Musk gives inspirational speech at TEDxUIUC


Brian Bauer

Speakers, organizers stand on stage at TedxUIUC. Ted held various talks at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts Sunday.

By Rebecca Wood, Contributing writer

Justine Musk, author of novels “Bloodangel” and “Lord of Bones”spoke at TEDxUIUC on Sunday, April 23 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts about visionaries and how to make immense change in the world with what you have been given.

As the last speaker, Musk came out on stage around 3:45 p.m. Before diving in, she explained how she has five kids — twins and triplets, all boys. The crowd reacted with gasps and laughter to this. Furthermore, she explained how she and Elon met in college after his constant commitment to asking her out.

Musk proceeded to talk about a Simpson’s episode her sons wanted to watch which was about their father, her ex-husband, Elon Musk who is a billionaire entrepreneur. During the show, a character said that Elon had to have darkness in his soul. Musk said that stood out to her and got her thinking more about creativity and darkness.

“We refer to (darkness) as anything that has not been brought out to the light, that lives in the space beyond boundaries, beyond our comfort zone, where a lot of us do not want to go,” Musk said. “Artists and entrepreneurs are alike in that they are both obsessed in creating something out of nothing with pulling value from the dark.”

Musk made a point to talk about who these “visionaries” are before they become as successful as they are now. She said words to describe them often include “geek or outsider, socially awkward, weird, a little different, or odd-one-out.”

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She spoke next of her son who was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism when he was around four years old. He is now considered “off the spectrum” but she praised his still existing unique and beautiful mind. She took him out to Texas barbecue one day, where he questioned his mother.

Her son said, “Mom, what’s a photag–, photo—,”

“A photographic memory,” she replied.

“Yeah, yeah everyone always tells me that I have one, so what is it?” he asked.

Musk explained, “Well you store memories as photographs and video clips and when you are trying to remember something, you scan these images until you can extract them to get the information you want.”

Her son replied, “You mean other people don’t think like that?”

From this, Musk expressed that she was glad she could reflect this moment back to her son as a strength. She explains that she believes strength and vulnerability go hand in hand.

“What sets you apart can serve as a unique, differentiating factor, but it can also make you a target,” Musk said. “Any kid who has ever spent time on the school playground knows this is a risky position for anybody to take.”

Following this anecdote, Musk spoke of the tradition behind the word “scapegoat.” It was originally a ritual where villagers would select a goat and everyone would load up their sins onto it. Promptly after, it would be chased out of the village never to return.

“So it was a cleansing ritual, but also a bonding ritual because part of saying ‘this is us’ is pointing to someone and saying ‘you are not one of us’,” Musk said, “Which has a way of segueing into ‘oh and, by the way, it’s all your fault.’”

For Musk, this connected to how some people treat the world and people today — especially women. After her friend commented on her audience of women being audacious but cautious of these actions they wish to pursue, she called him out.

“The women in my audience, we have spent part, if not most, if not all of our lives trying to amputate those parts of ourselves that did not fit and we try to be pleasing and we try to do what’s expected and we suck at it,” Musk said. “And we eventually reach a point where we feel depressed or stuck or numbed out that the only way to save ourselves is to figure out how to be ourselves on purpose.”

Musk used Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson and George Elliot (Mary Anne Evens) as examples for how these women defied what was expected of them. They lived on the edge, where not many desired to be, but where revolution could happen.

“George Elliot’s real name was Mary Anne Evens, and she grew up as a bit of an odd duck,” Musk said. “She was a brilliant girl at an age when ‘brilliant girl’ was an oxymoron.”

These women created their own circle of intellectuals, free thinkers and bohemians, said Musk. They were successful in writing books and inspired later generations to do the same. Yet, they were not praised for this until their work was actually discovered.

Musk next lead with one of her favorite quotes by Martha Graham, founder of modern dance.

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost …”

She closed with mentioning advice she received from Elon. He said to always look into the deep underlying principles of a subject, rather than just passing a test or memorizing information. We have the ability to create things of awe on a regular basis.

“Be brave enough, be bold enough and be insane enough to see things more vividly, more completely, more fully than everybody else around you and refuse to look away from what you see, what you know, even if people want to burn you at the stake.” Elon said. “Because visionaries take all their passion, and their badass personalities, and their mad skills and mastery at their chosen subject matter and they use it to put themselves on the line unlike anybody else you’ll ever meet.”

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