TEDxSMU Conference Review & Pay It Forward Movement

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A few months ago, I met a new friend who is a computer scientist turned artist/entrepreneur at another friend’s party. As we were chatting about how she changed careers and started businesses, she recommended I check out the local TED event, TEDxSMU. As I’ve often done with the best decisions in my life, I decided then and there to register. My hope was to find some new creative juice to figure out how to take my mission to spread love to the next level.

The conference is a collection of speakers/performers who are each telling their story — whether it be a personal experience, a mission they want to speak about, a project they’ve built, or a musical performance to share.

The day was divided into 3 sessions with the themes: Looking Out, Looking In, and Moving On. Each session had 4-5 speakers and covered an amazing variety of topics, from beautiful ultra hi-def photography of plants and animals growing to an incredible prison reform program to studying and understanding how our biology can affect our attraction to others. Each speaker was a new chance to open your mind and heart to someone’s passionate effort to change the world.

It was truly a day of inspiration that brought me more hope for the future that there are so many amazing people doing great things all around us. I HIGHLY recommend you check out TED talks on line for a short dose of inspiration or attend your local TED event to spend an entire day focused on learning and inspiration.


The talk that stuck with we most was given by Charley Johnson, President of the Pay It Forward Movement. Essentially, his organization is based on the belief that anyone can do something to make the world a better place. The key to the success of spreading that message was to empower people to understand that no matter where they come from, what they have, what their beliefs, they are still able to show kindness towards others in some way — a genuine smile, holding the door open, taking the time to talk to someone.

In his words: ““One of the things we absolutely do not need is another self-help book. What we do need, in my personal opinion, is a movement that allows all 7 billion people to be a part of it. That does not have a religious affiliation, political affiliation, country affiliation, does not have a color of skin affiliation. Positively neutral, no side effects, that no matter who you are on the face of this planet, that you can be a part of.”

You don’t need anything other than your own courage to reach out and do something nice for someone w/out expecting anything in return. The key, Charley said, was to remove all obstacle, all excuse that could prevent someone from taking action.

So how did he do it?

He invented the Pay It Forward bracelet that acted both as a daily reminder to lead with kindness, and also as a simple contract to pass on to others. Each time you do something nice for someone else, you take off the bracelet, explain to the person why you did what you did, give them the bracelet and ask them to pay it forward.  That direct contact with another person really struck me as a perfectly poetic way to cement the act of kindness as a deal with your fellow human being to keep spreading the love. How could I not love this message? 🙂

And so, to put my money where my mouth is, I’m going to take the Pay It Forward Birthday Challenge to do 32 acts of kindness on my 32nd birthday, Dec 20th. Currently taking requests/suggestions for people who might need some kindness/help in the very near future. Please leave a comment if you have an idea to share or if you need some extra kindness. I want to help you!


And finally, did I get what I was looking for at TEDxSMU? Yes, definitely. I’ve talked forever about bringing back the family style dinner party and making it something accessible to more people in our increasingly disconnected, rushed, fast-food world. In the next year, I plan to start up some dinners in my home with the hopes of connecting friends old and new over good food, good conversation, and memorable moments. The new idea I got from this event was to add an angle of education/empowerment through these events. Stay tuned to find out how you can come join me at my dinner table…




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