Mastering the art of persistence

TEDx Norwich ED conference. Photo: Anne Beth Derks-van Damme

TEDx Norwich ED conference. Photo: Anne Beth Derks-van Damme - Credit: Anne Beth Derks-van Damme

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, if something is not difficult then it probably isn't worth fretting over.

It's quite easy to ride the London Eye or swim with dolphins, and I don't think high-fiving Mickey at Disneyland is going to change your life.

Those life-changing experiences are instead left to the dreams hard fought for. Dreams are not meant to be easy: as products of the imagination, they are by their very nature elusive and out of reach.

I say this because I recently gave a talk at TEDxNorwichED, in which I asked the audience to imagine their dreams and ambitions as represented by a lighthouse on the horizon.

In order to stand taller and reach further, in order to grab this dream of theirs, I told them they had to persistently keep trying until that guiding light could be realised as the product of their persistence.

Meanwhile, my fellow TEDx speaker and UEA student, Emilia Bugg, 20, spoke about her personal experience of 'invisible' disabilities. 'By telling my own story of disability – which starts in the classic 'tragic' frame of mind, but ends with success and progression because of what I have learnt – disability becomes more personal. People can relate to parts of my story, and they can see we are all alike.'

Her desire to speak at TEDx was founded upon her belief that such platforms 'open conversation which allows us to address issues with the ideas that we are taught from a young age.

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Without starting this conversation, one of the biggest things that will hold us back from moving towards a more accessible world is the misconceptions that surround disability.' The positive influences of these conferences, which attract such significant online following, is that 'a chain reaction of changes in thinking can be started, which in turn will help us fight for accessibility everywhere.

My dream is for education, the workplace, and society to be fully accessible to all people. To encourage people to think of disabled people as diverse, complex, and valuable to society and not merely as defined by their disability.'

In my own speech, talking about the art of persistence, I cited my personal hero, the composer Philip Glass.

In order to finance his first opera, Einstein On The Beach, Glass worked as a cab driver, a plumber and a furniture removal man, until the opera eventually embarked on a global tour. Without an empty seat for any of its thirty-five performances, Glass was then invited to perform in the the Metropolitan Opera, which has an audience capacity of four-thousand people. It sold out, twice.

Yet after all this, Glass landed in debt for $100,000—and this is 1976 money, so that's huge. He spent the next two years working as a cab driver, while raising two kids, writing more and more music until he was offered a commission to write his next opera. At the age of forty-one, Glass was finally able live off the money earned from his music. And in the forty years since, Philip Glass has composed twelve symphonies, has received three Academy Awards nominations, as well as the National Medal Of Arts from President Obama, and is living proof that dreams need not always be profitable.

I feel that I shall have to practice what I preach next month, as I am undertaking an unpaid summer internship in Germany! But what I am going to lack in a wage shall be more than compensated, by this opportunity to live my dream of interweaving into the fabric of life in a country I have only once before visited but ever after yearned to return to.

The journey has been difficult, and it has certainly been worth fretting over: of the 26 internship applications I submitted, I received nineteen No's before getting my one and only Yes, from the company I am now going to work for in Cologne.

Appropriately, the theme of this year's TEDxNorwichED conference was Dream Big. It is a simple instruction that is loaded with significance – in considering what it is you most want to achieve, be sure it is something you desperately want, for big dreams are hard to dismantle. A lighthouse is harder to knock down than a candle is to blow out.