Hank Green: "You Have No Obligation to Your Former Self"

YouTube / XOXO Festival
YouTube / XOXO Festival / YouTube / XOXO Festival

In his talk from the XOXO Festival in September, Hank Green went on a wildly entertaining and thoughtful rant that can be boiled down to: "[bleep] your dreams." Now, that might sound soul-crushing in print, but in the context of his talk, it was (and remains) exhilarating. Hank's point is that many of us structure our lives around the dreams of our former selves—our 8-year-old selves, or our college selves, or our parent-pleasing selves, or whatever. And the scary truth is that our former selves don't exist anymore, so trying to please them is a fool's errand.

There are a few things you should know about this talk. I was in the audience, so I can tell you some stuff that may not be obvious from the video. The main thing is that it was almost unbearably hot in the room (which is why Hank is drenched in sweat at the end), it was at least 90 degrees, probably hotter. The other odd thing is that there was a clock on the stage, rather than a countdown timer, and at various times, that caused unintentional comedy for Hank. Finally, this was a room full of people who, for the most part, make stuff—writers, programmers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, you name it—and Hank dropped a lot of f-bombs talking to his peers (in other words, this was not a talk for kids!). So if you're squeamish about language, you might want to avoid this one.

Here's a sample quote that starts to scratch the surface of what Hank was getting at. For the rest, I urge you to take 20 minutes out of your lunch break and watch the whole thing. Then, if you're so inclined, think about whether this line of thinking applies to your life, your career, and what you're up to right now at your desk. Sample quote:

"It was five years into the process of making video blogs [when] I realized that I loved editing video. It wasn't just that I liked writing it, which I liked pretty well...I really liked the editing video part, which I didn't know until I had the opportunity to pay somebody to else to do that, and I was like, Oh no, wait, I like this! It's so hard to know the thing that you're going to like before you start doing it."

Hank also appears on my short photo essay, The Hugs of XOXO. There are also more excellent talks like this on the XOXO Festival YouTube channel.