6 TED Talks You Cannot Afford to Miss as a College Student


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Ever feel like you need a little bit of guidance? Maybe you’re feeling uninspired in your day-to-day routine, or you’ve recently overcome a setback and need a pep talk to get back on your grind again. Regardless of the situation, most of us can use a bit of inspiration now and then, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that TED Talks are some of the best motivation out there for boosting your tired brain and lifting your weary spirit.

Alright, so we may be acting a tad dramatic, but the fact remains that college can be a tough place when you’re overloaded with lectures, assignments, and not to mention, social commitments. Plus, even your mom knows that you rely on enough caffeine to make the Energizer bunny do a double take. But, unfortunately, caffeine cannot get you through every hurdle in your adult life. So, if you’re looking for enough encouragement to get through yet another day of unending schoolwork, check out uCribs’ round up of the 6 best TED Talks for college students—which will really add some wisdom to all your future #MotivationMondays.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Lee Duckworth

Many of us have that one friend who reaps in success after success despite being an average student with no exceptional skills. If you’ve ever wondered how this pal does so well— seemingly without trying—then this TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth has got your name written all over it. In the talk, the business consultant turned 7th grade math teacher reflects on her highest-achieving students by revealing a surprising indicator of success: grit.

Defined by Duckworth as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” grit is akin to “treating life like a marathon, not a sprint.” In other words, success isn’t determined strictly by ability, but rather keeping pace with your goals and staying true to them when life’s many curveballs head your way. The secret to this? Developing a “growth mindset,” which denounces the belief that failure is a permanent condition and asserts that the ability to succeed ultimately depends upon the effort you put forth. Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask us.

 “Try Something New for 30 Days” by Matt Cutts

When the monotony of classes and homework has you feeling stuck in a rut, tackling new projects is usually the cure. Need evidence? This short and sweet TED Talk by Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, packs a mighty punch with its message of habit forming. “Try Something New for 30 Days” is the bite-sized pep talk you need if you’ve been hoping to create that portfolio for your job search, write that poem for publication, or finally build out that DIY study space.

In the talk, Cutts proclaims that 30 days is enough time to pick up a new habit, eliminate an old one, or knock a major item off the to-do list. It just exudes the spirit of the great Benjamin Franklin, if we’re being completely honest. Cutts explains, “The next 30 days are going to pass, whether you like it or not.” Then he probes, “So, why not think about something you have always wanted to try and give it a shot?” Maybe you’ll discover a newfound passion as a result of this 30-day challenge, but even if you don’t, you’ll likely come away feeling more self-confident and adventurous. Just ask Cutts, who began biking to work daily and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro using his method, which is obviously quite effective.

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 “What Adults Can Learn from Kids” by Adora Svitak

Have you ever been called “childish?” If so, you might have felt slighted that someone would refer to you as immature and irresponsible – even if you were acting a fool at Disney World that one time. But if you ask Adora Svitak, your child-like behavior could be a good thing when applied in the right context. According to the writer, activist, and child prodigy, the many qualities needed to accomplish big things can be found in – you guessed it – kids.

In “What Adults Can Learn from Kids,” then 12-year-old Svitak makes the case for incorporating childlike characteristics into our adult lives. She says that adults tend to undermine big ideas with concerns about cost, time, and effort, while kids dream big without worry of impossibility. Therefore, to drive innovation, adults will need to tap into their childlike imaginations. Consider it your reminder that, even though you’re currently stuck between childhood and adulthood, you can – and should –remain attune to your childlike side. Just no more Disney-related tantrums, okay?

 “Why It’s Worth Listening to People You Disagree With” by Zachary R. Wood

From the stressful enrollment processes each semester to the literature professor who never grades your papers higher than a B, your college is probably home to plenty of procedures and people you don’t necessarily agree with. You may even try to avoid these headaches at every opportunity in the name of keeping the peace. Sure, it may make day-to-day life a little bit easier, but if you’re hoping to further evolve as a person – and if you’re reading this, then you probably are – you’ll want to reconsider your “good vibes only” mindset.

Embracing the idea of “uncomfortable learning,” accomplished writer and self-proclaimed “crusader for dialogue,” Zachary R. Wood, delivers this TED Talk entitled “Why It’s Worth Listening to People You Disagree With.” Wood’s talk centers around the following notion: in order to understand all sides of an issue, we must be willing to listen to people we disagree with. Finding common ground with those who hold controversial or unfamiliar views also builds empathy and equips us with stronger perspectives, and in turn, makes us better students in the school of life. All cheesy metaphors aside, this TED Talk is a real winner and will probably have you rethinking your stance on that lit professor, after all— hey, maybe they are just pushing you to be a better student and more successful adult post-college.

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Everyday Leadership” by Drew Dudley

Do you consider yourself a leader? If we had to guess, you probably do not. After all, leaders are the ones who run student-based clubs and volunteer during the weekends— not the students barely making it to class on time, right? Besides, it seems like there’s room for only one person at the top of the leadership totem pole, and you’re not one for duking it out over a title. Therefore, you’ve concluded that you might as well leave that leadership stuff to the truly gifted.

If this sounds like you, do yourself a favor by watching leadership and self-improvement educator, Drew Dudley’s six-minute talk on “Everyday Leadership.” This short speech revolves around “lollipop moments” – you’ll see why they are called such when you watch the lecture – and the idea that we should celebrate everyday leadership just as much as the inflated sense of leadership, to which our society lends more weight. The truth is that our day-to-day words and actions are often more impactful than we realize— sometimes even shifting the course of others’ lives. And that, friends, is where true leadership lies.

 “The Surprising Science of Happiness” by Dan Gilbert

Let’s be real: life sucks sometimes. It sucked when you failed that test you studied really hard for, and it also sucked when you lost the lead in the student government election. When crummy stuff happens, your first reaction is probably to allow it to ruin your entire day. Hey, we’re only human, and it’s natural to feel disappointment and unhappiness when things don’t go your way. But, what if we were to tell you that you could choose happiness in a manner similar to choosing your favorite Frappe at Starbucks?

Finishing off our list of must-see TED Talks for college students is Dan Gilbert’s famous discussion on “The Surprising Science of Happiness.” In it, the social psychologist recounts historical instances of people feeling happy despite experiencing bad luck. He moves on to deconstruct the idea of “synthetic happiness,” or the happiness our brains trick ourselves into experiencing when things don’t turn out the way we hoped they would. We won’t ruin the entire presentation for you, but – spoiler alert – this kind of happiness is just as beneficial to our emotional well-being as the natural happiness we experience when things are on the up-and-up. We’ll leave it at that!

College is a great time to put forth the effort needed to transition into a full-fledged adult. Where else will you learn the material needed for your chosen career path, but also maintain an off-campus apartment and a part-time job? It truly is a unique place and time in your life. But, if you’re really hoping to knock this almost-adulting thing out of the park, little compares to the wisdom you can glean from great TED Talks delivered by relatable speakers who just happen to be ultra-accomplished in their field. Next time you’re in need of a mental pick-me-up, spend a few minutes with any of these keynote speakers, and you’re sure to come away feeling refreshed, inspired, and ready to tackle whatever life throws your way—including a college course load.

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Amelia Woolard is a graduate of Millsaps College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Communications Studies and an Art History minor. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Amelia moved to New Orleans in 2014 to begin her career in marketing and design. She is particularly interested in the intersection of art and language, and enjoys projects that merge the two fields. Amelia is an avid yet critical pop culture consumer and a loving mother to her cat Faulkner.

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