Careers

9 TED Talks to Inspire Your Career Growth

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Regardless of where you are in your career journey, a dose of inspiration can propel you forward -- and in 2019, TED talks are excellent sources for just that. With over 3,000 available talks on hundreds of topics, the well of inspiration seems bottomless, even overwhelming. To motivate yourself, do what one of my colleagues did: Embark on a 30-day challenge by watching one TED talk a day for thirty days. Below, I've listed nine to get you started.


1. Why Some of Us Have No One True Calling, Emilie Wapnick

Do you feel anxious when asked what you plan to do with your life or your major? Do you dread having to choose one thing to do for the rest of your life? Then you may be a multipotentialite. In this TED talk, Wapnick shares her meandering journey from one interest to another and highlights the benefits of being a multipotentialite. Having multiple interests may seem counterproductive, but can be quite practical in an ever-evolving world of work. "It is rarely a waste of time to pursue something you are drawn to, even if you end up quitting," says Wapnick. "You might apply that knowledge in a different field entirely, in a way that you couldn't have anticipated."

2. Embrace the Shake, Phil Hansen

You don't have to pursue a career in the arts to feel inspired by this talk. With his story, Hansen touches on more than art and creativity; his talk is about embracing your limitations to see what's possible. Instead of quitting his dream to be an artist because of a shake he developed, he decided to embrace it and venture into a direction he'd never considered possible. Hansen further shows how creating limitations is a way to test our abilities and imagination. "Because ultimately, most of what we do takes place here, inside the box, with limited resources," Hansen says. "Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves and, collectively, transform our world."

3. Looking for a Job? Highlight Your Experience, not Your Ability, Jason Shen

If you happen to be someone whose major doesn't apply to any jobs advertised or who's looking to switch careers, this talk is for you. Shen explores one of the biggest struggles in today's job search market: A dynamic world of work guarantees new opportunities no one is prepared for, and job seekers find it a challenge to position themselves for any of those options. Whether you have multiple interests or one, identify the value you can bring to target employers and then share that story -- online, on your application documents, and in person.

4. The Danger of a Single Story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Speaking of stories, as you explore opportunities and examine your fit in a variety of contexts, what story comes with you? Whether you are a domestic or an international student, a first-generation student or a descendent of a long educational pedigree, an Ivy League graduate or a community college graduate, people will have a story about you before they even meet you. "The single story creates stereotypes," warns Adichie, "and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story." As I remind students, if they don't tell their stories in their own voices, they run the risk of having others tell them in a way that may not align with who they are.

5. How I Climbed a 3,000-foot Vertical Cliff, Without Ropes, Alex Honnold

What does a talk about climbing without ropes teach us about careers? A lot, it turns out. Honnold had a dream that seemed scary and impossible, but through experience, he realized that feeling confident when doing something that scares you is about training and preparation. He didn't want to rely on getting lucky; he wanted to put in the time and effort to feel comfortable and actually enjoy achieving his dream. Honnold also used visualization to both see himself go through all the steps of achieving the dream while also preparing for any error or obstacle along the way, including facing the possibility of not succeeding. If you have a dream you consider too scary to accomplish, this talk is for you.

6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Lee Duckworth

Duckworth's work shows that IQ and talent are not what determine educational and professional success; rather, what matters more is grit. "Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out," says Duckworth, "not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality." That said, knowing that grit is what determines your success is not enough. Duckworth mentions Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset and how cultivating it can help you build grit. Understanding that failure is inevitable and that it's not a permanent condition ensures that you are not afraid to try new things and that you learn throughout the process.

7. The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn Achor

Psychologist and author Shawn Achor shares humorous personal stories to make us laugh, yes, but also to highlight the happiness advantage, or how happiness can improve our personal and professional experiences. Achor argues that the belief that external circumstances determine how happy you feel is incorrect. In fact, your long-term happiness is largely impacted by how your brain processes your external world. "Only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ," says Achor, "75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat." Achor then shares ways in which you can train your brain to become more positive. Check them out and try them out!

8. How to Get Better at the Things You Care About, Eduardo Briceño

Professional development is not simply about finding a job and performing it well. What Briceño has discovered by studying effective people and teams is that they alternate between two areas: "the learning zone and the performance zone." In order to continue growing as a professional, you want to devote time on gaining new skills and staying up-to-date. If all you focus on is performance, you'll eventually reach a plateau and despite your hard work, never improve beyond what you already know and do. Briceño offers ideas on how to create opportunities for growth so we can engage in activities in the learning zone and focus on exploring instead of doing all the time.

9. Five Ways to Kill Your Dreams, Bel Pesce

Rounding up the list is a short but important talk in which Bel Pesce highlights the five beliefs that actively keep us from achieving our dreams. Holding one or more of the five guarantees that you are not ready for success and that you are not ready to tackle the failures on the road to success. "If you have dreams, it's your responsibility to make them happen," says Pesce, but most of the time, you are the biggest obstacle in achieving your dreams. Before you move forward, therefore, you need to recognize and let go of those beliefs.