TEDx Motivational Speaker - Jeff Butler

TED Talks Motivational Speaker on Self Image

Jeff Butler spoke at the TEDx event in Los Gatos on Thursday, April 15th, 2017. His 12-minute speech was entitled You Are Not Who You Think You Are and it is featured here for your review, along with the full transcript.


The full description and transcript of this TEDx Talk is included below the video.


Jeff has spoken at various events around the world focusing on technology and workplace generation dynamics. You can check his availability to speak at your event by contacting him, here.


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Who am I? or better yet, who do I think I am?

These maybe be the most common questions in all of history ranging back to the philosophers, Aristotle, Voltaire, or even our very own Homer Simpson.

But, regards of the challenges that this question brings us, it’s well worth the pursuit: find the answer to who one is, is like finding the golden key to your life, with it you can unlock personal alignment, fulfillment and yes, the all too common TEDx theme: happiness.

But today I am not going to talk to you about who you uniquely are, that’s for you to find out on your own personal journey, but what I am here to do is show you the subtle difference between who you are and who do you think you are. I believe knowing this difference could be one of the biggest breakthroughs you can make in your life as it did my own.

Now since this TEDx talk or TEDx Theme is shift, what I want you guys to do is when I do this, you say the theme. You are ready? – Yes, I am ready.

Let’s hear again, ok, there we go (audience speaks) Ok! Nailed it. Now we can get started:

So I started asking the question, Who am I, all the way back seven years back at Los Gatos High School, right over that building at Mr. Sakamoto’s classroom and there I sat next to a friend named John, pretty talkative, bright guy, but he met me during a very dark time in my life, you see, I used to have a dog and for those of you who don’t have a dog, hear what I am about to tell is gonna sound really weird. But whenever something was little distressful in my life and no human could understand. I would take my dog on a walk and talk to him, telling him all my deepest and darkest secrets, he’s essentially my personal therapist, so one day, like all living things do, he died and those memories went with him and so was at school one day and that’s when I met John, he looked over and said “hey! what’s going on? what’s on your mind?” and I told him, he actually listened, the kind of friend that everyone should have, one that reaches out.

So there I was, sitting next to John at the classroom and instead of me being depressed it was him that day, he was withdrawn, quiet… so I thought, being a high school student I immediately assumed that he was on drugs, so being bold and insensitive I turned and looked at him and I said “John, are you on drugs?” and he turned and looked at me and said “you’ll never believe it, my family thought the same thing, so they took me to see a doctor and he ran all these test on me and they came back and they told me I wasn’t on drugs, of course not. But they found something else, that I a disorder called unipolar disorder, essentially a genetic form of depression, my brain isn’t produced the right number of chemicals to feel things such as happiness and turn out most people who commit suicide in The U.S. have these symptoms, so I guess I know how I am going to die and to help the doctors put me on drugs, so yes Jeff, I am on drugs.”

Have you ever asked a question and when you heard the answer, you wish you never asked it? Well, that’s where I was, in that classroom. Here I was, trying to crack a joke and now my friend has a life sentence. Confused, stunned, depressed… was really surreal. So, I did the only thing I though was appropriate, and I just said “hey, if you need to talk, let me know.” He said “okay” but we didn’t talk much after that, we sort of drifted apart but little he know though the worst was yet to come and that’s when I started asking the question who am I. But not who I am, quoting John think he was because whenever we hear something about someone diagnosis or a new label, we sort of have a shift in our minds. So, when he was John, the good friend, it became John, the good friend with unipolar disorder. My mind, get ready for it, started to have a … (audience answers) oh! Nailed it!

And I started to see him differently and his friends found out, family found out, even teachers and everyone saw him differently and eventually John had his own shift in his self-image.

Now, what is a self-image? We’ll all can be broken into two different parts, the first part is pretty simple, essentially how you see yourself? All the labels you’ve assigned yourself when you have the question “Who am I” or “I am the kind of person that is… fill in the blank. “That’s your self-image, I am a passionate person, aggressive, successful, whatever it may be. Now, you probably could have deduced that just by looking at the word… But, the next part is super interesting to me:

You see, the self-image is like a rubber band if you try and outperform that label you have you’ll snap down, you try and underperform you’ll snap back up so you essentially box yourself in a level performance, just by your label and that’s why is so important to understand the self-image, because most people get confused between their self-image and what they’re really capable of. Now that’s the self-image but wat happens when everyone around you, sees you differently. Well, in psychology this is called the Pygmalion effect or the polygamy effect as I once thought… - I did, seriously I literally did that…

So, it is Pygmalion effect and what this is, is when you see someone differently that actually has a role and how that person behaves. For instance, there was a study in the military where they had 105 troops for 15 weeks and the commanding officer who was in charge that all the bios that all the tests and then some researchers came and said “hey! here’s the highest potential, median potential and lowest potential” with that information, during those 15 weeks the command officer focused on those high potential soldiers and through that time at the end they were tested and of course, the highest potential soldiers scored 15% better. But, here’s the twist, the highest potential group, the researches lied. They just made up some random people and said: “oh! They’re the highest potential, go ahead and mess with it. But, the fascinating part is simply by the commanding officer seen these people and treating them differently, those troops start to think, act and believe it so, then perform as high performing troops. What this means for you is that when you see someone and treat them differently based off some label you have in your mind, that actually plays a role in who they become. Now that we understand a little bit more about the self-image and the Pygmalion effect that’s the “who you think you are?” part. But, what about the “who you are?” What is that really?

Well, I’ll walk you through a simple thought experiment, imagine that we’re in a world that we can create anything, so we decide to make one basketball player who is going to shoot basketball shots and named her Alice and Alice has a 50% ability to make a shot, but she doesn’t know that, so one day, we give her the ball and say “go ahead and shoot” and she’s on fire, she makes every single one, comes back, gives the ball and sits down. Pawns.

Where do you think her self-image is? Probably, really high because she’s made every single shot in her life. But what if she missed all of them, where would her self-image be? Probably, really low so here’s the follow-up question. If Alice with the high self-image kept shooting over and over again, which she converts to 50% that we assigned her? Well, yes. But, what if she had a low self-image? Would she converge? No and doesn’t make mathematical sense but here’s why: as we learned earlier the self-image we get boxed in to who we think we are and with that, we start to think act and believe in accordance, even though we have more potential and that is the biggest fallacy that we make, we go out in life, make a mistake: 5, 10, 15 times with trying something and conclude “I am no good at this. I suck.” And then you get boxed it, risking never fooling what you’re truly capable of becoming and that’s why is so critical to understand that “Who you think you are” is a self-image and the Pygmalion effect but who you are is this percentage that Alice may never know, she will never know that in her life. Just how you will not know who you are capable of becoming in your life.

So, what does this have to do with John, the guy in the classroom? Well, I found out later that John went to a very prestigious College, but after many diagnoses he didn’t breakthrough, so he went to see a very prestigious doctor in the Bay Area, hoping she would tell him something different… So, she goes to see him, and she tell him something that changed his life.

What she told him was: “John I don’t think you have a permanent diagnosis but rather a temporary situation that if you change the environment, your symptoms will go away.” Now, here is the first time in John’s life that someone told him “I don’t think you have unipolar disorder” So he started to question this, over and over, and he started to have, get ready for it…  a: (audience answers) awesome job!

In his mind, of how he saw himself, he started asked “am I a person with unipolar disorder? Or is that who I think I am?” and he worked with this doctor week after week, month after month. Three months go by, six months go by, a whole year goes by! And he’s sitting in the classroom and the first time he felt an emotion that he hadn’t felt in years that regardless of all the past diagnoses and all the close calls of mortality… he felt happiness. Symbolic that there is hope for a normal life and little did he know that seven years later, he would be in the same town, same school, same building when he first felt these symptoms, staying on this stage sharing his message with you.

John is not real.

I am John.

The conversation in the classroom? How was my friend asking me if I was on drugs?

The story about the dog? Yeah, he died, but that was the first time in my life that I learned who I really was and how I can break through. But, it wasn’t the diagnosis that was the problem, completely accurate. It summarized my past experiences, genetics and formed a conclusion to help. But, what also happened was that I began to associate myself with the label, limiting my chance of breaking through.

And I got lucky - I had someone sees something in me that I did not see myself and that’s what led to the breakthrough.

And that’s exactly the reason because I am here today, because you may know someone who has a label that’s holding them back or maybe that’s you and hopefully from the information of this talk, you can create that breakthrough you were looking for.

To wrap up, I hope you had a get ready for it! (audience answers)

And you’re thinking that “who you think you are?” is your past experiences. But, “who you are” lies dormant and for you to discover.

That the labels that you see people actually change the way they become for the better or for the worse and lastly, that you had a (audience answers)

That you are not “who you think you are.”

Thank you.



As a native Californian and raised in Silicon Valley where both parents were Startup Founders, Jeff has spent his entire life during the highest pattern of employee turnover in recorded history. 

Graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Computer Science, Jeff experienced the competition and challenges of recruiting, attracting, and retaining top talent first hand. Unlike other experts on millennials, Jeff has been in the trenches of what it means to be a millennial and what it takes to retain and keep them engaged. For example, as a software engineer, Jeff received dozens of emails and calls per month from recruiters.

With Jeff ‘s versatile background, he has helped fortune 500 companies and thousands of professionals across the United States – in addition to appearing on TEDx in both 2016 and 2017