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Blue Sky

Author: The Optimism Institute

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Hosted by Bill Burke, founder of The Optimism Institute, this weekly podcast will feature inspiring leaders, authors, researchers, and big thinkers who are taking on some of our world’s toughest challenges with an infectious sense of optimism. Blue Sky takes its name from the meditation reminder that there’s always blue sky above, sometimes you just have to get your head above the clouds to see it.
59 Episodes
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One of our most popular episodes of 2023 is back, with this encore presentation, just in time for Earth Day!  Dan Reicher’s interest in and advocacy for environmental protection and clean energy began when he was a child and has continued throughout his life.  In addition to teaching at Stanford University, has served three U.S. presidents, testified before the U.S. Congress more than 50 times, led the launch of Google’s pathbreaking climate and clean energy work, oversaw a $1.2 billion annual clean energy R&D budget as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy, and co-founded the nation’s first investment firm focused exclusively on renewable energy project finance.  In this Blue Sky episode, Dan provides his take on potential climate change solutions; from hydro, solar, wind, and nuclear power, to conservation and reforestation.  He explains that while he’s realistic about the massive amount of work and resources that will be required to solve the climate crisis, he’s optimistic about our ability to get it done. 
Marko Cheseto left his home in Kenya to travel all the way to, of all places, Anchorage, Alaska, where he attended college on a track and field scholarship.  A gifted runner, he achieved many accolades before experiencing a tragedy that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs, below his knees.  He says that as he lay in his hospital bed, he thought, “it was my feet that brought me to America, and now I’ve lost my feet.”  In this Blue Sky episode, Marko tells the remarkable story of how he turned his life around in that same bed, deciding that rather than giving up, he’d spend the rest of his life serving as an example and inspiring others.  And in the years since his amputation surgery he has done just that, and he currently holds the record for the fastest marathon ever by a double amputee, with a time 2:35:55 in the 2021 New York City Marathon! 
Nathalie Laidler-Kylander has a long and distinguished career working in the non-profit, social entrepreneurship and international development sectors.  Since 2021 she has been CEO of Trickle Up, an organization that partners with women in extreme poverty to build economic opportunity and drive inclusion.  On this Blue Sky episode, Nathalie describes the remarkable work of Trickle Up while sharing her optimism for the future of women around the world and her infectious enthusiasm about the power of social entrepreneurship and value and impact of international philanthropic efforts. 
This episode is a master class on sticking with it, no matter what. From our friend Dan Harris on the Ten Percent Happier podcast, we’re joined by Bryan Stevenson, who is a public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. He is the author of the bestselling memoir “Just Mercy,” which was made into a feature film, and the subject of an HBO documentary, “True Justice.” In this episode they talk about:  • Bryan’s “non-negotiables,” including exercise, music, and mindfulness  • The necessity of “proximity”  • How he manages fear, anger, and hatred  • How he cultivates hope and faith in the face of overwhelming odds  More on the Ten Percent Happier podcast:   A skeptical journalist, Dan Harris had a panic attack on live TV that sent him on a journey that led him to try something he otherwise wouldn't have considered: meditation. He went on to write the best-selling book, 10% Happier. The show features interviews with top scientists, celebrities and experts in the field of mindfulness. And Dan's approach is seemingly modest, but secretly radical: happiness is a skill you can train, just like working your bicep in the gym.   Listen to more Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris 
One of our most popular – and powerful episodes of 2023 is back, with this encore presentation.  In the Blue Sky conversation, John Valverde describes the impactful work of the organization he leads, YouthBuild USA,  and also shares his own inspiring story of persevering through 16 years in prison to found two non-profits and now lead a third; YouthBuild USA.  John explains how he brings his own lived experience to his leadership role of an organization that helps young people at their own crossroads change the trajectory of their life.  Learn More: https://youthbuild.org
Gill Hasson has a wide range of interests and areas of study, exemplified by the fact that she has authored thirty-six different books.  In this Blue Sky episode, she shares her thoughts and advice on everything from the pros and cons of social media, to how to effectively parent at a time when so many kids are struggling, and how we can better deal with people we find to be difficult. (A preview – she says they’re not going to change so this challenge is on us!)
For the 50th episode of Blue Sky, Bill is joined by someone who has completed more than 400 of them.  Bestselling author and TV/podcast host Kelly Corrigan describes to Bill the many things she’s learned in her life and career about optimism and how we all can benefit from life’s setbacks to become better people and forge stronger relationships.  Kelly reflects on lessons she learned from her parents and how facing her own cancer diagnosis and battle with the disease left her with a greater sense of empathy for others with similar hardships.  She also explains why she thinks intellectual humility is a key ingredient for an optimistic outlook and also that “there’s not feeling as good as being useful to someone.” Links: Listen to the Kelly Corrigan Wonders podcast Watch Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan on PBS
Alison Jones Webb has spent her career studying and working in the public health sector.  Several years ago, a combination of the opioid crisis and a realization that her own extended family had battled various substance use disorders, she decided to turn her attention here and began deeper work into addiction and recovery.  One outgrowth of these efforts is her book, Recovery Allies: How to Support Addiction Recovery and Build Recovery-Friendly Communities.  On this Blue Sky episode, Alison shares surprising and encouraging insights into addiction recovery – which she says is the norm, not the exception – and explains the vital role we can all play by being allies to people battling this difficult disease.  
In this episode, Bert describes how he and his brother grew from a challenging upbringing to create Life is Good, the original positive outlook brand.  He explains why he believes that optimism is a superpower and suggests that in all of history, there’s never been a successful pessimist. Links: Browse Life Is Good here: https://www.lifeisgood.com/
Chris Anderson was inspired by the growth of TED once they expanded from being simply a conference company to adding the concept of offering their talks free to the world over the internet.   He’s now calling on us all to “reclaim the internet” and use it as a force for spreading less hate and division and more kindness and generosity.  His new book, Infectious Generosity, lays out clearly the reasons why generosity is good for the world – as well as for us as individuals – then details a plan by which this movement can spread virally.  Chris’s views on these subjects are aligned perfectly with the work of The Optimism institute and he shares them with great enthusiasm in this uplifting and inspiring episode of Blue Sky. Links: Order Infectious Generosity: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/059372755X Learn more about TED: https://www.ted.com/
Dr. Kenneth (Ken) Harris is an experienced practitioner of holistic medicine and author of the book, Synchronicity.  In this Blue Sky conversation, Ken describes the subtle but important difference he sees between coincidence and synchronicity and tells why he thinks it’s important for all of us to connect actively with others, leaving ourselves open to the mysterious and positive connections that can be made between people.  As someone who was once clinically dead following a heart attack and had an “out of body” experience, Ken describes his appreciation for life and how fleeting our time here is.  His enthusiasm and positivity are infectious and the ideas and anecdotes he shares here are thought-provoking and uplifting. Links: Order Dr. Ken's book, Synchronicity
When Ilze Thielmann learned of the steady stream of refugees and asylum seekers entering New York City, she felt compelled to get involved and help.  This led her to connect with, volunteer for, and ultimately take over leadership of an organization called Team TLC.  Here, Ilze and her colleagues greet asylum seekers – many of whom have been sent to New York from the state of Texas – and help them find food, clothing, and shelter.  The organization has grown to now have more than 1,400 names on its active roster of volunteers and they have assisted more than 60,000 asylum seekers as they arrived at New York’s Port Authority.  Over time, the organization expanded to include “The Little Shop of Kindness,” designed to be a store loaded with clothing and accessories offered free of charge to immigrant customers.  And today, Team TLC is also offering legal and other professional services to their constituents.  The story that Ilze tells in this Blue Sky conversation is fascinating and her optimistic outlook and desire to serve others is an inspiration.  Links: Learn more about Team TLC: https://www.ttlcnyc.org
The life of Jonathan Conyers is full of junctures where it appears he’s not going to make it.  Both of his parents battled addiction to crack cocaine, yet somehow managed to instill in their son a desire to be educated and advance in the world.  As he grows, Jonathan is surrounded by teachers and mentors who take special interest in him and encourage him to reach high, including “Dico,” his transgender debate coach, whose support ultimately alters the trajectory of his life – and Jonathan changes Dico’s in return.  In this Blue Sky conversation, Jonathan details some of the highlights of his remarkable memoir, his reasons for writing it, and what continues to motivate him today.
KM DiColandrea says he works with young people because he can’t imagine doing anything else.  In high school, he developed a love for speech and debate which has led to a passion for teaching and coaching young people to develop these skills.  We first met KM DiColandrea, aka “DiCo,” in our Blue Sky episode with Jonathan Conyers.  There, we heard of him helping turn around Jonathan’s life at Frederick Douglass High School.  With Jonathan’s help, DiCo went on to co-found the Brooklyn Debate League in 2019 and is currently developing speech and debate opportunities for kids throughout greater New York and across the country.  In this episode he describes why he thinks speech and debate programs are so good for developing young people and how he hopes that someday they will be included in schools’ core curriculum.
Sara Guillermo’s family immigrated to the United States when she was a small child.  She grew up with an appreciation for this country and a desire to serve that expressed itself as early as the 1st grade, when she ran to be her “classroom organizer.”  From there, she has held several leadership positions and now serves as the CEO of IGNITE, an organization dedicated to train girls and young women with the skills they need to understand how their government works and arm them with the skills they need to actively participate, up to and including running for office.  At a time when so many of us are disillusioned with government and politics, the enthusiasm that Sara brings to her work, and the impressive results that IGNITE has had, is sure to inspire. Links: Learn more about IGNITE: https://ignitenational.org/
The family of Anh Vu Sawyer were among the small number of South Vietnamese who successfully fled Saigon in the final days and hours of the Vietnam War.  After describing this harrowing ordeal, Anh explains how these events inspired her to lead a life of inspiring service and social entrepreneurship here in the United States. 
In the late 1990’s, John Wood was living a great life.  As a senior executive at Microsoft, his job took him to exotic places and he was experiencing an ideal post-MBA experience.  His life would forever change on a getaway vacation in Nepal, when he had an experience that led him to quit his job and become a social entrepreneur.  Since then, John Wood has created two successful non-profits and has written several books, including Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.  In this Blue Sky episode, John explains the business discipline and drive that he brings to his work, which he says he simply could not do if he weren’t an optimist. Links: Order John's book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
David Bornstein has a long history in journalism and founded the Solutions Journalism Network out of his belief that the hard work that people all over the world do to solve tough problems is history’s most under-reported story.  His organization trains journalists around the country on how to pursue and write stories not just about our problems, but also on the encouraging solutions emerging to solve them.  David’s vision is both logical and inspiring, and his efforts are paying off with a growing network of journalists and outlets embracing his philosophy and practice.
Matt Ridley’s seminal book, The Rational Optimist, has inspired many since its publication in 2010 and greatly influenced the creation of The Optimism Institute.  In this far-ranging discussion, Matt will describe an early education that he said was steeped in pessimism but how later in life he found that much of what he’d been taught was simply not true.  This led him to set on a nearly evangelical quest to spread the word that interaction and trade between people and nations, including the free exchange of ideas, will continue to set us on an inexorable path towards increasing prosperity. Links: Order Matt's book The Rational Optimist
In her new book, The Power of a Few Kind Words, author Tracey Gates tells the story of how she decided to write a handwritten note of appreciation to someone every day, for an entire year.  365 letters later, she’s concluded that telling people how much you appreciate them can do as much for your own state of mind as it does for the recipients, and she’s encouraging her readers to take up the practice themselves.  While she doesn’t expect anyone else to do this every day, just starting the practice of writing to people and letting them know you were thinking about them and are thankful that they are in your life will do wonders for your mindset, giving feelings of warmth, hope, and optimism. Links: Order Tracey's book The Power of a Few Kind Words
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