Listen as Chris expounds his craft, and reveals what his life's work is all about.

“I always dreamt of giving a TED Talk. And not only giving one, but to be able to give one. To have done something worthy of that stage and that audience” – Chris Burkard

The Inertia

Editor’s Note: At just 29 years old Chris Burkard crossed something off his bucket list that just about any artist, innovator and entrepreneur aspires to. He told a heartfelt story about searching for fulfillment even after finding success in a glamorous career, in front of over a thousand people at the world-famous TED conference. The inspirational speech gained over 100,000 views on youtube alone within 2 weeks. So how did he land on one of the most famous stages in the world? What’s it like to speak in front of world leaders, scientists, and the brightest minds on the planet? These are the burning questions we had for Chris and this is his passionate response. 

I think that growing up I always dreamt of giving a TED Talk. And not only giving one, but to be able to give one. To have done something worthy of that stage and that audience, or to even be prepared enough to speak in front of that kind of audience. Those were the things that I remember thinking would be amazing. 

So for me it was surreal moment when I got an email saying “Hey we love your work in the arctic. We love the work you’ve done surfing in cold water. We would be stoked to get some insight and hear a little more. Would you like to give a TED Talk?” I said of course I’d love to give a TED Talk. But I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I have to be honest, it is an absolutely grueling process. I was given the heads up though. I received a bunch of information packets and realized real quick that this was a way bigger project than I had bargained for. The amount of time and energy that went into preparing this was the most involved thing I’ve ever done in my life. I gave so much of myself to the preparation of that talk. I revised it 17 times, and to give a little perspective, this is a stage you share with an audience of people like Bill Gates. Now people are just people, they aren’t what makes this important, but at the same time I’m there to talk about surfing. I’m talking about surfing in the arctic! So that makes this a very validating experience, but at the same time it makes it nerve wracking. You can’t just walk up there and talk about how stoked you are. So I had to find that one kernel of truth that resonated with everything else I was doing. It had to be the most important antic dote to my career and life, because that is the most important stage you’ll ever stand on and speak. That was my task. And it took a lot of soul searching. It took cutting myself off from my other work for a couple of months. 

I love giving talks. I love sharing stories. It’s so fulfilling but the problem is that when you have to prepare a story that’s supposed to feel natural and organic and real, and then all of the sudden present it in a way that feels off the cuff, it’s really tough. That became the hardest thing. I wasn’t just memorizing it, but telling the story as if that’s the first time you’re sharing it. That was the most complex aspect, the crux of the whole thing.

On the big day there’s probably fifteen-hundred people in the room. I’d gone over every detail of how to de stress, how to memorize every bit I could. In fact, I opted to not have a teleprompter, which is kind of scary, but I didn’t want to give myself a crutch. I wanted to present it so it felt natural and organic. I got on stage and there were a lot of butterflies and nervous energy but I just kind of rode the energy. It became my mantra, accepting that nervous energy then making sure I was using it to create something positive. And that’s what made it real. You can’t share stories, really share stories, without giving a part of yourself in them.

As far as the message – as cool and as rad as these places seem, or however much fun it is to tell your friends you went here and went there -it’s all great but what do they actually do for you as a person? What does it do for your experience? What does it do to make you connect with that place you’re traveling to? I just never realized how much going to all these places around the world desensitized me. So it became this idea that you can never stop seeking out what makes you feel like you’re living life to the fullest. 

Now I’ve had a lot of opportunities to speak after TED, and the key has just become inspiration. There’s people who are run down with boring day jobs and they need some inspiration as well. Which isn’t necessarily about quitting your day job to find something you love, it’s about constantly being inspired. I give the same message to students, people that are working, and just share that you need to find inspiration in other places also. That message became universal. And I believe people need to give a little more of themselves for what they love and endeavor to do. By giving something of yourself it makes the experience that much richer. And that was my kernel of truth that came from all this. I learned that my whole life has been a soul search in a lot of ways. I have had to constantly redefine what I’m doing. There was never a point that I set my two feet down and said now I’m here, now I’ve arrived. That’s not the way we’re meant to operate. We’re meant to function in a state of continuous growth and learning. 


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