7 Lifechanging TED Talks

7 Lifechanging TED Talks

A collection of my favorite/most insightful TED Talks.

While you may be studying for finals, there are many of you trying to procrastinate and look for a good distraction: this article is full of videos to distract you. Alternatively, during the school break, once you have completed all your finals, you’ll have a lot of well-deserved relaxation time to recover from the quarter and return to the new year well-rested and ready for the quarter ahead. For many of you, Netflix (or whatever video streaming site you use) will be your closest friend during the break. If, however, you find time during or after your Friends/Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings marathon, consider watching a few of these videos! If you’re an avid TED talk follower like me, you will probably feel the urge to watch them all in one sitting - feel free to do so! These are some of my favorite TED talks that have fundamentally changed the way I view the world and myself. If they don’t inspire you, at the very least, you will learn a lot from these bright, earnest, and courageous minds.

Thandie Newton – On embracing yourself

As someone who has struggled to overcome strong feelings of anxiety in the past, I really related to Thandie’s reflection on her identity and development of her sense of “self”. She describes how the “self” gets in the way of deeply connecting with others, because the “self” is formed from external beliefs about how one should be, rather than the deeper, true “essence”. Growing up, my sense of “self” was primarily developed by the stereotypes I knew about Asians; as an Asian-American, I identify strongly with my American roots and didn’t like the negative connotations of Asians as foreign and different “others” (much like Thandie describes). Even “harmless” jokes about my supernatural mathematical abilities (math was actually always my worst grade in high school, and English was my favorite subject) and assumptions that I would have a career in a “nerdy” field were frustrating, because I felt they were all pushing me to develop a sense of self that was dominated by the stereotypes of what I “should” be. This is something that I continually struggle with, but over the years I have learned that in situations like these, it is important to suspend my self and recognize that this is something we have all done, as a part of the system we have been cultured into. It is not a time to make harsh judgments, but instead have a learning or teaching experience. The biggest takeaway from Thandie’s talk is her emphasis on the essence, and living from who you are deep down, rather than what you have been taught to project.

Bill and Melinda Gates – On their philanthropic foundation


This is my third time watching this TED Talk and I still enjoy it so much. Bill and Melinda Gates, my all-time favorite celebrity couple, are interviewed to discuss their foundations and have pledged to donate their entire fortune to their foundation, which aims to provide quality education and health care to people all over the world. Past projects/investments have provided vaccinations and contraceptives to those in poverty, textbooks available online (legally!) for free, as well as scholarships for college students in need. They have also worked with Warren Buffet to start the “Giving Pledge,” which, at the time of the interview, had commitments from more than 120 of the nation’s top 1 percent to donate at least half of their wealth to charity. I admire so much of what this couple does and am inspired by them to give back when I have a steady income.

Monica Lewinsky – On public shaming

I’m sure many of you remember the scandal regarding Monica Lewinsky and the POTUS of the time, Bill Clinton. After more than a decade of trying to live a private life away from the media, she has come forward to share her personal experience with online harassment and explain how cyberbullying and harassment has become an epidemic. Monica reminds the audience and viewers that we all deserve compassion – something that seems to be desperately lacking in today’s online society – and that we need to take responsibility when it comes to freedom of speech, rather than simply flaunting our right to it. Monica explains the little ways that people can help, such as posting a positive comment amid all of the negative ones. Yes, people all make mistakes, but that is absolutely no reason to shame someone into killing themselves. It is horrifying what people will say about someone they know almost nothing about. Rather than shaming someone for a poor choice, we need to have empathy for the pain or suffering they may be going through. As Brene Brown eloquently put in one of her TED talks, “shame cannot survive empathy.” (She also has a great video about empathy.) We need to consider others with empathy rather than harsh judgment.

Dan Gilbert – On synthesizing happiness



Dan explains the importance of creating happiness for yourself, and that the amount of happiness that is actually determined by your choices and within your control is much smaller than you may think: 15-20%. The rest of your happiness is due to biological and situational factors. The funny thing is that people do not always make decisions that will make them happy, and Dan helps unpack why that is the case. He describes “synthetic” happiness, and how it is just as good as natural happiness, but is often perceived as inferior. This TED talk is really interesting and it may help you decide how to approach your future choices to maximize your own happiness.

Brian Miller – On (magically) connecting to others

You’ll have to pump up the volume for this one, because it’s hard to hear him at first, but this is a great talk about how to “magically” connect with other people. Brian explains that his experiences with magic/as a magician have not been successful due to his ability to perform tricks, but rather his success comes from his focus on feeling connected with the audience. One of the points I felt was extremely important was his suggestion to listen to understand, rather than listening to reply. I find myself doing this too often, and it is a good reminder that taking a moment to actually listen to understand will lead to connection.

Josh Kaufman – On learning a new skill

Josh loves learning new things, a feeling that I relate to (hence me watching countless TED talks). He deconstructs the idea of having to spend large amounts of time to learn how to get good at something, and breaks down how to learn a new skill:

1) Deconstruct the skill.

2) Learn enough to self-correct.

3) Remove practice barriers.

4) Practice at least 20 hours.

According to Josh, with only 20 hours of practice, one can become reasonably good at something they had no prior experience in. So in less than a full day, (which equates to about 45 minutes a day for a month) someone can have a good handle on a new language, a new instrument, or whatever interests them. It is definitely worth a view because you will also get to see Josh perform a short medley of pop songs on his ukulele! If you’re interested in viewing the TED talk of the guy he mentions (Jake Shimabukuro), follow this link.

Bryan Stevenson – On just mercy and the state of our country

My favorite TED talk of all time. Bryan is an incredible speaker, and the work he does has changed lives forever. This talk was given more than three years ago, but it feels more relevant than ever. It still astounds me that we have not been able to commit to the truth and reconciliation that he is talking about; we still do not educate children about the realities of our country’s history and we, as a nation, have not apologized to the people we have abused and continue to abuse. With that being said, my favorite quote of his is this: “We’re more than the worst things that we’ve done.” Forgiveness is so powerful, but it does not mean not holding people accountable – it means giving someone a second chance to give back to the people they have victimized and to reintegrate into society. By sending people to prison for petty crimes and drug charges, we are condemning them for a lifetime and providing them no opportunities to recover and contribute to society. Our criminal justice system needs serious re-working, which will start when we are able to face our past and confront the truth. It is only then that we can move forward.

These are just a few example of the many brilliant TED talks out there. They each consider a different important issue, and I would love to hear some of your favorites as well – feel free to share below!


Popular Right Now

4 Times I Took A Punch From My First Career Job

You need to take a few punches before you learn their strategy.

I took a job that felt like the next best thing. It offered more salary than I’ve ever made, more responsibilities than I’ve ever held, and the opportunity to grow in skill and status. An excited novice in the company, I began with bright eyes and the highest of hopes. This was my first job in a career that I had dedicated my entire college education in. I was willing to continue to learn, even though I felt more than ready to start applying my textbook knowledge.

Life never hits harder than when we think we show up prepared. Here are four things that punched me in the face of perception and helped me realize my own potential and value in a new workplace.

1. You are your own boss of success.

Be your own worst critic. Evaluate yourself and be attentive and faithful to integrity. Make a conscious decision to act in benevolence, and practice honesty and principle. Instead of taking the energy to formulate excuses, own up to failure or flaw and build off of it. If you want to succeed, manage yourself closely.

2. Ask questions to learn your way up.

Ask Questions. While you are training (and even after!) be that kid to raise your hand and ask the questions the rest of the students pretend to know. Let your brain be a dry sponge: observe, and soak in. Learn the systems to start out. Be that as it may, also do not assume the processes and functions in use are always the best. Make notes and don’t be afraid to want to improve systems once you are familiar with the ropes. Take advantage of being the fresh eyes.

3. Workout and sweat the insecurities.

When we put ourselves in different environments with different stimuli, we learn about ourselves in new ways. We find out what makes us uncomfortable. We figure out how we work most productively. We learn our strengths and weakness. Weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and insecurities are like parts of our body we need to strengthen with exercise and good posture! If we want to grow out of them we need to start lifting the weights that will build mass and cultivate ourselves into willing, innovative, and confident workers. I’m learning my strengths, but more importantly, I’m learning where I’m weak.

4. Be appreciative.

Thank the people who train and challenge you. I’ve never heard of anyone disliking appreciation; let your gratitude be the buffer between who you are/where you’re at and who you want to become/where you want to go. After all, Gertrude Stein said “Silent gratitude isn't very much to anyone.”

It only took a few punches, but I believe I’m better for it. I was scared at first, because I was taking the next step in my career. Working a position in my desired career was a huge challenge because I had not yet learned to apply my education to the real world, which is forcing me to learn patience with myself. It’s new and exciting and I always look forward to what tomorrow may bring.

Cover Image Credit: www.pexels.com

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Foreign: A Short Story

As the water drips down my body, I lean my head back so the flow of the water can gently rush on to my face. I attempt to open my eyes but the water overtakes my vision. And then I hear it.

“MOM!!!” I take my head out of the shower and in a moment of panic, I shout

“What? Is everything okay?” When I don’t hear their voices call back, I turn the knob of the shower and finish getting out. Wrapping the towel around me, I rush into the room.

“What’s going on in here?”

“Mom, tell her to give it back.”

In a teasing manner, she mimics him “tell her to give it back.”

“Stop, it’s not yours!”

“Guys! Stop! I haven’t even left to go to work yet and you two are already arguing! How am I supposed to leave you alone? And whose is that? Where did you guys get it? We can’t afford anything like that!” And then they do that thing, where suddenly I don’t understand my own children.

“Es porque te lo rejalo la novia verdad?”

“Deja me en paz, Y damelo!”

“Como se llama? Pa-ula… verdad?”

And then I can’t take it anymore… “STOP! Give me the game. None of you are getting it, and for the last time, we speak English in this house, you guys know I don’t understand you!”

“But mom—“

“But nothing, now tell me whose is this?”

“Carl has a new friend at school and she’s a gir—“

“STOP! She just let me borrow her gamegirl, no big deal!”

I begin to calm down. “Carl, I don’t want you borrowing anything from anyone at school. If you break it, we can’t replace it, so please give this back to her first thing Monday morning, understood?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Alright, now I’m gonna go get ready for work, I want you both in bed by 10.”

And then I wait for it… In unison they begin their choir of complaints, “but mom!”

“But nothing! Bed at 10, and I’m asking Mrs. Fernandez from upstairs to come down and check on both of you to make sure you're asleep!” Defeated, they agree.

As I go back into the bathroom to get dressed, my steps seem to get more sluggish every time I walk. I look at the clock on the wall and it reads 5:15, 5:15 and then I plead asking the clock not to change and then 5:16. In a little less than an hour I’ll be back at the gas station, cleaning off the gum from the doors of the restroom. Watching as truckers pass by saying things that are supposed to creep me out but only leave me asking what the words they were saying meant, and then it’ll be 3am and I’ll be home again.

I kiss my kids goodnight, hopefully not goodbye, and they promise to behave. I go outside and see the landlord on the porch sipping on her coffee.

“Hey Susan!” She says in her thick accent

“Hi Mrs. Fernandez. Enjoying the beautiful day I see.”

“Yes of course, going to your second job already?”

“Yes, I told the kids you’ll be down to check on them to make sure they’re asleep by 10.”

“Of course! Don’t worry about it, you stay safe. What time will you be home?”

“Around three.”

“Ay, Dios I’ll be praying for you! Good thing there is no school tomorrow so you don’t have to go to work.”

“Actually, I have to be there at 7am. The janitors have to clean the kitchen at the school since the inspector is coming on Monday.”

“Ahhh well mija, in this world we have to do what we can to survive.”

“Don’t I know it! Well, thank you again Mrs. Fernandez. Hopefully I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Si gringita! See you tomorrow!”

I walk to my car, each step forward feeling as though I took ten steps back. As I approach my car, I see an officer hovering right over it and so I run.

“Excuse me! No, that’s my car! Please don’t give me a ticket!”

“Perdon? Es que senorita no se puede estacionar aqui, alli esta el rotulo”

“I’m sorry, No puedo- hablar.. esapnol.” He sees me struggle to get the words out and with a face of disgust, he looks at me.

“You no espeak Spanish? This isn’t America! Learn Spanish! I will let you out with a warning pero, the sign esays no parking okay?”

“Si senor, I’m sorry.”

And then he talks into his walkie and leaves. As I get into my car and turn on the ignition, I begin to drive as quick as I can. I look at the clock and it reads 5:45. As I turn into the gas station, I park the car in a secluded place and I close my eyes. As I feel the tears run down my face, I remember being back home in New York. The year was 2019, Carl and Kristin were only five years old at the time.

“Honey! Are you still asleep? I dropped the kids off at school, you should of seen their faces. They were so excited about their first day of kindergarten!”

“Babe, we need to talk.” It surprised me that he was already up and dressed. Usually he doesn’t get up until I have to leave to the clinic to meet my first patient of the day.

“Everything okay?”

“I got drafted.”

“What? But, I don’t understand I thought you weren’t likely to get drafted?”

“I know but there is so much going on and they’re trying to take anyone they can get.”

I took a deep breath. I understood that this wasn’t our choice and besides, he always comes back. He must have seen the worry in my face because then he adds, “but, don’t worry everything will be okay, I always come back.”

“Yeah, you better,” I say as lean my head on his chest.

“Can’t you take the day off? Let’s go do something just you and me!” He says

“Honey, I have a bunch of patients and you know I don’t get paid like I used to. We already lost our first house, we can’t lose this one too.”

“I know. Things are going to get better, don’t worry.” I laugh and then he laughs and for a moment it feels as though nothing is wrong. And then I look at the clock on the T.V. stand and it reads 10:00am.

“Well I don’t have my first patient until 1. What do you say I make us a big breakfast and we eat on the couch as we watch cartoons?” I ask in a convincing way

“This is why I love you,” he responds

As I’m cooking we’re both talking and laughing and he decides to turn on the radio.

“Let’s see if I can find any of the classics on here.”

“Honey, you could just put on Spotify or something.”

“Now you have been hanging out around the kids too long. Come on, the radio’s static noise brings back memories. Remember, when we used to hang out after school and listen to the radio until your mom called, yelling for you to get home?”

“Yeah, and that’s why my parents didn’t like you at first.”

And then our song comes on. As we’re singing along, we get interrupted.

“This just in. New attacks have been reported on parts of New York and New Jersey. We advise all residents of these two states to please remain alert of any attacks, and to not let anyone you do not know into your home. This has been a message from the U.S. federal government. Any further questions please visit us at www.-

And then he gets that call. “I have to take this, turn that off and try to relax before work.”

I nod, then go to the television and turn it on. I think about the twins, but then I remember they’re safe, the guards are all around the school. As soon as the T.V turns on, I regret ever looking. There were a lot of things I regretted that day. The gunshots on the television are so loud that it feels as though it’s coming from outside and then I realize it is…

My phone goes off and just like that, I’m back to reality. The days that followed were even more intense. My husband left and said goodbye for real this time and I kissed him on the lips not knowing it would be the last time. I took the kids to Texas to see my mother and even she told me that running away was the best option. We were always afraid to step foot outside and the kids had to stop going to school. I knew that if I left I would never be able to see my family again but I also knew that my children didn’t have a future there. We left, we left and seven years later we haven’t returned.

I scrape the gum off the floor and hear footsteps come closer and closer.

“Mira quien es, la gringa” I try to ignore him and then he kicks me.

“I’m talking to you, vieja tonta regresa a tu país, nadie quiere alguien de un país podrido”

And I knew this was just the beginning of our worries and this was going to be our new norm, because truth is I don’t belong but, I will keep fighting because my children do. As he walks away and goes back into his truck I release the tears and they gently run down my face. País podrido. Rotten country. The truth hits me and although I shouldn’t, I feel offended but what else can I do?

After that, the gas station is quiet and I hear the static noise of the radio and then our song comes on, but this time I don’t sing along.

Cover Image Credit: https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2016/04/29/immigration-detention-center_wide-cee013baaa0e724d9f5c333e1bc458f305c1d303.jpg?s=1400

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