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Q&A With UNConventional Keynote, Ben Nemtin

Convention Guest Article
Jul 20, 2021
By Ben Nemtin
  • Education & Events
On Wednesday, September 8, UNconventional goers will have the opportunity to hear from keynote speaker Ben Nemtin on how to "Make the Impossible Possible." Here's a recent Q&A with the speaker & author of The Buried Life Movement.

Can you share what the journey looked like from University student to The Buried Life TV Show and NYT’s Best Selling Book authors?

In University, my friends and I felt buried. We felt buried by school, by work, and by the day to day. As a result, we weren't doing the things that we truly wanted to do and we weren't happy. My friends Dave, Duncan, Jonnie and I got together and decided we were going to do something about this void we were feeling and asked ourselves the question, 'What do you want to do before you die'? We made a list of '100 things to do before you die' and decided that for every item we crossed off of our bucket list, we would help a complete stranger accomplish something on their list.

Serendipitously, Jonnie was assigned a poem in English class called The Buried Life, which articulated our feelings to a tee so we decided to call this project The Buried Life. We borrowed an RV, bought a second hand camera so we could film the journey and hit the road for two weeks one summer to tackle our list. What happened next was a mix of luck and magic. People started to hear about our mission and wanted to help. Total strangers would contact us and offer to help us cross items off our list and on the flip side; people would send us their biggest dreams asking for our help. That two week road trip has lasted over 10 years and it has become a philosophy to live life by: prioritize the things that are important to you try not to get buried.

Since then, we've crossed off items we thought were impossible, like #53: Make a TV Show, #19: Write a #1 New York Times Bestseller and #93: Play Basketball with President Obama. We've helped countless folks over the years and have learned that this resonates even more than doing things for yourself. 

Do you think it is important for everyone to have a bucket list and why do you think it is important?

Definitely. At its root, a bucket list a list of the most important things you want to do in your life. In other words, it is a list of things that you think will bring you the most fulfillment and happiness. It's important to stop and think about what you truly value. A lot of people have never done this. It's important to write the list because that helps you prioritize these things that deserve your energy and attention. So at a very basic level, a bucket list forces you to think about what’s important and reminds you to take steps towards those things. 

A lot of people just don’t know where to get started. Are there any secrets that work for you and the guys that you can share with us in terms of getting things checked off a bucket list?

That’s very common; here are five steps that will help you cross things off your bucket list:

1. Write it Down: The act of writing it down means you're taking an idea in your head and you're making it real. You're taking something that's intangible and making it tangible. This gives your dreams their first breath of life.

2. Share: If you don't talk about your list, no one can help you. Sometimes people keep their dreams inside because they are afraid of what others might think or that others will know if they fail. The reality is people will step up in the most unexpected ways to help you if you talk about your goals passionately and authentically (either in person or online). 

3. Be Unstoppable: It's not going to be easy and you're going to hear 'no' a lot. I've learned that 'no' doesn't always mean 'no', it usually means 'not now'. As a result, you may have to approach any potential roadblocks in creative new ways. People trick themselves into thinking external forces are the reason they can't do something. I believe the simple truth is that you fail because you stop trying. 

4. Take Moonshots: 99% of the world is convinced they can’t do great things so they aim for realistic goals. This means the level of competition is highest for realistic goals. Therefore, you have a better chance of achieving unrealistic goals because there is less competition. Do not underestimate yourself and overestimate the competition. You will surprise yourself. In addition, having a spectacular goal motivates you to keep moving forward and attracts like minded people to your side.

5. Give: This fills you up in a way that doing things for yourself doesn't. In addition, when people see you out in the world helping others, they are more inclined to help you. The film Into the Wild has a great quote: "Happiness is only real when it's shared". When I look back at the past 10 years of crossing off list items, it's the moments when I've been able to step into someone else' life and share in their big moment that stick with me. 

Clearly things don't always go as planned when you are trying to check something off your list or someone else's list. What have you learned about failure along the way?

I’m a big fan of failure. It means you’re pushing yourself and something positive always comes from failure. More often than not, a failure forces a pivot that ends up being the right decision. At the very least, you learn something about yourself. If I don't want to do something because the thought of failure scares me, I know it means I need to do it. By putting yourself out of your comfort zone, you'll get returns. 

What have you learned about people through The Buried Life project that surprised you? And what have you learned about yourself along the way that surprised you?

I’ve learned that if you give someone the chance to be a hero, they take it. Folks are generally willing to help if you just ask and that has been a really cool realization from the get go. It's made me believe in humanity. The only way we cross items off our list or help other people accomplish their goals is from the help of other people. 

The one thing I've learned about myself (and I know it sounds cheesy) is that I can do anything. This is the one thing I try to hammer home in my keynote talks because it's so powerful when you get it. Anyone can do anything; it's kind of that simple. 

What is one of your favorite memories checking something off someone else’s list?

The first person we ever helped was a guy named Brent. Brent had emailed us asking if we could help him take pizzas down to the homeless shelter. We didn't have much money but this was something we knew we could help with. When we met Brent we learned that the reason he wanted to bring pizzas down to the homeless shelter was because he used to live in that same shelter and he said when people brought in food it felt like someone actually cared about him. We learned that he had been able to leave the shelter because he had started a landscaping business. That business relied on his truck and his truck had just broken down. He never asked us for help with the truck so we thought, "We gotta help this guy". We pooled our money and went to a used car lot and offered the owner $480 for a $2100 truck. He gave it to us. When we surprised Brent with the keys, you could tell how much this meant to him. We still stay in touch with Brent, 10 years later.


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About The Author

Ben Nemtin is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of What Do You Want to Do Before You Die? and a star of MTV's highest rated show ever on iTunes and Amazon called The Buried Life. As the cofounder of The Buried Life movement, Ben's message of radical possibility has been featured on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, FOX, and NBC News. President Obama called Ben and The Buried Life "inspiration for a new generation" and Oprah declared their mission "truly inspiring."