Monday’s Luncheon Keynote, Ben Nemtin, Spoke On The Ripple Effect Of Goodness

“What do you want to do before you die?” Is this a question you’ve asked yourself recently? It’s one that Ben Nemtin and three of his friends discussed while putting together their 100-item bucket list, chock-full of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like “play ball with the president,” “deliver a baby” and “make a television show.” Years later, Nemtin and his friends—Dave Lingwood and brothers and next-door neighbors, Jonnie and Duncan Penn—who make up the cast of MTV’s The Buried Life, have crossed off these items, along with 89 others. But perhaps even more incredible is that for every time Nemtin and his friends cross an item off their bucket list, they help a stranger cross something off theirs, too.

Nemtin spoke during Monday’s keynote luncheon, “5 Steps To Make The Impossible Possible.” The New York Times bestselling author and TV personality spoke on the ripple effect of positive action and the significance of devoting time to achieving our personal goals, which, in turn, helps others move closer to achieving theirs. When the concept was born for The Buried Life, Nemtin and his friends were just recent high school graduates who were dissatisfied with their lives and wanted a change—but little did they know that their two-week road trip across North America would be something they’re still devoted to, some 15 years later, and something that has touched the lives of countless people. But what Nemtin later realized was that his trove of soul-enriching experiences started with taking a single, small step, and then another, and another.

Struggling with an unexpected bout of anxiety and depression, Nemtin became reclusive: he dropped out of college as a freshman because he wasn’t able to attend classes, lost his academic scholarship and was no longer able to participate on the rugby dream—his then-dream was to be on the U-19 Canadian rugby team. Nemtin didn’t know why he was feeling this way or what triggered it, but in pursuit of change, he got a job, started talking openly about his mental health struggles and decided to only surround himself with people he found inspiring; a decision that connected him with Jonnie, a self-taught filmmaker, and his younger brother, Duncan. The three were joined by Lingwood, Nemtin’s friend from high school, and in the basement of a parent’s garage in Victoria, British Columbia, where they lived, the four men wrote their bucket list, created a basic website for their project, bought a ’74 RV—and, later, a purple ’69 bus named Penelope—got a camera from eBay and set out on a two-week road trip throughout the U.S. with plans to film it. They named their project “The Buried Life” after a 1852 poem written by Matthew Arnold that Jonnie read in an English class. The poem resonated with the men, who took from it that everyone has their own sets of goals or personal bucket list, but it becomes “buried” by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. They wanted to cross items off their list to unbury theirs.

During the two-week trip, Nemtin and friends crossed the first item off their list: No. 43, Be A Knight For A Day. Nemtin got ahold of a knight suit—for free—and right after exiting the purple bus in head-to-toe “armor,” a six-year-old boy walked by already carrying a toy knight’s sword and immediately kneeled before Nemtin, who “knighted” the boy—and made his day. Soon after, dozens of kids flocked around “Knight Nemtin” and his crew, and, unexpectedly, they were able to cross another item off their list the very next day: No. 40, Make The Front Page Of The Newspaper.

Also on this trip, the men were contacted via email by Brent Walisser, who said that on his bucket list was to deliver pizza to a local homeless shelter where he once lived. Walisser shared that for those staying at the shelter, whenever someone delivers food, it provides a feel-good effect—it lets them know that someone cares for and is thinking about them. Walisser had left the shelter and started his own landscaping business, but was struggling with transportation after his vehicle died. The men knew they had to help him, so they started making phone calls and got in touch with a man who sold them a $2,100 truck for just $450—nearly all the cash the four men had between them—which they gave to Walisser. The goodness that came from going out of their way to help a stranger, who, in turn, helped more strangers, became the fuel that propelled The Buried Life into something more powerful than they could have ever anticipated.

When we’re faced with the prospect of doing something amazing, the sheer challenge can be enough to excite many of us, but with so many other commitments—family, work, health, hobbies, projects—our personal development goals tend to fall to the wayside. Other tasks, like work-related assignments, have hard deadlines, but personal development goals are ongoing, and for that reason, they’re often the ones we put off, or chalk up to being “selfish,” he says, when compared with our other responsibilities. Nemtin assured the audience that self-care “is not selfish, it’s service.” When your wellness tank is full, only then can you help somebody else fill theirs, he explained. This ripple effect is not exclusive to one’s personal life, either, but is something that’s present in all of our professional interactions as members of the promotional products industry. “You are extending the impact of the company you work for,” he says. “Everything you do creates that ripple.”

Sharing his journey with the audience, Nemtin suggested there are five steps that anyone can (and should) take to move closer to their personal development goals. First, write down your dreams. Make a written bucket list. “The funny thing is writing [the bucket list] down that day was the first step to getting it done,” he says. Writing makes it real; something tangible. Second, talk about your dreams. Nemtin explains that it’s impossible to achieve every single one of your dreams independently—you have to communicate with others, and sometimes, he says, those connections wind up leading you in unexpected directions. Third, persist. When filming The Buried Life, he says, the friends failed and failed, and failed again, at many things, but those failures equipped them with the skillset to see their flops as learning experiences. Fourth, take moon shots. When you make the decision to do something great, it’ll give you a sense of purpose and help link you with others who share similar goals, who can help you along, or who need your help. And finally, give. The sense of fulfillment that one receives through helping other people is more, Nemtin says, than the fulfillment you feel when you’re helping yourself. “By doing what you love, you inspire other people to do what they love,” he says.

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