How Being Short and Slow Unleashed My Creativity

In 8th grade, my entire life revolved around sports. My bedroom walls were plastered with posters and photos cut out from magazines that showed off my baseball and basketball heroes. I looked forward to gym class, and played sports every day after school and all weekend. And when I wasn’t on the court or the field, I was watching games on TV. I made all my friends through sports. My entire identity revolved around sports.

And then almost overnight it all started to crumble.

I was cut from the basketball team. Too short, not agile enough. It wasn't personal; there just weren't enough spots on the team to go around. I was crushed, but I still had baseball in the spring… until I didn’t. I was cut from the baseball team that year, too. I just wasn’t sufficiently fast or coordinated to compete with the other kids anymore. And just like that, at age 14, my athletic dreams were over.

The sadness and disappointment weren’t the worst part, though. All of a sudden I had serious personal questions running through my head: without sports, who was I? If I wasn’t practicing with, traveling to games alongside, and playing with my friends–would they still be my friends? The answer was no. Without that bond, I found myself on the outside of my peer group looking in. I sat further and further each day from my sports friends at the cafeteria lunch table. My body, which had given me endless amounts of joy through sports and the friendships they provided, had failed me. I was alone.

But alone isn’t always a bad place to be–I had my mind. I couldn’t join my friends on the field anymore, so I embraced creativity and the arts. It wasn’t long before I found that my brain (and everyone else’s) is a limitless store of ideas, interests, and unique thoughts. I taught myself guitar and I started reading and writing for fun. Instead of spending my days competing, I was spending my days creating. I slowly replaced the posters of baseball and basketball players with musicians, my favorite movies, and animations. 

Everything I loved about sports–he challenges, the personal growth, the excitement–were still there, just in a different form. I made new friendships with people interested in going to concerts. We discussed TV shows, music, movies and stand-up comedy. I switched lunch tables in the cafeteria. And I never had so much fun cracking jokes, analyzing ideas, and being creative with my new friends. 

Years later, I’ve turned that newfound 8th grade obsession for creativity into a career that’s led me to build one of the largest educational YouTube channels in the world and to connect with amazing fans who are interested in math and science. I'm not bouncing a ball on a court with 9 other people; I'm constantly communicating with millions who are interested in using their minds to explore the world.

My brain got my body invited to a Mars simulator on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano as I made a video for National Geographic; I gave lectures on one of the largest cruise ships in the world while thousands on board observed a solar eclipse in the middle of the ocean; and gave a TEDx talk at a beautiful historic theater in Vienna, Austria that examined the hidden importance of everyday objects and the fascinating ways humanity remembers… and forgets.

At 14, I never would have guessed that I’d be making educational videos for a living on topics ranging from why we use clean water to flush toilets to playing blackjack with a robot. I thought I’d be playing sports, but being short and slow unleashed my creativity. When my body reached its physical limitations in competitive arenas, my brain opened up possibilities I never could have imagined -- and more than 20 years later, I feel like I’m just getting started.

I still watch sports on TV and admire the physical talents on display. But now hyper-curious people around the world watch me online to check out my creative talent. So while it crushed me at the time, I think my dreams crumbling in 8th grade worked out pretty well in the end.