I have enjoyed watching and listening to TED Talks for many years now. Whenever I have a spare 15-20 minutes in my week and want to fill it with something interesting. inspiring and entertaining, I head over to the TED podcasts, website or YouTube channel and either re-visit some of my favourite talks or look for new ones. With more than 2000 talks available in more than 100 languages and covering topics from social issues to business to science to technology and everything in between, you’ll always find something you can relate to and that sticks with you.
Today, I share my pick of 6 TED Talks to inspire you.
Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders (December 2010)
Sheryl Sandberg is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Facebook and whilst that alone is hugely remarkable, Sheryl’s background is truly epic; the top graduating student in economics from her 1991 Harvard graduation class, an MBA awarded with the highest distinction, research assistant at the World Bank, management consultant for a private firm, work for the US Treasury, VP of Online Global Sales and Operations at Google.
Needless to say, when it comes to a woman who really knows what it means to be successful and to be successful in the technology industry (a predominantly male-run industry), Sheryl’s talk about why we have too few women leaders is insightful, honest and encouraging.
I’m ambitious, that isn’t something I hide. I am also very aware that (despite it being 2017), as a female, I will have to work harder (and probably for longer) than male counterparts to achieve my ambitions. And in doing that, as a woman on my route to success, I might be viewed as arrogant or cold or unlikeable. Sheryl addresses this exact point and presents so many other amazing insights and facts about women in the workplace.
On the days where I feel disheartened by this or because of prejudice and bias I’ve experienced, I listen to this talk and am reminded of the things I can do to help myself, to keep pushing myself forward, to make sure I’m doing everything I can to not let being a woman be a barrier to what I want to achieve in my life, and to be continually supportive of other women too.
Neil Pasricha: The 3 A’s of awesome (September 2010)
In the final few days of completing my degree, I was on my lunch break from one of my part-time jobs and was sat in Victoria Square in Birmingham soaking up the sunshine when I came across this talk on my phone. Headphones in, I sat mesmerised for over half an hour. But the talk isn’t that long, I hear you say. True, but I listed to it back to back because I was so engaged with what Neil was talking about.
His emotion and openness in telling his personal story is moving. His experiences and the explanation of how he got through tough times gave me confidence to believe that the period of uncertainty I was facing (as I was so shortly due to finish university and was about to head back into the world of work, now as a 29 year old graduate) would turn out ok. And, I knew that if I embraced my uncertainty and anxiety for what would come next using Neil’s 3 As – attitude, awareness, authenticity – then I’d get through it.
And you know what, I did get through it; those following months were some of the best of my life.
David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful (June 2013)
A little while ago, I was in a dilemma in my personal life and I reached out to an old friend. Alongside his words of support and advice, he sent me the link to this TED Talk. I am forever grateful for this gesture and whenever I’m feeling low or unsure about something in my life, I go back to this talk and really listen hard to what Steindl-Rast is saying.
His premise is that the only thing every person has in common is that each one of us just wants to be happy but that happiness is born from gratefulness and not the other way round. If you had all the riches in the world but weren’t grateful for it, then you still won’t be happy. If you have very little but are grateful for what you have, you will also find happiness.
I think about this a lot. At the end of every day, I take a few minutes to think about all the moments I’m grateful for. What has happened that day, the things that I value in my life, the amazing family network I have, the little things that happened in fleeting moments that I’d usually just gloss over. When I consider how grateful I am for those things, I feel the happiness radiate just as Steindl-Rast says it will.
“Stop, Look, Go” – find your stop signs, open your senses to the world around you, and open your heart to opportunities. Your life will be richer for it.
Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work (May 2011)
A lot of my friends share TED Talks on Facebook and, over the years, I’ve watched and then bookmarked ones which resonate with me. This talk by Shawn Achor is one of those – not least because his opening story about him and his younger sister is something I can absolutely relate to…I have an older brother and, at the age of 8, I broke my arm falling out of a tree when playing games at a garden party. Not long after and with my arm in a cast, my brother persuaded me that climbing the ladder to our treehouse would be ok. It wasn’t. I fell, again. Thankfully no further broken bones unlike Shawn’s sister Amy!
Shawn’s quick pace and funny anecdotes keep me gripped and entertained. The idea that being positive in the present, will help us be happier and successful but that our brains aren’t wired that way so it’s something we have to work at is really, pretty awesome. Much like Steindl-Rast, Shawn’s views on happiness come from a different perspective; one that I didn’t think too hard about when I first listened to this talk a few years ago.
The thing is, I never really feel settled in life, I’m always looking for the next thing – the next activity, location, personal goal or work achievement. As such, I push the goalposts for happiness further and further away and I’ve become more aware that in doing so, I’ve let negativity creep in. Now, I hate being negative and I’m very aware of how poisonous negativity can be and how it can spread to the people around you, but over the past year in particular I’ve found it hard to break the cycle of feeling this way. In re-listening to Shawn’s talk recently, I’ve been inspired to give the 21-day method Shawn talks about a go. As I said above, at the end of every day I already sit and think about the things I’m grateful for but now I’m going to start writing them down too.
Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days (March 2011)
This was another one I’d bookmarked from Facebook and despite giving just a short, 3-minute talk, Matt Cutts makes me want to set and complete some 30-day challenges. In fact, it was this talk that convinced me I could do blogmas – I know that was 25 days not 30, but when I had only ever blogged once a week and was now committing to blogging once a day for 25 days, I felt that was a big enough challenge!
I like Matt’s challenge of a photo a day (I think this is one I’ll do at some point this year) and I appreciate that he talks about how his challenges gave him self-confidence to try new things. His brief talk certainly inspires me to want to try new things and I hope it’ll get you thinking about what new things you want to challenge yourself to as well.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius (February 2009)
I first came across this talk in a magazine article that listed ‘the best TED Talks for women’. Out of the handful on the page, I’d already watched Sheryl Sandberg’s (above) many, many times and I didn’t feel much connection to most of the others. I did, however, really appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk about creativity and genius, and how genius has been viewed through the ages.
Elizabeth talks about how in the wake of her huge success writing ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, she realised that despite having maybe 4 more decades of working life ahead of her, she had probably had her greatest success. She talks about how, for creative minds, the notion that creativity and suffering are linked leads so many to become undone by their gifts – so true when over the years there are lists of young actors, musicians, artists and other creatives who have become so overwhelmed by their creative angst and spiralled into terrible lifestyles or even ended up taking their own lives.
Although her focus is on creatives, I like that Elizabeth talks about not letting your internal genius torment you, that whatever it is that’s inside you, you shouldn’t be afraid, you should just get on and do your job as best you can. I think this is something we can all be inspired by – that whatever your calling is in life, show up and commit to doing it well. I certainly try to live by that.
I hope you enjoy watching these talks and that you find inspiration in them as I have – as well as humour and reflection and even confidence. I’d love to know what your favourite TED Talks are so please do comment and let me know.