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TED speakers encourage people to find their passions

The “brand guru” of a popular burrito chain told about 150 people — mostly University of Denver students gathered at the Daniels College of Business — not to wait to find their true passion. 

“You’re not a 45-year-old man with a bunch of responsibilities; take advantage of the opportunity now. The machine is waiting for you,” said William Espey, one of the marketing masterminds behind Chipotle restaurant.

The machine, he said, is the economy. “The economy rewards those who do what they’re passionate about.”

Espey joined three DU students and one researcher who spoke Feb. 17 at TEDxDU Xpress, an event organized by DU students. The event’s theme was radical openness — to explore the effects an open perspective can have on society.

Espey said a passion is a “heart path,” and subjects that cause you to “lose yourself” and “make you forget who you are” are good candidates for a passion to follow.

“They [passions] cause a transcendent experience,” Espey said. “I know that sounds like hippy talk, but the great thing is when you find your passion, you keep doing it and doing it and you get better and better at it and eventually our economy will reward you for it. Our economy values transcendent experiences.”

The next speaker, sophomore Dylan Jones, said he was an example of someone who found his own heart path: video games. Jones talked about “gameification” and how video games can play an important role in society despite the misconception that they’re a just a hobby for adolescent boys. 

“Games can be a new form of expression, maybe not art yet, but I think games have social and political applications; they can be applied to our lives and help us be better people,” Jones said.

One example, he said, was that professors might consider giving students “experience” points through video games used in classrooms. “I think the grading scale today is broken on so many levels.”

The idea gained merit with one attendee, DU Pioneer Leadership Program Director Linda Olson, stood up and said she’d be willing to talk to Jones about how to implement his idea. “I think that’s great, let’s talk,” Jones said with a laugh.

DU alumna and engineering researcher Susan Mueller told the crowd about her passion in biomedical research and how she and her fellow staffers at DU have created a new, self-regulating boot cast for diabetic patients who suffer foot ulcers. These ulcers lead to more than 70,000 amputations each year. The invention is expected to change the way doctors treat diabetic ulcers and may hit the market within three years.

“I became inspired as a student studying engineering and I knew the population was aging and that diabetes is expected to double by 2034,” Mueller said. 

Sophomore engineering major John Morgridge also spoke about his passion in medical research. He’s part of a group that’s creating a high-tech shoe that measures the gait of elderly people to prevent falls. Falls, he said, are the leading cause of death from injury for those 65 and older. 

“One of the first signs that the elderly may be at risk of a fall is that their walking gait changes. We think this invention will help prevent falls,” Morgridge said.   

Freshman Jose Guerrero, an award-winning slam poet, closed out the evening by sharing his passion for poetry and how it gave him a voice to say “whatever he felt he needed to say.”

“I remember about two years ago I attended a poetry reading and it was unbelievable to me, like a beautiful painting,” said Guerrero, who was featured on an HBO special last fall about slam poetry. “And what was even more beautiful was that I could go up to the microphone and talk myself.”

He told the crowd, “Write your own story. If you don’t, someone else will write it for you and you may not like how it turns out.”

The next TEDxDU Xpress event will be in April. The time and location will be announced. TED is a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” At TED conferences, leading scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs and artists present their ideas in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

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