"How A 'High-Level' Mindset Helps You Realize Your Potential"
This year’s TED mainstage was graced by the likes of billionaires Bill Gates and Elon Musk, celebrities Bryce Dallas Howard and Lily Singh, along with AI guru Andrew Ng, and renowned spiritual teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. So whose elucidation was the most watched? None of the above. The most watched TED Talk this year, with 3.5 million views to date, is by a 24-year old, still relatively unknown rapper named, Cordae,
What made his talk outshine the luminaries? Or for that matter, what makes anything go viral? The answer is that we don’t have an exact formula, but there are key ingredients to Cordae’s talk that have been proven to make a story stand out and tally up those likes and shares.
1. Story. All TED talks—or any decent talk for that matter—will have relevant information to offer, but that’s not enough. In today’s environment speakers need to be compelling and even entertaining. Stories are one of the best ways to accomplish that. Cordae’s whole talk is a series of stories, starting with growing up in the poorest of neighborhoods, to being nominated for a Grammy award, to subsequent setbacks, and how he recovered. The steps to the methodology he espouses are deftly woven into the stories, making the through-line clear and easy to follow. He never stops engaging the audience. Like any good storyteller, his tale is full of twists and turns. And the themes of overcoming a rough start, not meeting expectations, falling down and getting back up are all universally relatable.
2. Fully himself: From the moment he starts speaking, you can see someone who is completely himself, with all his imperfections. Rather than trying to fit in with the other TED speakers, the rapper knows he has a style which is uniquely his, and he leans into it.
For example, the talk has a fancy title: “How a ‘Hi-Level’ Mindset Helps You Realize your Potential”. And yet, the 24-year old is speaking to a live audience far more accomplished than he is. He addresses the conundrum with humility. Instead of setting himself up as a lofty pundit, he paints a picture of someone at the beginning of their success journey, who has learned the hard way, sharing the fruits of his trials and tribulations as picks them off the tree, without ever trying to hide his warts.
The raconteur visibly winced when talking about his closest friend going to jail and even his own worst mistakes, but he didn’t gloss over them. You could see his emotions—good and bad—clearly on his face. This vulnerability takes courage and makes him relatable, even admirable. And, when he tells you what lifted him out of his hardest times and what might work for you, too, he has the kind of gravitas that only real experience can grant. In other words, the audience is more likely to buy what he is selling.
His humor is self-deprecating. Comedians—and now, even politicians—make careers out of mocking other people, but by poking fun at himself, Cordae endears himself to the audience, getting them on his side. These days, using humor is more and more risky. And not everyone feels that they have the skills, but gentle ribbing of your own quirks, done within reason, is usually a safe and fruitful bet.
Cordae also dressed as he likes, allowing his personality to come through in his look, as well as his story and speaking style. Watching him, you see not only what he believes, but you feel like you’ve gotten to know him a bit.
In the context of business meetings, you may have a lot less freedom than Cordae, but I invite you to reflect on the question, “How can I be more of myself?”
Body language: The physicality of this talk is not typical for TED. It stands out in style, personality and personal brand. He speaks rhythimically, like the rapper that he is. Even though he held note cards when most TED speakers don’t, he handled them with grace and looked out at the audience a majority of the time. Most importantly, Cordae looks comfortable with his body. He moves around the stage with ease (although a few moments of stillness would not have hurt and may have enhanced his delivery). His shoulders are loose and he’s not afraid to gesture.
Though TED talks are typically rehearsed many times, like a true performer, Cordae does not look stiff or contrived in any way. Instead the whole exercise looks natural and easy. This allows the audience to relax and take it all in. His presentation is informative, compelling and entertaining. And it went viral because others agreed with the TED credo: it’s an idea worth sharing.
Full transcript below
How's everybody doing today? So for those of you who may not know who I am, which is probably the vast majority of you all. My name is Cordae. I'm 24 years old. I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. but was raised majority in Suitland, Maryland, which made me who I am today. I'm a hip-hop artist. More specifically, a Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist.
A quote unquote critically acclaimed, world-renowned B-list celebrity.
But to be honest, more like B minus. But again, you all can just call me Cordae and assume that I'm almost kind of a big deal because I am here doing a TED Talk.
Now I know what you're thinking. What does a 24-year-old rapper possibly have to say during a TED Talk? Like, who cares what Ja Rule thinks, you know? But I'm here to talk about my mantra and my way of life that has gotten me this far and can hopefully take me a lot further on my journey, as I'm just getting started. And that’s the “Hi Level mindset.”
Now before I get into the details about the Hi Level mindset, I want to tell you about the original creator of the Hi Level mindset. And that's my mom. She doesn't even know it. My mom had me when she was 16 years old. She was a single mom with all the odds stacked against her. And yet, from an unbiased perspective, I like to say she did a pretty decent job. We lived in some pretty terrible neighborhoods, man. I switched elementary schools about five different times. I remember one time her car had got stolen twice in one week. She overcame circumstance, obstacles, her environment and negativity. As I watched, our living situations would continue to get better and better as the years went by. Now that's Hi Level.
Now the Hi Level mindset wasn’t something that she directly taught me or purposefully instilled in me, but something I learned simply by observation. The Hi Level mindset is a philosophy. It’s a wavelength to apply to your everyday thoughts and regiment. The Hi Level mindset will be of great service to you, especially when things aren't going as planned. These trying times that I speak of, or life testers, if you may, are what truly make us man and woman. Actually scratch that. How we handle these lifetimes, these trying times, or life testers, is what decides a person's destiny.
Which brings me to step one of the Hi Level mindset. And that's always remain positive, no matter what people or life may throw at you. Now I'm going to give you a little bit of background about myself. Funny enough, I was actually voted most likely to be famous in both middle school and high school. Now I know what you're thinking. I'm sorry. I haven't always been this good looking, it takes a little bit of time.
My goal was to graduate high school and to immediately blow up. But that didn't happen. So I went to college and as soon as I went to college, boy, did life hit me hard. Within the first couple of weeks of school, one of my best friends that I called my brother had gotten sentenced to 24 years in prison. I had gotten detained for driving with a suspended license, amongst other things, like having a pound of weed in the car before it was legal. And my grandmother had passed. Not to mention I was already a terrible student with horrific grades and a broke teenager. And I wonder why my grades were so bad. Now that's just disrespectful. I wasn't even trying to hide it. But on top of all of these things, what was really the breaking point for me was that I had released a mixtape that I worked on the entire summer and it had only gotten 200 downloads. Now my previous two mixtapes got 2,000 downloads, so I was not happy with the regression, to say the least. Again, this almost pushed me to the brink of quitting and insanity. But the Hi Level mindset made me think, "Man. These misfortunes are just going to make my triumph story a lot cooler.”
I used this as fuel to the fire, motivation, if you will. It made me think, you know, life is just a book. Not every chapter is going to be perfect. But it's about how it ends.
Which brings me to the second step of the Hi Level mindset. Always be intentional with your desires. Know exactly what you want. In 2018, I created a vision board -- at the beginning of 2018, excuse me -- I created a vision board. And I'm proud to say that with the Hi Level mindset, within one year I almost accomplished everything on here. Ya’ll can clap for that.
So I encourage you to just write down your goals. Starting off your day with reading your goals and dreams aloud gives you a boost of positive energy. This energy can be transmuted into something we call faith. Faith in your ability, faith in yourself, faith in a higher power will take you to places you can't even imagine. Know exactly what you want. How can you be Hi Level if you don't know what Hi Level is to you?
And in order to do all these things, it brings me to the third step of the Hi Level mindset. Discipline. Growing up, discipline was always taught in such a lame way that I always tried my best to avoid it.
But where motivation is low, that's where discipline kicks in. Anybody who's done something noteworthy with their lives all have one thing in common, and that's discipline. Mastering the art of discipline will literally change your life. I witnessed this close hand by studying a friend up close. This friend of mine noticed that every time he stopped doing drugs and alcohol, something good would happen.
He felt as though this was a divine calling from heaven above to halt all his vices. Now can anyone tell me the three main vices of a 19-year-old college student? It's sex, alcohol and drugs. If you all didn't know that already. And after the first six months of him stopping his vices, I seen his whole life change completely. Again he thought this is a sign that maybe God doesn't want me to do drugs, drink alcohol or have sex. But no, that's not the case. Thank you. He was just simply learning discipline without knowing. Alright. I have a confession to make. Because I don't want to make this entire TED Talk about myself, I lied and said that this is a friend.
It was actually me.
Now a cheat code to ensure that you're staying disciplined to whatever you're striving for is to prime your environment for success. Your habits are based on your habitat. And the main product of your habitat are the people in your life. Which brings me to a very important step of the Hi Level mindset. The fourth step, to be exact. Remove all negative people out of your life immediately. Anybody that's semidoubtful or naysaying, get them out. If you're talking about your dreams and goals and they give small, sarcastic remarks ... boot them.
Just an all-around negative Nancy? Kick them out of there, man. Does anybody in the audience know somebody that's like that? Please raise your hand. I need you all to do me a favor. Pull your phones out and block them immediately.
No, no, no. I'm dead serious. Don’t let someone else’s negativity cancel out your light, for it can temporarily get in the way of you achieving what's owed to you. You are a product of those who you hang around. Let's make sure we're hanging around other positive, Hi Level individuals.
Now I like to consider myself a master at this Hi Level stuff. I mean, I am here for a reason, right?
But that doesn't mean things always go my way. Even now, I just recently released my sophomore album "From a Birds Eye View" that I spent two full years creating. My debut album, "The Lost Boy," was met with massive critical acclaim and success, and I had a lot of pressure on myself, to outdo myself. And in my eyes and in the eyes of many, I did. I had huge expectations for this album, but when it finally released and it wasn't received as well as I'd hoped, I completely broke down. I did my fasting. I stayed positive. I wrote down my dreams and goals. I was disciplined. I was doing this every day to make sure that this big moment that it was leading up to, that would change the entire world, would go perfectly. But that didn't happen. I did not meet the expectations that I had set for myself, that the world had set for me. And this is the first time as a major artist that I had received mixed reviews of my art. And again, it broke me down, man. I became unmotivated, I started overindulging in things that I'm not proud of. I was almost thinking about canceling my upcoming tour. I was in a very dark place.
But then I heard this Yiddish proverb that A$AP Rocky actually told me about at a most important time, and I’m sure he didn’t even know it. It’s “We plan, and God laughs.” And that made me think. The Hi Level mindset is not a recipe for perfection but a commitment to honoring your potential and what you have to offer the world. Don't let your small failures make you lose sight of your bigger picture.
I'll leave you all with this. We only have one life to live. 110 years maximum if you are a health guru and you have great health insurance.
How are you going to maximize your time on this Earth? Do you want your name to be remembered long after you're gone? The Hi Level mindset is about doing everything that you put your hands on at the highest level that you're capable of doing. Think of your life as a book. Again, each chapter isn't going to be perfect. But how do you want your story to end? In anguish? A bunch of what-ifs? Or leaving a legacy? I choose legacy. The Hi Level way.
April 12, 2022
Van Couver, B.C., Canada