TEDxUCLA 2018: Waves

Be minimally exceptional


About Jackson

Jackson’s magic and world record escapes have been featured on national television in several countries around the world. Touring Asia and North America with his own 90 minute production Jackson’s shows continue to be featured at resort showrooms, performance arts centers, colleges, and arenas everywhere.

Jackson’s multiple Guinness world records have provided a platform for speaking to Fortune 500 companies and universities about success and leadership topics. Combining visual magic with motivational words, Jackson has an uncanny talent for inspiring and connecting with an audience in the most unforgettable ways.

Jackson’s engaging charm, high-energy magical performances, and obsession for pushing the boundaries is exactly why the Manila Bulletin hails him “Spellbinding!”


What if I told you I want you to be minimally exceptional?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you research the definition for minimally exceptional you’ll find that it’s a euphemism for being stupid. I don’t see it that way, though.

When I say let’s all be minimally exceptional, I’m saying let’s all learn exceptional skills that take a minimal amount of time to master. Yeah. We can master many things in our lives. Greatness is easier than we think.

From the moment we’re born, we’re conditioned to strive for greatness, to strive to be exceptional in everything that we do because exceptional people are the ones who make the most money, experience the most happiness, and lead successful lives. It’s important to be exceptional.

Well guess what? None of us is exceptional in everything that we do. We’re all human. We’re all average at the majority of the things that we do in our lives.

So how do we stand out? How can we be perceived by our peers and our colleagues to be an exceptional person? That’s the challenge. The solution: be minimally exceptional.

Being minimally exceptional doesn’t just mean learning exceptional skills in a minimal amount of time. It can also apply to experiences and accomplishments. Skills and accomplishments that are perceived by the general public to be difficult are often times much easier to acquire than we imagine. We just don’t try because we assume it’s too hard.

As a performer and entertainer, my job is to take on and learn exceptional skills to further my career and my show. This is how I came across the idea of living a minimally exceptional lifestyle. I’ve dedicated my lifetime to mastering my performance art, but it didn’t take me a lifetime to learn how to escape straitjackets, to pick my way out of handcuffs, to fan a deck of cards, or even break a couple world records. These are skills that anyone can learn quickly. Even how to break a world record.

Exceptional people are considered noteworthy. Rare. Special. Unique. In most cases, these people aren’t that much different from you and I. They’ve just done an amazing job at accumulating a list of exceptional skills, experiences, and accomplishments in their lives. Do these people work hard? Absolutely. But what makes them stand out is a willingness to explore the seemingly unimaginable. As an illusionist, this really speaks to me.

So what’s the first step to being minimally exceptional? Create a list of skills, experiences, and accomplishments that sound like fun. Free play. This is goal-setting without a care in the world. Some examples may include finishing a half-marathon, remembering people’s first names the first time you hear them, unique travel, playing a musical instrument. Taking classes like pottery, dance, maybe some entertaining college courses. Maybe some interest- or activity-based clubs: hiking, biking, maybe some local real estate investing.

Next, make being exceptional simple. Stop trying to master everything that you do because you simply can’t do that. You’re just going to frustrate yourself. Instead, take a look at your list and ask yourself, “What can I achieve or acquire in an efficient manner?” Can you YouTube it and learn the basics right away? Can you physically finish it? Can you learn one aspect of a skill allowing you to acquire it? Will it take excess amount of time out of your day, and if so can learning the skill fit into your busy schedule? These are all criteria for narrowing down and determining your list of minimally exceptional skills.

I’ve actually trained myself how to remember people’s names the first time I hear them without taking out any excess time in my day. Now you all laugh. We’ve all been there, right? We meet people all the time, and what do we do, we go on autopilot, they say their first name it goes in one ear and right out the other, right?

The next time we see them, what do we do? We’re standing there, we’re nervous and we’re like, “Okay, do I embarrassingly ask you your name again? Or do I cross my fingers that you tell me your name again?” Right?

I actually practice a system when I meet people where I pair their name with a prominent feature on their face creating this mental picture that I store in my brain. That way ,the next time I see them, I recall the picture and ultimately their name. I consider this to be a minimally exceptional skill.

I completed my very first half-marathon with virtually no training at all. Yeah. I walked when I was tired and I jogged when I could. If you can hike 13.1 miles in a day, then you too can achieve the accomplishment of finishing a half-marathon. Nobody cares how long it takes to finish it!

You can scale it to your fitness level, too. It can be a 5K. It can be a full marathon. The point is it didn’t take me a year’s worth of training to go out and achieve a half-marathon. I just simply went out and did it using a safe minimal amount of preparation.

Perhaps the coolest part of all was participating in that half-marathon led to me participating in several more. I never thought in a million years I’d do one half-marathon in my life. I mean, I end up doing several because of it.

Other examples? Don’t learn everything about a musical instrument, just learn one cool song, learn one amazing dance, learn how to cook one cool dish, learn how to shoot and edit a short story film. These are all exceptional skills that can be learned in a minimal amount of time and they make great stories to share with our friends, our family, and our colleagues.

My most recent minimally exceptional skill, ladies and gentlemen: the very impossible Rubik’s Cube. When I was a kid, I remember trying to solve the cube. I’d try so hard, and the harder I tried the more mixed up the cube became. To me, this was impossible. So as an adult, I didn’t even care to try until recently.

I thought it’d be fun to learn how to perform a magic trick using a real Rubik’s Cube, not a fake gimmicked cube like some magicians used. So I bought a Rubik’s Cube, I went onto YouTube, I searched how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, and two hours later, for the very first time in my life, I solved the Rubik’s Cube. I thought it was so cool to acquire this skill, but perhaps the best part, just like the half-marathon, it led to me doing something I never even thought was possible.

I started learning this magic trick. I really thought it’d be fun to learn, and I was getting there, but what I realized was the magic was not necessarily the trick. The magic was the sleight-of-hand that I was developing using just one hand. I was getting to a point where I could solve a cube with one hand behind my back.

I’ve only been working on this for three months. But I thought it’d be fun to try it for you guys today. I guess I, I gotta do it now. This is a standard Rubik’s Cube. It’s a 3×3 Rubik’s Cube. They say there’s quintillions of combinations on this cube alone. That’s insane.

They say a Rubik’s Cube is officially mixed if it has at least four colors on any given side. So let’s see here, on the top I’ve got white orange green and red, that’s four. Oh check it out, look: blue, orange, yellow, green, and white. That’s five. Green, orange, blue, white, and red. That’s five.

Now I have no other cubes, ladies and gentlemen. There’s gonna be no switch, nothing like that, okay? This is real. Three months. I’m not gonna lie, I’m very nervous about this. All right. So I’m gonna try it, here we go, I’m gonna bring it behind the back, okay, behind the back, I want to turn just for a second here, and let’s see if I can get it, did I get it? Ladies and gentlemen, a solved Rubik’s cube! That’s so cool.

Sometimes learning a minimally exceptional skill can surprise you in life, by taking you down this path to achieving something you never even dreamt was possible. For me, in front of you all right here right now, this is one of those moments. I appreciate you letting me share.

You want a souvenir, man? Do me a favor. It’s real. I want you to show it to everybody on the way out today. Keep it, it’s yours, okay? It’s real.

Dr. Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School and a 2012 TEDGlobal speaker. Her TED talk centered around her research on body language, taught us a fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach to feeling confident. She found that even if you don’t feel confident, by forcing your body to act confident, your chances of success in life greatly improve.

I would argue the same to be true for being exceptional. We’re all exceptional in our own right, but maybe we don’t quite stand out from the crowd like we’d prefer to. Living a minimally exceptional lifestyle allows you to act exceptional by efficiently accumulating a list of skills that are perceived as difficult, in turn giving you a greater chance of standing out and having success in your social and professional endeavors.

I think we need to stop trying to be exceptional at everything that we do. Instead, let’s be more selective at what we choose to learn and experience so we can be more efficient at being exceptional.

Being minimally exceptional not only makes a person stand out but, more importantly, it frees up the time to master the things in life that really are most important. Mastering oneself, mastering one’s profession, and caring for the ones that we love. These are the things in life that make a person truly exceptional.

My name is Jackson Rayne. I am minimally exceptional. Thank you very much.