TEDxPlano 2019: The Power of Pivot

This year’s TEDxPlano theme was “Pivot,” a word that transcends time and place. Some may recognize it as a common martial arts technique used in movement to generate power, or from the iconic, laugh-out-loud “pivot” scene from the TV show “Friends” or even a way for politicians to dodge questions they don’t want to answer. Still, no matter what form it takes, TEDxPlano reminded us of the power of pivoting within all of us, and how it helps us change directions, shift paradigms and ultimately blend our dreams into our reality. 

TEDxPlano curator Shannah Hayley defined it well at the sixth annual event on April 6 at the Courtyard Theater in Downtown Plano: “Pivoting is that one thing that causes everything else to move. It’s that point of ‘I can’t take this anymore, so I have got to change.’ It’s that moment of self-realization. It’s that moment of ‘Society’s moved a certain way, so it’s time to stand up and do something.’ It’s changing your perspective because you just can’t stay where you were today.” 

There were eight TEDxPlano speakers this year, “people just like you and me who had an idea and were brave enough to come up and share it in front of 350 people,” said Shannah. 

The first presenter was Madame Suzelle Poole, a 78-year-old ballerina who defies stereotypes and makes a statement without speaking a single word. She performed on stage with a timeless elegance that felt effortless, that instantly put everyone around her in a state of wonder. “So think about her the next time you say you can’t do something,” Shannah added. Madame Poole currently teaches ballet at The Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas, her students ranging from ages three to 63. She performs frequently for the community for free, at nursing homes or schools, and she is living proof that there are no limits to doing what we love.

For speaker and correctional officer Michael McLeon, it all began with a salad. When he realized that some of the offenders hadn’t eaten a salad in 10 to 20 years, Michael helped create a new method of developing crops within the prison system, which incorporates hydroponic and aquaponic systems. We all have confinement in our lives in one way or another, Michael said, but we can choose to turn it into an opportunity. One of the offenders later told him, “I am that basil plant. When we remove the weeds and the bad things from its life, it can grow and produce,” the same way anyone can with a little pivoting.

“It’s not what people call you that defines you, it’s what you answer to,” Christina Chemhuru said from the stage, taking us through her lifetime of travels and thrilling misadventures in 20 countries. From a career in marketing to teaching, from being a door-to-door salesperson to a French teacher in the Caribbean, to now an author of “Do Ask, Do Tell: Dating Guide & Workbook,” Christina teaches us that we can be forever confused and still live a full life, as long as we keep moving forward (and pivot) and stay open to new experiences.

Speaker Michele Erwin is a mom who led with her solution. “I knew change was possible,” Michele said, so when she realized that airplanes weren’t wheelchair accessible, she started All Wheels Up, the only organization in the world currently crash testing wheelchair tie-down systems and wheelchairs for in-cabin use. Michele’s goal is to get her son to his dream destination, but the goal of All Wheels Up, she said, is “to get every wheelchair user to their dream destination, safely and with dignity.”

Nishant Tyagi is a biology student at University of Texas and has helped implement a community advocate program to focus on illnesses of unfunded Medicare and Medicaid patients in Baylor Scott & White. He brings the attention back to the patients – the heart of the hospital – and discusses common issues at hospitals in a way that makes sense, that would help patients make more informed decisions. “What we really need is to transform the way that we develop, provide and finance healthcare,” Nishant said. “All of this should be packaged in a very patient-focused, patient-personalized way.”

“It’s estimated that by the year 2030, in the U.S. alone, we will be putting in 3.5 million prosthetic joints per year,” Dr. David Greenberg said in his speech. “This is great news, unless something goes wrong and one of the complications is the development of infections.” Luckily, Dr. Greenberg is an infectious disease physician who focuses on innovative ways to detect and treat drug-resistant pathogens, with an end-goal of dealing with prosthetic-related infections.  

“What if I told you that I could identify some of the most valuable people inside of your organization without ever meeting them?” Steve Garguilo asked, instantly drawing in his audience, and then sharing the funniest, most outrageous social media accounts out there. Steve’s work focuses on looking at organizational metadata to advocate for employees in large companies that are engaged and have the ability to make valued contributions, but don’t always get the chance to. Steve led a revolution to transform the culture of the fifth largest company in the world, Johnson & Johnson, and by making an effort to know the people he works with, he has inspired an entirely new depth of creativity. 

Ekansh Tambe was this year’s youngest speaker at 14 years old, wise beyond his years. He was only 12 when he set out to capture the stories behind the United States border with Mexico. “There was only one way to find out the truth – seeing it myself,” he said, in his calm, poised demeanor. What started out as a short, weekend trip to a segment of the Mexican border turned into an ongoing photography project that has led him to five different borders across four different continents. It was initially his curiosity on the issues of border security and immigration that led him on his journey, but what kept him in it, he realized, were the people and their stories. “People are what make a country great,” Ekansh said. “People are what define the ideals and dreams of a nation. People are the building blocks of civilization.” He talked about how critics on both sides need to find perspective by looking through the eyes of those who are directly affected by the crises of the border, and that’s what Ekansh does through his photographs.

Ekansh’s advice to us: “Don’t fear the unknown. Put your best foot forward and follow the facts wherever they lead; and most importantly, look at things from others’ perspective.” TEDxPlano 2019 and its eight speakers remind us that each one of us has the power to pivot in all parts of our lives, to face change and to create change in the places we believe it’s needed most – no matter the challenge, no matter the circumstance. 



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