a new restaurant called Miss Pizza. They are amazing really, much healthier than what we taught them how to make, and since they take about 40 minutes to make they will deliver the pizza to your house for free. Incredible.

The Bottle of Water
My second year in Sukhbaatar, after being together with Tunga for a year, I had a long conversation with Tunga's father about communism, Mongolia's 20-year-old market economy and democracy, and the future of our province. Together with donors from around the world, we began what would become the Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund. It's only a few months old now, but the store has been built and it's amazing to watch the ripple effect it is having in the community. As the community fund replenishes itself with money from the store, we are very excited to think about where its impact will go.

The Neighborhood Park
Throughout our second year, Alex worked with the Provincial Children's Center for months creating the designs and researching the procurement, development, and construction of what would become the largest outdoor community park in our province. It had been a dream of many people for years, so when we approached the Children's Center with the idea they jumped on it immediately. With the support of Mike and JRC Sports for Peace, the leaders of the Children's Center approached thousands of people in our city over several months, getting thousands of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations. Alex wasn't able to see the construction finished, but it's wonderful. Amazing really. From my apartment window, from 6am until midnight every day I see dozens and dozens of people using the equipment, playing on the basketball court and sitting with their families and friends.

I think it's rare for Peace Corps Volunteers, or maybe volunteers of any kind, to be able to see the lasting changes their efforts make on a community. Two years seems like a long time until you live somewhere, just start getting the hang of something, and then your time is up. Two years, really? I stayed for a third, and now for a fourth, and I still can't believe how fast time has gone.

My point of course isn't the pizza, the water bottle or the park. Those things are great, and tasty, but the impact we all have on people and the communities we live in usually go far deeper than what we can see. The kids we smile with in the streets, the people we give a helping hand, and the people's lives we try to help make a little easier, those actions, no matter how small, are important ripples in a very big pond. My point is that those things matter, they go far deeper than you realize, and we all do things like that every day.

As I finish my Peace Corps service, I've started the Life is Volunteer project to keep these stories going. I want to hear from you, from people who are doing what they can to change themselves and change the world. I've already heard dozens of amazing stories from people all over and I'm very excited to share them with you. I've love to hear yours too. Please comment on this post or join us on Facebook or Google Plus to share your story. What kinds of things keep you excited to change yourself and change the world?

July 31, 2011

Malesh Mifish Mishkela


Talking with my closest friends, who really serve as my advisors, always serves as a way to ground me when I get confused, frustrated or just a little off track.

We all have them, those people that makes us smile and remember who we really are and what we really want out of life. Even if we just have one, that's all we need. Whether they're in New York City, out in the Middle East, or relaxing in Missouri, they are priceless and can often be found right when we needed them.

On a personal note, I'm getting very excited about officially launching the new Advance Humanity site. I've been dreaming of it for years and working toward it now for months with the help of my friends at the New Media Marketing Agency. We're getting really close and I can't wait to show it to you! But, as with all exciting things, it's easy to get frustrated. When you have high hopes for something, it's easy to find fault in it. To nit-pick it. To stress out needlessly. Friends can help remind you of how awesome things are, to relax, appreciate life more, let go of the need for perfection, and just chill out. "Malesh mifish mishkela," my friend Erica said, "It's perhaps my most overused, but favorite phrase. It means 'No worries, it's no problem.'" I didn't know it, but it's just what I needed to hear.


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Photo courtesy of Carf

July 14, 2011

Our Mongolian Wedding

I've been gone from the digital world for a few weeks, and for good reason. On June 29th, Tunga and I were married here in Mongolia. We celebrated with family and friends in Tunga's hometown of Baruun Urt, Sukhbaatar where we met when I was serving for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I would like to say thank you, so much, to all of you who helped make our special day so wonderful. Your kind words, your smiles and hugs, your generosity and love and support literally came to us from around the world. It's not easy to be so far away from family and friends on such a special day, but thanks to your efforts all of you were very close to our hearts. Not a moment passed when I didn't think about you and remember that without you I wouldn't be where I am today. Our world is growing smaller every day, which allowed Michael and Jonathan, my two best friends, to be with us all the way from America. It helped me receive an email from my mom which brought tears to my eyes and it allowed us to share pictures with all of you around the world within days of our the event in one of the most remote places on our planet. The idea of family reaches around the world and it includes all of us. For Tunga and I the idea family will always include different cultures, different views and traditions, but a common compassion, love and kindness that is shared in every corner of the world.

On our wedding day my mother wrote to us saying, "Today is a beautiful day. You will never have another one that takes its place... I am dreaming about an extraordinary love story that is about to let the rest of the world share a glimpse of its beauty and commitment to love... forever." I am dreaming of the same thing.

If you would like to see photography of the event, taken by the wonderful PCV Katie Borkowski, you can see the photos here anytime. Also, please let us know if you would like to celebrate with us next year in America! We have a guestbook that you can sign to hear about updates as the events next summer get closer. We would love to see you! Thank you all again so much.







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July 12, 2011

Let The World Change You and You Can Change The World

I think all of us take journeys that change us. We go places and when we return we feel like different people. In The Motorcycle Diaries, which I watched at the suggestion of my close friend Michael Lee, the main character says a line that I love, "All this time we spent on the route, something happened... something that I have to think about long and hard," said Ernesto, popularly known as Che Guevara, "that aimless roaming through our enormous America has changed me more than I thought. I am not myself anymore. At least, I’m not the same inside."

Like Joseph Campbell has said, I think each of us has a hero's journey to follow. Each of us is destined for great things, if we have the courage to listen. I can certainly relate to Che's direct honesty, his deep connection with those around him and most of all his confusion. "How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?" he asks. Why is there so much injustice? What are we supposed to do to help? These are great questions and I think sometimes our lives can become the answers.

I had heard of Che Guevara before seeing this movie, but I didn't really know much about him at all. After seeing the film and reading about him for several hours, I feel like I still have much to learn. If you have time, definitely check out the film and also this poem, which he loved and could recite from memory called "If", by Rudyard Kipling. Thanks for the great recommendation Michael!



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June 14, 2011

Passing 38 Months of Service

I am currently finishing my 38th month in the Peace Corps. Last week, together with first, second and third year Volunteers, I watched our newest group of Volunteers arrive here in Mongolia complete with hoots, hollers and high fives at the airport.

Peace Corps is a funny thing, three years goes by in a flash but it also feels like forever. I've changed a lot, but I still have so much in common with our newest Volunteers. After listening to them, walking and laughing with them, and helping them through their first day I found myself smiling so much my face hurt. It's inspiring to see their enthusiasm and think about all the incredible things they will experience during their service in Mongolia. Peace Corps has definitely changed my life and I feel grateful for it every day.

I will finish my Peace Corps service in September, but for those who have served in the Peace Corps, the journey is never over. Life is for service. Life is volunteer. "Service is the rent we pay for living," my principal Mrs. Wrights once told me, quoting Marian Wright Edelman, "It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time."

I'm very excited about the days and months ahead and going there with people that I love and admire. This week Michael, one of my best friends, is flying to Mongolia and at the end of this month Tunga and I will be getting married. We are very excited and look forward to sharing wonderful pictures and photos with all of you soon!

After Peace Corps I am very eager to read several dozen books and write two of my own: Life is Volunteer and Modern Enlightenment. I would love for you to be part of these two projects, I hope to make them the cornerstones of Advance Humanity and I'm really excited about hearing your thoughts on them. Thank you for being with me so far, I promise things are going to get really interesting these next couple months!

June 4, 2011

How Walt Disney Inspires Me To Keep Moving Forward

"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."  Walt Disney (Meet the Robinsons)

When I was very young my great-grandmother told my mother that I would grow up to be an inventor - that I was going to create something new and amazing. I've been thinking about that on and off for about twenty years. I've always loved creating things, organizing things in new ways and stepping back to look at the big picture (including how you and I fit into the solar system for instance). I easily lose hours reading, thinking, talking and writing about big ideas - things like what Disney really wanted EPCOT to be.

Disney has always inspired me tremendously. His imagination was extraordinary and his willingness to put everything out there, even when those closest to him said to back down, kept taking him higher and higher. As Chris wrote recently on the Art of Nonconformity, "Remember: The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it." Disney did amazing things, created visions of the future that people are still catching up to, and called on all of us to create a better tomorrow.

Throughout this week I will post up quotes from Disney that I wrote down when my family and I took Tunga to Disney World for the first time this past Thanksgiving. I hope Advance Humanity, and all of the work that we are able to do together, will always keeping moving us forward. I think we all have a very bright future ahead of us if we are willing to create it together. I, for one, look forward to it. As Disney said, “It's kind of fun to do the impossible.”


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May 24, 2011

Modern Enlightenment and Prosperity without Growth

The idea behind the Modern Enlightenment project is simple: to help make timeless traditions and ancient wisdom an integral part of our modern progressive world. I want to share resources and ideas that will help all of us achieve greater levels of happiness, wisdom and compassion in our everyday lives. This includes reviewing literature and research, videos and inspirational ideas, communicating together about what we believe matters most, and working together to create a brighter, more enlightened future.

I saw one such idea in this humbling TEDTalk on global economics by Tim Jackson, where he tries to draw out a moral from our economic troubles, a global recession and our changing and developing world.

Seven minutes into his talk he says, "This is a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about... Is this really how people are?" he asks. "It seems that the system is at odds with how we are as people."

I'm as guilty as the next person - I get that empty feeling in me when I see something I want, something I just have to have. It doesn't matter if it's a bottle of Sprite or the newest technological gadget. I didn't need it before, but now that I see it, I want it. It's such a powerful feeling. In Peace Corps, and in Mongolia in particular, it's been easier to avoid the advertisements and constant reminders of things I "need", but I can't avoid it forever.

At the end of his talk, after a lot of great examples, Tim closes with his idea of a meaningful prosperity. "Investment is just such a basic economic concept, it is nothing more or less than the relationship between the present and the future. A shared present and a common future... We need to develop a new definition of prosperity. A prosperity that is more meaningful and less materialistic than the growth-based model. The idea of meaningful prosperity is not about standing in the way of development. It's not about overthrowing capitalism. It's not about trying to change human nature. What we're doing here is taking a few simple steps towards an economics fit for purpose. And at the heart of that economics we're placing a more credible, more robust, and more realistic vision of what it means to be human."

I think Modern Enlightenment can be a part of that. I want it to be a project that talks about what it means to be human in our modern, fast-paced, developing world. I would love to hear what you think. To learn more about Tim's vision of Prosperity without Growth and watch his TEDTalk, visit Economic Reality Check on TED.com.



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May 20, 2011

How To Be Great Like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of those incredible, inspiring leaders who really stands out in American history. He took timeless principles like nonviolence, commitment and a pursuit of truth and followed them to the end of his life.

When I was young I had a chance to visit Atlanta, sit through a service in Ebenezer Baptist Church, walk around the reflecting pool that surrounds his tomb, and reflect on his famous "I Have a Dream" speech every year on the national holiday created in his name. I'm very glad that same holiday is now celebrated every year as a day of service. I think Dr. King would be proud of that.
If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
This quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. comes from one of his sermons, The Drum Major Instinct, which Chris mentioned a little while back at the Art of Non-Conformity. I love it and I believe in it entirely. Advance Humanity and projects like Life is Volunteer and Modern Enlightenment, everything I do is motivated by this belief, this new definition of greatness.

I like how Simon Sinek closed his recent TEDTalk on Inspiring Leadership, "We followed Martin Luther King Jr. not for him but for ourselves. And by the way he gave the "I Have a Dream" speech, not the "I Have a Plan" speech... He said again and again, I believe. I believe. I believe... There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead the inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves. And it's those who start with why who have the ability to inspire those around them and find others that inspire them."

Dr. King inspired and continues to inspire millions of people around the world. I think we need more people like him in the world. We need to be those people.


Please share your thoughts with us here

May 17, 2011

How Mendy is an Everyday Mongolian Inspiration

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." Albert Schweitzer

It always amazes me how lucky I have been to meet outstanding people and learn from their amazing life experiences. Mendy (Mend-Orshikh Amartaivan) has been one of those people. We first met last year after Mendy came across my website and asked if we could meet, telling me that he liked what I was doing in Mongolia and wanted to help. Now months later we have done some pretty cool things together, including organizing TEDxUlaanbaatar

Like many entrepreneurs Mende has learned how to turn his passion into his job. He leads a team of outstanding people at the New Media Marketing Agency and spends his days and his weekends dedicated to work that he believes in. He also offers his team's valuable services for free to people who are doing great work in Mongolia like the Blue Sky Education Project and Nomadicare

There are a lot of great people and books out there telling you to make money by becoming self-employed, offering great services to people and using online resources to your advantage. But Mendy is one of the few people that I've met (especially my age) who has learned how to do incredible things, make money doing them and help others at the same time. He is a huge inspiration to me and a great friend. I feel very lucky that he has inspired not only me but dozens and hundreds of other people and I think he will continue to do this for a very long time.

Here are a couple quick lessons that I've learned from Mendy in the last few months:

1. Connect With People Who Are Doing Great Things
We often see people who we think are doing great things (online, on television, in print, in person), but Mendy takes it a step further and reaches out to shake their hand. When you see someone doing something you admire, send them a quick note, or an email, or ask to sit down with them for coffee. When Mendy saw my website and asked me if we could meet, we met up at a cafe and it was probably one of the best meetings I have ever had with anyone. It doesn't matter how famous or busy you think the person may be, just give it a shot. I bet you'll be surprised who will write you back.

2. Ask How You Can Help
The second thing, when you do sit down and meet with the person, is ask how you can help them. I think it's very rare nowadays to find someone who will sit down with you, really listen, and sincerely offer you their help. So rare in fact that when Mendy did it to me I was taken aback. It was one of the best things I could have heard. I've started doing it with others more regularly and it's always turned out great. It's not always easy at first, to think of how I might even be able to help someone, but every time I reached out it's always gone incredibly well.

3. Thank People Sincerely
Lastly, it's key to thank people sincerely. When you thank someone for the opportunity to meet with them, thank them for the hard work they're doing, or just thank them for doing something small, it goes a long way. Often we feel unappreciated because, day after day, people forget to thank us for doing little things and they wait for the big things instead. Big or small, be sincere and appreciative with the people all around you. 

When you mix all these things together, like Mendy, you might be surprised where it takes you. Whether that means making the Prime Minister's website (which Mendy has done) or just making a new friend.


Here is a recent video of Mendy in action, speaking at the "Mutual Understanding and Cooperation" conference in Mongolia. At the end of the presentation he closes with the main message of Crush It! by Gary Vanerychuk: "Build your personal brand." After reading the book, which Mendy let me borrow, I couldn't agree more. The internet is here to stay and "googling" yourself to see what everyone else (including potential employers) see when they search for you, is only the beginning. If you'd like to read more about this idea, check out my review of Crush It! Thanks!


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May 14, 2011

Crush It! Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion (Review)

This is the first in a series of Book Reviews that I am doing as part of the Life is Volunteer project where I'm working through several dozen incredible books on international service, leadership, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and unconventional living. Each time I finish a book that I think you might really like, I'll write a review here on the blog and share some of my favorite big ideas from the book.

The awesome book I just finished is called Crush It! Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk. It's a New York Times Bestseller and a book that was good enough, and short enough, that I was able to finish it in one sitting. Thanks Mend-Orshikh for letting me borrow it!


Quick Overview
Crush It! is about how the internet is changing marketing and leveling the playing field for businesses and individuals around the world. Gary makes a compelling case that each of us has an unprecedented opportunity to promote our businesses (big or small), our projects and our personal brand like never before. After convincing you of that, he spends the rest of the book showing you how to do it using his own experience as an example.


Whether you're a writer, marketing specialist, entrepreneur, wine connoisseur or someone who wants to represent their own "personal brand", the internet has opened up opportunities for everyone. Throughout Crush It! Gary tells his story of how he helped turn his small family-owned wine and liquor store into a multi-million dollar business thanks to online videos. Every week he features new reviews on WineLibraryTV.com and slowly over several years built a following of hundreds of thousands of people. Throughout the book he breaks down the way he did this and how anyone can do it, usually for free. This includes things like making websites (which I've done for free for a long time) and engaging with people using social media like Facebook and Twitter.


My Favorite Big Ideas
One of the key messages of the book is the idea of creating your own personal brand. He makes the point that in today's internet-connected world everyone has a brand online. Whether you like it or not when you type your name in Google something is coming up. Gary makes the case that, if you want, you can be the one in charge of that. You can create websites, profiles and products that have your name associated with them or your name can be at the mercy of whoever wants to write about you. Creating your own personal brand is the idea that you need to protect and promote things that you believe in: who you are and who you want to be. The idea is summed up very well in his checklist that appears at the end of Crush It! which I have provided at the end of this review. But before we get there, here is one of my favorite parts of the book:
Ultimately this book is not about making a million dollars, although it just might help you do that. It’s about ensuring your own happiness by enabling you to live every day passionately and productively. I measure my success by how happy I am, not how big the business is or how much money I’ve made.


Living your passion means that when you get up for work every morning, every single morning, you are pumped because you get to talk about or work with or do the thing that interests you the most in the world. You don’t live for vacations because you don’t need a break from what you’re doing – working, playing, and relaxing are on and the same. You don’t even pay attention to how many hours you’re working because to you, it’s not really work. You’re making money, but you’d do whatever it is you’re doing for free.


Does this sound like you? Are you living, or just earning a living? You spend so much time at work, why waste it doing anything other than what you love most? Life is too short for that. You owe it to yourself to make a massive change for the better, and all you have to do is go online and start using the tools waiting for you there.


Learn to live your passion, and you’ll have all the money you need plus total control over your own destiny. That’s a pretty comfortable place to be, wouldn’t you say?


I don’t care if your passion is rehabilitating abandoned ferrets; if you learn to tap into everything the digital world has to offer, you can turn water into wine – you can transform what you live into a legacy-building business that makes a crapload of money, and still be true to yourself.


Making connections, creating and continuing meaningful interaction with other people, whether in person or in the digital domain, is the only reason we’re here. Remember that, set the tone, and build legacy.


The Final Word
"If there’s any message I want you to take away," writes Gary, "it’s that true success – financial, personal and professional – lies above all in loving your family, working hard, and living your passion. In telling your story. In authenticity, hustle, and patience. In caring fiercely about the big and the small stuff. In valuing legacy over currency. Social media is an important part of it for now, but maybe it won’t always be. These concepts, however, are forever, no matter what the next business platform or social phenomenon turns out to be."


I thought it would be helpful to provide a checklist of all the steps you want to take as you build your personal brand:
  1. Identify your passion.
  2. Make sure you can think of at least fifty awesome blog topics to ensure stickiness.
  3. Answer the following questions:
    1. Am I sure my passion is what I think it is?
    2. Can I talk about it better than anyone else?
  4. Name your personal brand. You don’t have to refer to it anywhere in your content, but you should have a clear idea of what it is. For example, “The no-bs real-estate agent,” “The connoisseur of cookware,” “The cool guide to young-adult books boys will love to read.”
  5. Buy your use name.com and .tv if possible – at GoDaddy.com
  6. Choose your medium: video, audio, written word.
  7. Start a Wordpress or Tumblr account.
  8. Hire a designer.
  9. Include a Facebook Connect link, Call-to-Action buttons, Share Functions and a button that invites people to do business with you in a prominent place on your blog.
  10. Create a Facebook fan page.
  11. Sign up for Ping.fm or TubeMogul and select all of the platforms to which you want to distribute your content. Choosing Twitter and Facebook is imperative; the others you can select according to your needs and preference.
  12. Post your content.
  13. Start creating community by leaving comments on other people’s blogs and forums and replying to comments to your own comment.
  14. Use Twitter Search (or Search.Twitter) to find as many people as possible talking about your topic, and communicate with them.
  15. Use Blogsearch.Google.com to find more blogs that are relevant to your subject.
  16. Join as many active Facebook fan pages and groups relating to your blog topic as possible.
  17. Repeat steps 12 through 16 over and over and over and over and over.
  18. Do it again.
  19. And again.
  20. When you feel your personal brand has gained sufficient attention and stickiness, start reaching out to advertisers and being monetizing.
  21. Enjoy the ride.


I highly recommend giving Crush It! a read, it's a fascinating and helpful book. I'm also reading through the Thank You Economy right now, which is his second book, and I'm really enjoying so far. I look forward to writing a short review on that soon too. I would also love to hear your recommendations on other great books I should read! Please visit the Life is Volunteer Get Involved page page and join me on Facebook to tell me what you think I should check out! Oh, and if you want to borrow my copy of Crush It! just let me know!




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May 9, 2011

A Secret Weapon in the Battle Against the Email Monster

There can definitely be too much of a good thing. Case in point: communication by email. It's wonderful to be able to communicate with people that we love all around the world all the time, but sometimes looking at a full inbox can feel like 50 people talking to you at once. If you're like me you deal with a lot of e-mails every day (maybe not as many as some, but still a lot). For a long time this meant I would never get to all of them. I felt too pressured to write long replies and there would always be several messages sitting there for days or weeks until I would magically find time to answer them. Enter the five sentence rule and now I've had an empty inbox at work and at home every night for months.

Five Sentences
The most helpful thing I've found in my battle against the inbox is the five.sentenc.es method, which I first heard about on ZenHabits. Nine times out of ten it's the best way for me to respond to any e-mail message. On occasion I'll include an attachment or forward someone to a website to find more information, but almost always the five sentences method allows me to clear my inbox every day (sometimes even using something small like an iPod Touch which I can take with me anywhere). 

Don't get me wrong, I love talking to people on the phone and on Skype forever - email is usually just not the place for those long conversations. Don't pressure yourself into crafting the perfect reply. Stick to five sentences, clear your inbox, move on to more complete conversations person-to-person, and enjoy a less stressful digital life. Good luck!


Once you empty out that inbox, come say "hi!" on Facebook!
Picture from Nerd Merit Badges

May 5, 2011

6 Tips For Self-Publishing That Book You've Always Dreamed of Writing

I had a great Skype conversation with Thomas Burns last month, who is a new friend, a former Fulbright Scholar and author of the upcoming book The Unofficial Guide to Fulbright Scholarships. After coming across my book, he asked if we could meet and a few days later we were talking, halfway around the world, about his awesome idea.

We live in an amazing age, unlike anytime in history, and it's redefining fields like technology, communication, media and much more. The fact that you are reading this, seconds after I write it in Mongolia, days after I video-conference with sometime halfway around the world, about publishing books using a mechanism that didn't exist a few years ago, is the perfect example of just how amazing it is.

When I was in America over the holiday season I spoke with my Uncle Josh about a book he self-published when I was younger. It cost him hundreds of dollars to buy dozens of copies and then sell them to family and friends himself. He really enjoyed writing it but, as you can imagine, the self-publishing process was a little difficult and very expensive. After handing him a copy of my book and talking  about the process of self-publishing online for a few minutes, he was convinced. "Next time I think I'm doing it your way," he said.

Self-publishing online has cost me nothing, not a penny, and after selling hundreds of copies of the Unofficial Handbook in a few short months, we have already raised hundreds of dollars for Peace Corps projects around the world. In case you are interested in self-publishing your own book, like Thomas and my Uncle Josh, here are a few tips that you might find helpful...

1. Clarify Your Idea

Before you begin, it's important to ask yourself a few questions: 
  • What exactly are you writing? 
  • Why are you writing? 
  • And who are you writing for? 
In my case, I wanted to help people who were interested in being Peace Corps Volunteers, to give them the book I wished someone would have given me, and I knew it was a small target audience. Self-publishing allowed me to freely express my ideas, raise about $4.00 from every book to give back to Peace Corps and update it as many times as I wanted. Take time to answer these questions carefully.

2. Gather An Incredible Support Team
At first it was just me, but the more people I told about my book the more people wanted to help. Some of my friends used to work for magazines or publishers, some loved to write, some loved to read, some loved graphic design and all of them were excited to help. It will be very helpful to have a support team of people you love and respect whether editors, proof-readers, advisors, press contacts, graphic designers or even cooperating organizations. Don't go it alone. Ask for help and you'll be amazed at who steps forward.

3. Write Consistently and Stay Inspired
Chris recently said, "When you get writer's block, lower your standards and keep going." It's easy to be hard on ourselves and get overwhelmed, with standards that are so high that they might drive us crazy. Be easy on yourself. Surround yourself with things that inspire you, other books, videos and people who remind you why you are writing. Keep something with you that makes it easy to jot down your ideas, a small notebook, an electronic note-taking application or even your cellphone. Let out your great ideas and keep them organized. There are tons of great free resources out there. Some of my favorites are Evernote, MindNode, PBWorks and GoogleSites. They are all free and very easy to learn. Pick one or two and use them all the time.

4. Create Space For Yourself
In writing consistency trumps bursts of inspiration in the same way that exercising 30 minutes everyday trumps vigorous exercise just one time a week. Create space for yourself to write, maybe a physical space but certainly uninterrupted time, so that you can chip away at your work. It can be a little lonely at times, and it might take longer than you thought originally, but if you stick at it you will finish. Trust me.

5. Consider Self-Publishing
Take a look at the self-publishing services out there, like Lulu.com. They require no start-up cash and are usually print-on-demand services, meaning that when someone orders your book they print it and ship it right then. You just write the book and they take care of everything else. In Lulu's case, they even put the book up on Amazon.com for you for free. Also, the growing industry of eBooks (which can be read on computers, Kindles, Nooks, iPads and just about anything now) are another great option. E-junkie.com is a good service for selling your eBooks online, again with no start-up costs. Remember, when you self-publish you retain the rights to your book and you can always go with a traditional publisher later if you want.

6. Keep People Updated
The last thing, which is easy to forget, is to keep people updated on your book. Use Facebook, Twitter, your own website, whatever you want. Post regularly about how you are doing, good or bad. It gives you a chance to talk with others, for them to support and even motivate you, and it keeps people excited for the day when they can finally hold your book in their hands. Keeping people updated benefits everyone. Also keep it as personal as possible, connect with people individually whether through email, in person, or in writing. Integrity is the best long-term marketing strategy. Be yourself, be kind and be helpful. And when you mention them in the Acknowledgments, it'll be like icing on the cake.

Writing a book is a daunting task, but it's not as difficult as you may imagine it to be. Give it a shot, gather your support team around you and remember I'm right here with you. Contact me online through our community on Facebook, I'm excited to help anyway I can!


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May 2, 2011

Everyday Compassion Is A Game We Can All Play

Compassion, for many reasons I suppose, is not as commanding a word as the things it attempts to combat. War. Terror. Fear. Violence. Destruction. Evil. The list of words like these goes on and on. But there is also another list, the countless acts of kindness and goodwill that surround us everyday: people obeying traffic laws, opening doors for strangers, smiling on the street, helping someone anonymously, listening with empathy and giving away time, money and energy in an effort to help others. Those things give me hope amidst news reports dominated by the horrible acts people can commit. Those things, the little things each of us has a chance to do every moment, help me maintain the belief that we can move forward as a human race and evolve from the inside out.

I really enjoyed two TEDTalks recently - one by Chade-Meng Tan (who was one of the first engineers at Google and now heads the company's personal development initiatives) and one by John Hunter who has been teaching children for three decades and playing something with them he calls the World Peace Game. Both men, on a daily basis, are engaged in creating the conditions for world peace through creating the conditions for inner peace and compassion. That, as you might have guessed, strikes a very strong cord with me. It's at the very foundation of what I want to do with Advance Humanity.

"Compassion is not a chore," says Chade-Meng, "Compassion is something that creates happiness. Compassion is fun. And that mind-blowing insight changes the entire game. Because, if compassion was a chore, nobody's going to do it -- except maybe the Dalai Lama or something. But if compassion was fun, everybody's going to do it. Therefore, to create the conditions for global compassion, all we have to do is to reframe compassion as something that is fun."

Like Chade-Meng, my dream is to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime and to do that by creating the conditions for inner peace and compassion - I want to do that through Advance Humanity. Making it a game, letting it dominate the airwaves and the media channels, and letting it take priority in our minds is key. Did you know that psychologists have studied how many thoughts we think, on average, every day? Usually it's around 60,000 thoughts a day. Get this: 95% of those are the same thoughts from day to day to day. And how many of those do you think are negative thoughts? 85%. 85%!

That sounds like a pretty good place to start to me. Each of us can make a game out of it and try to bring that percentage down, every thought, every moment. You don't have to go on a meditation retreat to do it (although, if you can, it's awesome). Everyday we can choose love over fear, positive over negative, and we can choose to open rather than close. What do you say? Want to start today?

I have included both of these two awesome TEDTalk videos below so you can watch them on the blog if you like, and you can also see them at TED.com. Here is a link to Chade-Meng Tan's talk on Everyday compassion at Google and John Hunter's talk on the World Peace Game. I hope you enjoy them!




To read more about those 60,000 thoughts, check out A Philosopher's Notes
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April 28, 2011

What Would You Do With Unlimited Sponsorship?

What would you do with unlimited sponsorship? By this I mean unlimited money or resources or connections to do something great - something you've always wanted to do. Maybe that means reading 100 incredible books and reviewing them for thousands of people. Maybe it means traveling to every country in the world. Or maybe just trying to help people change themselves and change the world. 

That last one, in case you didn't already know, is what I'm trying to do with Advance Humanity. The second to last one is Chris Guilbeau at the Art of Nonconformity. And the first was Brian Johnson with PhilosophersNotes. Both Chris and Brian have been very inspiring for me personally as I think about what I want to do. 

Often, I think we overestimate the cost (as Chris has mentioned before) of how much it will really take for us to achieve our dreams. I think it's also easy to forget that sponsorship doesn't just mean money, like $50,000 to achieve your dream. It can also mean in-kind donations: maybe someone who can provide you with the space or technology or resources to get things done. Also funding or sponsorship can come from all kinds of places that you might forget about: like people who want to buy your writing as you go. In both Brian's and Chris's projects, they wrote things as they went and people gladly supporting them as they creating their dream work. 

On any given day, we all have a chance to do incredible things things that we've always dreamed of doing but never really thought were possible. Not only are they possible, there are tons of people out there who want to help you make your dreams a reality. I, for one, am right here with you. So when I ask what would you do with unlimited sponsorship, what I'm really asking is "What will you do when you realize that sponsorship is all around you?"


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Photo by miningpeople

April 25, 2011

Why I Recommend 10 Days of Silent Meditation

I'm a big fan of Vipassana meditation, which is a free course organized for people who want to learn about meditation in a comfortable, quiet and safe environment over a 10-day period. I went when I had some time before Peace Corps in 2008 and I really enjoyed it. Meditation can seem like a confusing concept, but I found this retreat really easy to understand and very well run. 

You can read more about my experience here and here, but I wanted to share some thoughts from Daniel who talked with me a few weeks ago before he went on the retreat himself. He just completed the retreat earlier this month and I thought you might enjoy hearing what he had to say. I just asked him a few questions and he gave some great answers:

Why did you want to do this retreat?
I saw the Dhamma Brothers documentary and was intrigued. Not sold - just curious. I'd also been exposed to Asian philosophy before. I liked that Vipassana was avowedly NOT religious.

Were you nervous?
I was very nervous. In the days before the retreat I kept trying to justify flaking out. I got close several times. I was seriously afraid that this could be a cult. Mostly, I think, because the whole course was free. Who does that? If you're giving away a week-long course with food and board, surely you are in the business of mind control. But I kept telling myself to just be curious about this thing.

Was it rewarding?
It was immensely rewarding. Not in the sense that I got out and had a smile permanently tattooed on my face, or that I decided I wanted to worship someone. I felt noticeably better in a way that feels sustainable. Meditation is a practice, and after 10 days you really are able to begin the practice solo.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about going, but they are a little nervous?
I would never try to talk someone into doing a Vipassana retreat. If they don't want it, they absolutely could not handle it. But to someone who is curious but hesitant, I'd say go for it. Don't commit. That'd be silly. But go and give Vipassana a chance for ten days. Ten days. It's sounds long, but you'll have the right combination of business, rest, challenges, and support. No one will ask you to do anything weird, no one will ever even kind-of push you to give them your money, and if you really hate it, you can leave without any trouble. But, if like almost everyone else who went on my retreat, you're a nice, normal, curious, nervous person, you've got ten short days to lose and a whole lot to gain.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Daniel, it's awesome that you had such a great experience! 

If you want to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can visit their website at dhamma.org and sign up for a retreat of your own at any time. Good luck and let me know if you ever need any help!


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April 21, 2011

How To Start Your Own TEDx Event

This week I had a great Skype conversation with Chris DeBruyn, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia, who is currently teaching in Iraq. Together with another former PCV, Kevin Johnstone, they are doing some amazing things with projects like Development Now and they have even bigger plans in the works. Chris is an inspiring guy and I look forward to seeing where his projects take him!

During our conversation Chris and I got to talking about TEDxUlaanbaatar, which we are organizing here in Mongolia, and asked "How do you start a TEDx event?" I thought you all might enjoy hearing what I said in case you want to start your own TEDx event. Note: It's a lot easier and way more awesome than you imagine!
  1. Get Motivated
  2. Advertise Your Intentions
  3. Gather Around Incredible People
  4. Be Open To How Things Might Unfold
  5. Stay Enthusiastic

1. Get Motivated
Early in 2010 I thought about my dreams for the future and I made a long-term goal that I wanted to speak at the worldwide TED conference. I've been a huge fan of TEDTalks for several years and I hoped some day, maybe in my fifties, I would have lived an enlightened life and have something worth saying up there on the stage. Throughout the year, however, I kept seeing TEDx talks mixed with TEDTalks. TEDx events are independently organized events that happen all over the world, in little grass huts with a dozen audience members and university auditoriums filled with hundreds of people. The more I read about TEDx, the more I thought this was something we should do in Mongolia.


2. Advertise Your Intentions
I joined the TED.com community by creating a profile, with a little bit about what I do here in Mongolia, and searched all the profiles to see who else was in Mongolia. Then I messaged everyone from Mongolia (about 35 people) and said I was hoping to do a TEDx event here in case anyone was interested in helping. All that probably took about 30 minutes. Then I posted an update on my blog and started a small facebook group called TEDx in Mongolia. I got several responses, including one from Mende who I then met in November, and one amazing meeting led to another. When you put your intentions out there and tell people about your dreams, I find that people are generally very supportive. Be clear about what you want, how people can help and you'll be amazed at how people will come out of the woodwork and find you.


3. Gather Around Incredible People
Once you meet some incredible people, hold tight. This goes for anytime in life really. If you are already around a great group of students, colleagues, and friends, ask them to get involved in on your project. A TEDx event involves organizers, speakers, production staff and people with a wide variety of talent. If someone has a heart for the project, they will have plenty of opportunities to add valuable support. Meet with these people regularly, start to figure out what types of roles and duties people fall into, and keep each other excited.


4. Be Open To How Things Might Unfold
There are some guidelines that need to be followed which you can read about on TED.com (including applying for a free license and so on) but it's important to remember that a TEDx event can unfold in unexpected ways. You might picture it happening in a small meeting room and it evolves into an auditorium event, or the other way around. Details change, plans evolve and unexpected opportunities present themselves all the time, but the idea remains the same. TEDx and TED are about ideas worth spreading: inspiring speakers, innovative ideas, incredible stories and bringing together people who want to change the world for the better. The specifics of how that happens are usually just icing on the cake.



5. Stay Enthusiastic
As people get involved and as things like a website or formal team start to materialize, be sure to stay guided by your original intentions. Watch videos on TED.com to remember what great speakers look like and sound like, talk with people who have never heard about TED before and see their reactions when you share videos with them, and get back in touch with why you wanted to do an event in the first place - read things you wrote down, talk with the first people you met who inspired you.


Going down the road of starting a TEDx event is very rewarding, I can't recommend it enough. Regardless of how things turn out, you will meet incredible people and make awesome connections. Good luck and let me know how I can help anytime!


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