VISION general session keynote: Going from 'impossible to possible'

March 8, 2023
Ben Nemtin's rise to prominence began with a list of impossible tasks. He believes you can do the same.

By Chris Jones, editor of Ratchet + Wrench

But often, in the world's most crowded streets,

But often, in the din of strife,

There rises an unspeakable desire After the knowledge of our buried life

- Matthew Arnold, The Buried Life

Opening with the words of poet Matthew Arnold, VISION Hi-Tech Expo & Conference general session keynote speaker Ben Nemtin charged the crowd to not bury their dreams, but instead to live them boldly by making the impossible possible.

Nemtin, from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, told the story of how he and three other childhood friends came up with an idea to live their wildest dreams through the lens of a 100-item bucket list led by the question: “What do you want to do before you die?”

It all began as a two-week adventure (as a young adult in a purple RV) to cross off items from the list—such as:

  • Bull riding
  • Singing the national anthem to a packed arena
  • Toasting a wedding
  • Delivering a baby

it than became a way of life that led to Nemtin and his friends being interviewed by Oprah, having a beer with Prince Harry, and playing basketball with then-President Barack Obama at the White House.

“There is an unusual power in using a bucket. It's there to remind you about the most important things in your life so they don't get buried,” Nemtin told the crowd.

Dreams beget dreams

When Nemtin and his friends began the process of fulfilling their bucket list, the audacity of it inspired others. Not only were there people willing to help the group along the way, but other people began to enlist the help of Nemtin and his friends to achieve their goals.

“By doing what you love, you inspire people to do what they love. It creates a ripple effect,” Nemtin said.

One such impact the group had was on an Ohio teen Torri Biddle, who was born without a hand and whose friends posted hashtag #handfortorri across social media, hoping to help. Nemtin discovered the hashtag and helped make Torri’s dream come true. The ripple effect of that kindness has led Torri, now a student at Bowling Green State University, to pursue social work with the goal of working in the homeless shelter in her town.

Be persistent

In seeking to play basketball with President Obama, Nemtin and his friends learned the power of patience through persistence. Nemtin contacted every available congressperson he could find in the United States who had a publicly listed email address. That led to a lower-level representative getting him an audience with the secretary of transportation.

From there, they figured out a presidential aide who could potentially help them reach President Obama. When the aid was unable to get the idea past the president’s press team, he offered Nemtin and his friends the chance to tour the White House the next time they visited Washington, D.C. Upon the group’s next visit, they were given the opportunity to shoot baskets on the White House basketball court when suddenly, President Obama appeared.

“When following your dreams, you may get a lot of noes, but you're not done until you get your yes,” Nemtin told the crowd.

Be real and make a real impact

Nemtin shifted gears to highlight the importance of mental health and the need for each individual to not only mind theirs but be human and check on the mental health of others around them. He said an individual’s weaknesses aren’t to be buried or hidden, but opportunities to practice resiliency.

“Go after those things you love and are passionate about and that are important, but don’t hide the things you struggle with; don't hide your weaknesses. Those things turn out to be strengths. When you go through these things you learn more about yourself,” Nemtin said.

He admitted he once thought creating a bucket list was selfish, but reframed his thinking, seeing that when he was at his best (mentally) pursuing his goals and helping others reach theirs, there was a power and energy to it that motivated others.

“Every interaction creates a reaction. It can be positive or negative. It's hard to measure, but it's very real,” Nemtin said.

Nemtin challenged the room to do things that inspired them now, citing that 76 percent of people at the end of their lives most regretted the things they didn’t do. More than the things they did and that most people will spend their lives doing what they think others want them to do rather than what excites and inspires them.

“Prioritizing your passion is important for your well-being as it is for others. It gives us energy and by putting yourself first you create a bigger impact,” he said.

Creating inspiration through action

In closing, Nemtin asked attendees to think about what inspires their curiosity and what makes them feel alive. He said a bucket list should span across all of the major areas of your life, not be an arbitrary list of wishes, but think of the list items as projects to tackle.

He concluded with his 5-step list to make the impossible possible:

  • Write your bucket list- Get it on all paper
  • Share your list- Add external accountability
  • Be unstoppable- Persist and see it through
  • Take moonshots- Don’t be afraid to swing big
  • Give- Help others along the way.

“Happiness is only real when it's shared,” said Nemtin.

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