Notes from TEDxAustin: Scribblings and Sparks in the Dark

[Preamble] My list is incomplete. I was flooded with emotions during a number of the talks/performances/connections. My presence was 100%, my attention wandered with the intensity of the moment and my occasional need for some down time. It was sort of like a sweat lodge in the Austin City Limits studio. We were all prayin, the rocks and air were getting hotter, the presentations compounded the energy and gathered the collective WE, and the flap was only lifted three times during the entire day! WOW! [end of Preamble]

The official Flickr stream of Kirk Tuck images from TEDxAustin is UP!

The opening trio at TEDxAustin, took my breath away. And with late apologies to Christopher E. Mueller Ph.D., I pretty much stumbled out of the studio for a bio break and a moment to gather my thoughts. I watched Dr. Mueller from the RED Room using the LiveStream feed but I was still recovering from the exposure and life-altering discussions of the first three speakers at TEDxAustin:

  • Rip Esselstyn Firefighter, nutrition leader, author of The Engine 2 Diet
  • Doug Ulman President/CEO the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Founder of the Ulman Foundation for Young Adults
  • Steven Tomlinson Business educator & coach, theatre artist, co-founder of Acton School of Business

So here are my notes from the opening trio.

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Rip jumped right into the “heart” of the matter with a brilliant graph from his studies. His message, heart disease and cancer can be beaten with a plant strong diet. Animal protein and animal fat are not healthy for you. With his energy and passion it was clear to see the PLANT is the thing. He showed a graphic describing our diets as 67% enriched grains, 21% animal powered, 12% plant powered. And to cap it all off, 6% of the plant powered are French fries, so actually the number is closer to 6%.

And the science is easy to digest. Plant = health for the person and the planet. Meat = cancer, obesity, heart disease.

The one stat that really bummed me out however was when he took on Olive Oil. The “heart healthy” oil. And showed my gourmet popcorn (olive oil and sea salt) to be nothing more than a FAT generator. There is ZERO nutrients in olive oil. So it might not make your cholesterol go up, but it’s sure gonna make your belt size go up. Ben and Jerry’s was easy to see. Even hamburgers (Kobe included) are a pretty clear choice. But I figured my pop corn was a sacred and “heart friendly” snack. So I wasn’t too happy when Rip finished , but it was clear where the work in my personal eating habits needed to change.


Next up was Doug Ulman. A passionate cancer survivor who unveils his personal story and how he got involved with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. A few points:

The global cancer burden will be 300 Billion this year alone. 8 million people will die of cancer this year.

The cure for cancer is a myth. While the research and development of drugs and treatment for cancer continues, we cannot sit and wait for them to discover the cure. The cure is not coming. The burden is on each of us to do better in our lives and in supporting the lives of others.

The impact of LAF is in the breaking of the isolation of the cancer patient and their family once the words, “You Have Cancer” have been uttered.

What LAF gives cancer fighters is the empowerment to take charge of their lives, their treatment program and a path to connect with others who are on the same journey.

Where before LAF and Susan G Komen there was isolation, now there is connection. WE are in this together.

Now coupled on the back end of Rip’s presentation, it was like a one-two punch. My father died of both Cancer and Heart Disease. The unhinging of that sadness was as simple as seeing a picture of the Butler Bros dad, in his fight against cancer. The eyes of hopeful joy beaming out were so similar to my father on a good day. 20+ years ago my family did not have a place to go or rally around my father’s transition. We hovered around his bed at St. Davids and we consoled each other in our own misery. But it was a VERY PRIVATE AFFAIR.

Doug’s message is, cancer does not have to be an isolating and depressing event. Today’s awareness and communities provide information, support, access to clinical studies for potentially life-saving treatments.

In a private conversation later I challenged Doug on some of the transparency regarding products and profits on the LAF website. He was quite open and very reflective on my questions. It was clear he was making notes and would ask some of the same questions to his staff. His immediate openness and clarity on what he is doing and what LAF is doing was refreshing.


And so what it was about Steven Tomlinson that sewed me up and set me aflame?

  • He’s an amazing actor. One-man plays being his specialty, he was spot on yesterday!
  • I’ve known him peripherally over the last 20 years, in fact is was a UT rebirth that led me to take the playwriting 101 class where Steven was the TA.
  • The two plays of Steven’s that I have seen live have been amazing, so I was receptive and willing to follow him down almost any meander and thought path as his narrative unfolded.
  • His topic was his own questioning and discovering of his “calling.”  And his program contained some elements of how to create a “life of meaning.” At least in a Steven Tomlinson way. What’s not to love about that quest?

There were a few other synergies at work as well. In his quest, many of his passions and diversions seemed closely aligned with my own.

His motto: “Discard Nothing!” was a wonderful variation and much more positive take on my recent motto, taken from the 2009 Star Trek movie: “Fire Everything!” While mine was Type-A, aggressive and guns-a-blazin. Steven’s had a more balanced vibe. More patient and aware.

His premise of letting all the various parts of lives, our passions and goals, live and co-exist without exclusion was powerful. His example: he loved to teach, he loved numbers (a MS in accounting), he was a standup comedian/playwright,  and he had some leanings toward entering the seminary, but he was confused about where to focus his energy. When pressed for the answer about which path to choose, his mentor said, “That’s the stupidest question anyone has ever asked me.” (Chalk that up to dramatic hyperbole.) But the message he received was simple. Would you ask me to shut off or deny several of your passions in service of the great one passion?

We need to let these parts of ourselves mingle and kick around with each other. “Discard nothing of ourselves.”

And as he went on his premise grew in strength and conviction.

He mentioned “degrees of freedom” as a frame for peeling away the layers of shite that prevent us from being whole. And had a great example of packing pop-top tuna in his car to give to beggars at opportune times.

And in his final thrust with his own self-discovery he talks about the Artist’s Way and the “morning pages” practice.  How we learn to dialogue with ourselves. And as we do it more frequently, these parts of ourselves that previously seemed so disparate begin weaving together into a common song. The song we want to sing. And the song only we can sing.

One of the great phrases he uses, outlining his patient and deliberate practice was, “Staring at things until they inspire us.”

If we allow all these parts of ourselves, and even parts of the world to exist, and we listen… And we continue to dialogue with ourselves… We get better at asking the deep questions. And our voices emerge and we get better at expressing what our “mission” maybe. And through that expression of possibility comes the WAY for that mission to become our LIVES.

We must listen. And have the patience with ourselves when the successes aren’t coming as quickly as we’d like them to. Or when the successes seem implausible and almost impossible.

We must give voice to our own inner dialogue about deep things. And in doing this we open ourselves to the potential of becoming who we really want to be.

Becoming who the world needs us to be.

Becoming! (Yes, that about sums it up for me.)



And now a small word poem that would not be suppressed:

More becoming everyday
Becoming more everyday
Everyday becoming more
Everyday more becoming
Becoming everyday more
More everyday becoming

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