There are times when the Milken Global Conference feels unreal…in a good way. On Tuesday, I ended a full day of sessions by watching a conversation with the commissioners of four of the United States’ biggest sports leagues: the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and, my personal favorite, Major League Soccer. Today started with coffee, a muffin, and former vice-president of the United States Joe Biden. Lunch today was with former president of the United States George W. Bush. Of course, there were about 1,100 other conference attendees packed into the International Ballroom for both sessions, but both leaders made dramatic, personal connections with the large audience.
During a powerful, moving conversation that started the day, Vice-President Biden said something that, for me, summed up the feeling on the last day of the conference. In discussing some of the emotional themes that have punctuated his life, the vice-president said, “Reality has a way of intervening.”
Interacting with world leaders, business executives, academic luminaries, and Hollywood celebrities is unreal. It’s not how I spend my days 99.9999% of my time. But, that blissful unreality comes to an end, and reality intervenes. For me, reality came crashing back in during the torturous traffic on the cab ride to the airport. And again in the seemingly infinite security line. Traffic is bad. Airport security takes a long time. That’s the current reality. The challenge is not letting today’s reality dictate the future.
Reality of a concept of the past and the present, it need not limit the future. And that’s the task for everyone who sponsors, attends, or interacts with the Milken Global Conference: recognize the challenges the world faces, move forward with a vision for the future, but don’t allow that future to be cemented to the current reality. It’s impossible to make progress if you cannot believe that the future will be better than the past. That’s true at a personal level and an economic level.
A mid-morning session featuring Principal Global Investors’ CEO, Jim McCaughan, punctuated that as well. In a conversation that ranged from the profoundly optimistic to the mildly pessimistic, the panel discussed the factors that have the potential to massively affect the global economy for better or worse. On a theme brought up in many of the sessions I attended, Jim focused on the benefits of technological progress. “We live in historic times,” he said, but tempered that optimism with a dose of reality. Technological progress displaces workers as it rewrites and improves our economy. It’s critical to foster education and retraining to make sure that the economy doesn’t leave the most vulnerable behind. That would be a massive loss of potential and talent.
Reality merged with vision. What has struck me several times during this three-day conference has been the legitimacy and potential in the solutions I’ve heard to today’s problems. Nothing has felt like the realm of fantasy. I’ve heard plausible, realistic answers to problems like food security, financial security, gender equality, and economic progress…to name just a few of the many topics the Milken Conference covers.
The best thing for those who can’t be here in person is the accessibility of the conference outside the boundaries of the Beverly Hilton. Virtually all of the sessions are available on the Milken Institute website. If you’re interested in making the world better, if you’re interested in making a better life for yourself and your family, if you want to know where the world could be headed – then I encourage you to view the full videos of any sessions that resonate with you.
Connecting the vision and optimism that this conference inspires to the broader world is essential. Use what you learn to make a difference.
That reminds me of another thing that Vice-President Biden said on Wednesday morning on the topic of living a purpose-driven life, “If you believe it, follow it.” Find a vision of the future you believe in, and follow that path, wherever it takes you.
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