Kenneth Chabert: Why your life needs novelty, no matter your age

Recorded atJanuary 24, 2023
EventTED-Ed Educator Talks
Duration (min:sec)07:51
Video TypeTED Salon Talk (partner)
Words per minute216.26 very fast
Readability (FK)56.7 medium
SpeakerKenneth Chabert

Official TED page for this talk


To truly savor life, pursue "powerful first experiences," says storyteller and nonprofit founder Kenneth Chabert. Learn more about how to create these meaningful moments, where mundane routine is broken by novel experiences in small but significant ways -- no matter how old you are.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:03 In 2018, I had what I call a powerful first experience.
200:08 At 31 years old, I made my first snow angel.
300:11 Now, that may not sound powerful to some of you, but for me, it was.
400:15 And so how do you get from New York City to Montana?
500:18 Well, you have to have a horse.
600:20 I don't make the rules, but not having a horse is why so many people don't make it out there.
700:24 I'm kidding.
800:26 I was actually invited to attend and speak at a conference in Big Sky.
900:29 I'm a kid from the Bronx, so I knew nothing about Big Sky.
1000:32 I knew nothing about Montana.
1100:34 In fact, I had only recognized images similar to it as the screen saver that comes on whenever my MacBook goes idle.
1200:41 I landed in Bozeman and the first thing I did was thank God, because I don't like flying, even though I have to do it often.
1300:47 I walked out of the airport and I saw no skyscrapers, no lines and cabs, no people yelling and arguing, and there were no funny smells that I was familiar with.
1400:55 You know, all of the things that make NYC amazing.
1500:59 So fast forward, I'm in the passenger seat of the car and I'm looking out the window
1601:03 and I'm just taking on the views.
1701:05 Mountains covered in snow, trees everywhere.
1801:07 And at one point we pass by these homes that had to be worth millions of dollars because they had the most beautiful view of the environment.
1901:15 Later the next day, as I'm getting off stage from speaking, a woman comes up to me and she asks, "Would you like to go on a hike?"
2001:21 Now I’m from New York City, so a hike is a few city blocks.
2101:24 New York City is at sea level, so we're talking about real oxygen.
2201:27 So, no, this was a hike.
2301:29 And at 8,000 feet elevation, one quickly realizes Montana's oxygen just isn't real.
2401:35 (Laughter) Midway through our hike, I can't remember what I said, but the woman grabs a fistful of snow, puts it in her mouth and she starts to chew.
2501:43 And my initial thought was, "That was disgusting."
2601:47 I would never touch anything that touches a New York City street.
2701:50 But then I realized this was snow from Montana, and this was symbolic of the relationships Montanans have with their environment.
2801:57 So towards the end of the hike, this woman lays down in a bed of snow and she moves her body in a way where [it] registers to me, she's making a snow angel.
2902:07 So after about 30 seconds, I decide to mimic.
3002:10 And so I lay in this fresh bed of snow in Montana, I move my arms and my legs.
3102:15 And then it dawns on me.
3202:17 I'm making a snow angel for the first time.
3302:21 And of course, I've seen other people do it
3402:23 and I've seen it on television before.
3502:24 But it was the first time I did it.
3602:26 You see, I've coined the term powerful first experiences or PFEs as doing something you never thought you would do for the first time, in a place that you never thought you would be in for the first time.
3702:37 The main reason why I was in Montana in the first place was to give a talk about powerful first experiences, so it was only right that I would then have powerful first experiences in Montana.
3802:47 Powerful first experiences are life-altering moments and experiences that change the way that we see ourselves and changes the way we see the world.
3902:56 And it can be as expansive as skydiving out of a plane in France or as small as visiting a lake to meditate for the first time.
4003:03 What matters is your imagination, your courage and your curiosity.
4103:08 In the book "Power of Moments" by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors reference what psychologists call the reminiscence bump, a phenomenon where older individuals are asked to think about their experiences, where they tend to disproportionately talk about the experiences that happened roughly between the ages of 15 to 30.
4203:26 Some researchers say this is a time in our lives when we experience the most novelty.
4303:30 And there's a few theories why.
4403:32 One, when you enter and pass through your 30s, life can seem like it speeds up because we develop the habits of doing the same things over and over.
4503:41 Another reason is that there are just some experiences in our lives that are set to happen within that time frame.
4603:47 So think about it.
4703:48 By 15, you might be in high school.
4803:51 By 18, you may be in college.
4903:53 After college, you get a job, you may buy the big home, you may get married, you may have a kid.
5003:59 And then you might experience loss or grief.
5104:01 And then you enter your 30s and that's it.
5204:03 No more powerful first experiences and life repeats itself over and over.
5304:08 Something about that seems so unfulfilling.
5404:11 Now imagine if you were a kid from a community like the Bronx.
5504:15 While the Bronx offers amazing experiences, by the time you turn 14 or 15, you can feel like you've experienced all the powerful first experiences in that environment.
5604:24 And so I became obsessed with figuring out how to give more powerful first experiences to others.
5704:30 My organization, Gentlemen's Retreat, focuses on young men of color from the inner city who end up going to top colleges and universities, such as Brown University.
5804:40 These young men are gifted and they're special.
5904:43 They just felt they experienced everything their community had to offer.
6004:46 We call these young men Gs for gentlemen.
6104:50 And while working with these gentlemen and giving them powerful first experiences, I realized it was shaping their identities in a positive way, but it was also increasing their cultural and their social capital.
6205:01 An individual has cultural capital because of the environment that they come from.
6305:05 The knowledge, skills and belief of that environment can be seen as capital or an asset.
6405:10 And having the combination allows an individual to have economic advantages and other advantages.
6505:16 And when you collect powerful first experiences, you're collecting cultural capital from different environments.
6605:22 Social capital is a set of shared values and resources that allows individuals to come together to achieve a common goal.
6705:30 It can also be thought of as the ability to access resources and favors and information from your network.
6805:37 Countless connections are fostered when the gentlemen develop intimate relationships in places such as Paris, London and even Montana.
6905:45 As they spend time with locals, entrepreneurs and even venture capitalists.
7005:50 They develop a more expansive network and idea of the world.
7105:54 And increasing cultural and social capital doesn’t just benefit the gentlemen, it also benefits the communities that they bless with their presence.
7206:02 And a powerful first experience changes the way you see yourself and the way you see the world.
7306:07 Going to Big sky changed the way that I saw the world, the way that I saw myself and what I wanted to do in the world.
7406:14 Instead of waiting for my cycle of experiences to repeat themselves, doing the same things over and over, I decided to go out into the world and collect powerful first experiences.
7506:25 And a powerful first experience can be anything.
7606:27 It's all about intention.
7706:29 The most important part of a powerful first experience or a PFE, is intention.
7806:34 Anyone can have them.
7906:35 You don't have to have capital or have started an organization.
8006:38 You don't even have to be a G. You just have to be thoughtful about two things.
8106:42 One, do something you haven't done but have always wanted to do.
8206:46 And what’s important here, no matter what you choose to do -- skydiving out of a plane, learning a new language, switching your wardrobe -- whatever you decide to do, has to have a certain level of risk in it for you.
8306:58 It's about courage.
8407:00 The courage to get on a plane and go to a state where most people don't look like me in order to experience something as simple as making a snow angel.
8507:08 Second thing, switch up your environment, change the stimuli and please try to be bold.
8607:15 So you may be a singer, but maybe you sing on a crowded train in New York City or in the beautiful streets of Venice, Italy.
8707:21 Imagine what the world would be like if we decided to share and exchange in more powerful first experiences.
8807:28 Would we feel more loved?
8907:29 Would we feel more connected?
9007:31 Would we feel more brave?
9107:32 Most importantly, would we feel more human?
9207:36 Each and every one of us has so much to experience if we allow ourselves the gift of another powerful first experience.
9307:44 My only ask, if you decide to go to Montana for the first time, please don't forget your horse.
9407:53 Thank you.
9507:54 (Applause)