Believe the Unthinkable Is Possible: A Q&A With Ben Nemtin
Ben Nemtin is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of The Buried Life movement. Prior to his keynote session, Nemtin spoke with Connection Point about his background and experience and what he’ll share with ATD Virtual Conference: Unleash Potential attendees.
When you took a road trip to accomplish your bucket list, you also helped strangers cross something off their lists. What was the impetus behind that decision?
We had a list of really audacious goals, and we knew that we’d never be able to accomplish those things on our own—we would need the help of other people. So, it made sense for us to proactively help others try to accomplish their goals as well. What we didn’t realize was that the goals that we helped facilitate ended up meaning more to us than the goals we accomplished on our list, even the big, big goals. It resonated more. It didn’t match the feelings we got from accomplishing our goals. It was unexpected that that resonated as much. We realized over time that that was what mattered most—helping other people.
And when you help others, they want to help you more. So, once people heard that we were helping other people, they wanted to help us more; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a win-win. You get to fill yourself up, you get to help other people, and ultimately, it helps you in ways you wouldn’t expect.
Any other unexpected, yet valuable, lessons you’ve learned from your different experiences?
possible—play basketball with President Obama, sit with Oprah, make a TV show, write a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. We almost wrote them down in jest—they were the biggest moon shots we could ever think of. And we pretended when we wrote the list that we could do anything—that was the rule. You had to pretend you had $10 million in the bank.
Over time as these moon shots started to come to fruition, we really had no choice but to believe that we could do anything. It really changes the way that you live your life. This whole journey ended up becoming more than just a bucket list. It became a philosophy of life.
After some of those big things came off our list, it changed my DNA. All of a sudden I wasn’t thinking—even when I was faced with a challenge—I wasn’t thinking “Can I do this?” I was thinking “Do I want to do it?” Because I know it is going to take a lot of work, and I know that I’m going to come up against a lot of obstacles, but I can do it if I really, really want it and I want it for the right reasons. So, it is more about are you doing this for you, or are you doing this for other people?
You have been candid about living with depression—where do you go for inspiration and hope?
I get a lot of inspiration and hope from the people in my life that I surround myself with—my friends, my family. The greatest thing in my life, if I look back, if I can pinpoint one thing, is when I was in my early years in university when I was hit with my first bout of depression and I decided I was going to try and only surround myself with people who inspire me. By inspiring, I mean that they gave me energy versus took energy from me.
And that’s how Buried Life began. I found someone in the neighborhood named Johnny and said, “Hey, you make movies. Let’s make a movie.” And we gathered some people together. Actively surrounding myself with people who inspired me really changed my entire life. I’m continuing that practice. When I find someone who is really inspiring, I try and stick around them. That really recharges my battery. It’s about being conscious about the people I’m surrounding myself with.
Another aspect is being in tune with what my body needs. When you’re little, you don’t know because you’re still learning. But now, for instance, I know that I need to get eight hours of sleep. I need to exercise.
I started a practice of mindfulness—meditation has become huge for me for my mental health and well-being. Giving back also makes me feel better. I don’t think about how crappy I feel—I think about someone else. I’ve learned gratitude and focusing on things I’m grateful for rather than things I’m worried about. All those things have really helped. I call it my mental health toolkit. I reach into it when I see the signs that I’m starting to struggle.
I think everyone should have a mental health toolkit for times of need and also know that it’s OK to ask for help. It’s so much harder to do it on your own, and you don’t need to do it on your own. You aren’t alone. Everyone is struggling—humans have ups and downs, and we need to talk about those downs just like we celebrate the ups. The more we normalize the conversation, the more quickly we remove the stigma around mental health and therapy.
What’s the latest item you’ve added to your bucket list?
The latest item that I’ve added to my bucket list is another book. I’d love to write another book, so I’ve been thinking about that. The original Buried Life list is now at 91 out of 100 for things we’ve accomplished, and the goal is to accomplish #100, which is to go to space.
What is one action TD professionals can take right now to unleash potential?
You can take 20 or 30 minutes to sit in a quiet space and write your bucket list. This will move you one step closer to your goals and toward your potential. Remember, this is about personal betterment to improve your life and improve your professional journey.
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