Skip to content


Rena Kirkland for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

November 18th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

Rena Kirkland

"Building GRIT Fosters Meaning In Life"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

“There were days

And there were days

And there were days between

Summer flies and August dies….

Gave the best we had to give…” 

Lyrics from Grateful Dead’s “Days Between” by Robert Hunter embodies my emotions and experience since my last blog in August.  

The days between have brought a whirlwind of challenges. I lost my Aunt to cancer who has been one of the most impactful individuals in my life. At this moment, I feel more compelled to write about this amazing lady, but alas the focus of this blog is our TEDx experience. 

One of the best parts of preparing for the red circle, has been keeping in the forefront of my mind our central message of our talk—choosing grit fosters meaning and purpose in life. When choosing a difficult path and working towards an irresistible target, then each day provides a sense of fulfilment. The past few months I’ve had the additional challenge of preparing for the most critical point in my academic career, which is going up for promotion and tenure. These events coupled with an already blistering-difficult workload of academia, has, yet again, tested my own level of grit. 

Even with the multiple challenges, I feel even more grateful than I was at the beginning of the process. I am grateful to the TEDxOkoboji leadership team who has been extremely patient and helpful, and working with my co-speaker, Phil Kassel, has been a tremendous blessing; he’s displayed persistence, patience, and in particular optimism, which I was often lacking.

The days between August and this moment I’ve had plenty of blunders, but these failures have provided opportunities for accelerated growth that I would not have otherwise experienced. Throughout the journey, Phil and I gave the most we could give. I’m grateful for the opportunities these challenges have provided, and I’m especially appreciative of the support I’ve received along the way.  

Rena Kirkland for TEDxOkoboji's 1st Annual Conference

September 4th, 2019 | Meet the Speakers

Rena Kirkland

"Building GRIT Fosters Meaning In Life"

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // 22 November 2019

Last year I told two people, my husband and best friend, that one of my goals for 2019 was to give a TEDx talk. At the time, I had several topic ideas, but none specifically nailed down. Though the goal was important enough to share with my closest confidants, I did not explicitly pursue a TEDx opportunity.

Then, out of the blue, Phil Kassel, who I had not been in contact with for over two years, contacted me and asked whether I was interested in working with him on a grit project, which subsequently lead us to TEDxOkoboji. The same week Phil called, I had just finished analyzing data with some of my undergraduate students on a study examining grit. Astounded by the serendipity of the timing, I was (and still am) amazed that just before the close of 2019 I will be making my way to the red circle.

The first question I asked Phil was, “Do we get a speaker coach?” Thank goodness his answer was yes! There are many reasons I’m excited about the TEDx journey, but one of the things I’m most enthusiastic about is having the opportunity to learn from a network of passionate and brilliant individuals. Without the support of an expert coach, working with Phil, and the TEDxOkoboji team, I would feel great trepidation. Instead, I feel excitement, gratitude, and anticipation.

Though I would be dishonest if I didn’t confess that self-doubt lingers, and I still feel apprehension. I find myself wondering how I’ll manage to put together the talk of my life when my life is already packed to the rim. But fortunately, I’m super passionate about the message that Phil and I want to share with the world, so keeping this at the forefront of my mind provides a source of daily inspiration to push me through the daily grind.

Another source of motivation is that I’m surrounded by students and colleagues who inspire me every day to take risks, be fearless, and grind through the resistance towards an irresistible target, which in this case is the TEDx platform. As an assistant professor of psychology at Adams State University in Colorado, I’m fortunate to work with extremely gritty students, faculty, and staff.

Having a super-charged team, reminds me of a quote from the queen of grit, Dr. Angela Duckworth. She said, “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it.” I’m filled with gratitude knowing that I’m surrounded by gritty folks—my family, colleagues, the students I teach, and now, the TEDx Okoboji team, provide daily inspiration to grind through the resistance towards another irresistible target—to rock it on the red circle.

1st Annual TEDxOkoboji Conference // Friday November 22, 2019