All alone in the red circle…

Professor Brian Keating
5 min readApr 16, 2024

Being a TEDx performer transformed me, more so this time than my first TEDx talk in 2015. The TED platform has changed since my last talk in 2015. Back then, talks were rambling 18-minute-long affairs; mine was no different. Then, my focus was strictly science-oriented, delving deep into cosmology and the BICEP2 debacle. Pure science and math. The 2015 stage was my conduit for sharing factual knowledge, with my presentation meticulously sculpted to achieve maximum self-promotion, carefully crafted to show off my brilliance…

I was so nervous doing that one, as I presented the results in slide after slide, like a lecture. It was well received, and I did get a standing ovation, but the global accolades never poured in. Sure, it got a lot of views — long before my current forays into YouTube, which have made me much more comfortable speaking to a camera…the enduring legacy of all TED talks.

More importantly, it allowed me to meet my friend and co-author, James Altucher. Most significantly, it was the catalyst that launched my book writing career, prompting a book deal for my first book, Losing the Nobel Prize, and later my second book, INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE: Think Like a Nobel Prize Winner, on which Wednesday’s TEDx talk was, in part, based.

The niche TED talks fill has both expanded significantly and contracted dramatically, mirroring the dynamic shifts in the online and global discourse. Last year, TED found itself the center red circle in a global discourse on censorship — see this excellent piece “Why is TED scared of color blindness” by author Coleman Hughes.

TED talks have slimmed down from the bloated 18-minute missives (sometimes topping out at 30-minute-long self-promotional commercials), to svelte 8-minute story-driven narratives striving to give value to the audience, not shamelessly self-promote as mine did a decade ago. Many of my co-presenters didn’t use visual aids, preferring to let the story do the work.

The shift towards topics like self-help and personal growth reflects a deeper understanding of the audience’s needs and challenges. Last time, I was the hero of my talk. I even had ‘hero pictures” of me being a badass at the South Pole. But this time, I realized shouldn’t be about me. The audience needs to be the hero of the story, not me.

On Wednesday, I explored the theme of overcoming imposter syndrome, which marks a departure from my initial foray into the world of TED. This evolution is emblematic of TED’s broader transformation towards embracing a more diverse range of topics, including personal development and self-help.

I recognized that the complexity of the human experience needs to go beyond professional achievements or scientific advancements. By sharing my journey of battling and overcoming imposter syndrome, I hope I contributed to this richer, more varied tapestry of knowledge and inspiration that TED now champions. This evolution of the TED platform signifies a more holistic approach to learning and self-discovery, making it a vibrant community for sharing life’s lessons, not just academic knowledge.

This time, I took the time to enjoy the other talks immensely, especially after mine was done and I could relax. There were talks on mentoring youth in inner-city San Diego, studying Alzheimer’s disease using marmoset monkeys (my kid’s favorite talk of all ), and an inspiring talk by Rochel Smoller about the power of donating a kidney.

Here are five actionable takeaways while you wait for the video to come out:

1. Maintain a Record of Achievements: Keep a detailed record of your accomplishments and successes. This tangible evidence is a powerful reminder of your capabilities and worth, especially during moments of self-doubt.

2. Embrace Your Uniqueness: Recognize that your individuality is your strength. Understanding that no one else can be you, with your unique set of skills, experiences, and perspectives, is pivotal in overcoming feelings of inadequacy.

3. Learn from History’s Great Minds: Remember that many of the world’s most celebrated intellects, including Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, experienced imposter syndrome. Knowing you’re in such an esteemed company can normalize your feelings and comfort you.

4. Seek Wisdom from Diverse Sources: Wisdom is scarce but can be found in many forms, including those who have faced and overcame similar challenges. This could include mentors, historical figures, or even philosophical/religious teachings, providing perspective and guidance.

5. Balance Humility with Confidence: Strive for a balance between humility, recognizing there is always more to learn and grow, and confidence in your own abilities and worth. This balance is crucial for personal and professional development, helping to navigate imposter syndrome effectively.

Until next time, have a M.A.G.I.C. week!


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Chad is a professor of physics and science communicator renowned for his popular science books, How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, Breakfast with Einstein, and How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog. He is also a regular contributor to

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Professor Brian Keating

Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor at UC San Diego. Host of The INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE Podcast Authored: Losing the Nobel Prize & Think like a Nobel Prize Winner