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Kerry McCoy
Arkansas Governor's School 2023

Kerry McCoy

Excited and shaking in my boots describes how I felt while on my way to Russellville, Arkansas to speak to 400 bright Arkansas Governor’s School students. I didn’t know what to expect. Kids can be a tough audience. But, besides middle-aged men, they are also one of my favorite demographics and, early on in my speech, I told them so; for which I got a round of applause and realized they were going to be a fun group.

My Story

For the next 40 minutes I told my 48-year entrepreneurial story; the failures, successes, and luck. I orated on the power of visualization and quoted from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Netflix documentary. I recited the definition of Epigenetics and gave tips on building a good epigenetic foundation and its importance. Turns out, “sins of your father” is somewhat right.

Their Story

To ease some of their angst, I let them know that personality isn’t permanent. In my 60+ years, I have been about 5 different people. I went on to tell them about Dr Gilbert’s 20-year study on the “Future Self Concept” wherein he explains that people imagine themselves and their future poorly.

In Dr. Gilberts 2014 TED Talk entitled The Psychology of Your Future Self, he asked the viewers to think back 10 years ago. How much have they changed? Their likes, friends, and focus. He points out, had we been keeping a journal of our future selves, most of us would have been wrong.

My hope was it might relieve some of their pre-college stress. Just decide, act, and move on.

Pain and Pleasure

Remembering the trials and tribulations of youth, I hoped they heard this part of the speech. Seeing mostly successes advertised on social media, I wanted them to know that failure is also part of the equation, and that failure doesn’t get as much credit as it should. Turns out the old adage “behind every dark cloud is a silver lining” is somewhat true.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain, I heard psychiatrist Anna Lembke, author of Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, talk about the seesaw effects of our brain’s pain and pleasure center, which are located next to each other. She explains that at one time there was a good reason for this but in our modern world, not so much.

Our animal brain once used the experience of pain to motivate itself to look for food, find shelter, heal, defend. These pains of hunger, coldness, illness, and injustice would motivate us into action to survive, keeping a continuum of humans.

Once the pain was soothed, the pain/pleasure scale would tip, releasing dopamine as our reward. Think of Pavlov’s dog experiment and the conditioning response of salivating when the dog heard the bell.

Like Pavlov’s dog, our animal brain’s dopamine response would be stored in our memory. Thus becoming a memory motivator for the next time we suffered pain and needed to survive.

Today, we are comfort creatures. Our animal brain has more pleasure than pain. Our pain/pleasure seesaw has gotten out of balance. Instead of pain coming first, we have pleasure.

From sunup to sundown, we have an abundance of food, TV, social media, gaming, and so on. Compared to log cabins and teepees with dirt floors, we live in palaces with comfy furniture.

But so much pleasure has a cost. The pain must eventually balance the pleasure. We are simply wired that way.

Think about it. Too much social media and suddenly you are depressed. Too much binging on Netflix and suddenly you are depressed. No job, no purpose, no problem to solve and that nasty little mantra, I call “devil speak” starts repeating itself in our head.

Lembke says all this to explain why the richest countries in the world suffer the most from anxiety and depression.

I so hoped the kids heard me. I wanted them to know teenage angst and depression are impermanent and that you can act or, if nothing else, just wait it out.

That’s when I added a little humor and said, “Don’t stop under a rain cloud. Just hold up your umbrella -ella -ella -ella until it passes.” And sang a little Rhianna lyric.


At the end, the floor was opened. These precocious kids went right to a question about the Confederate flag, the Gay Pride flag, and my favorite color (red!).

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Listen to Learn:

  • Kerry McCoy's hardships and triumphs
  • The mercurial nature of personality and self-image
  • The importance of balancing comfort with struggle, and more...

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