Since I’ve loved looking up the best TED Talks for twenty somethings for years, I thought it was finally time I put all of my favourite TED Talks in one place.
You probably already know what a TED Talk is but if you don’t I’ll give you a little context. Basically, TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas and one of the amazing ways they do that is by sharing inspiring and insightful speeches from some of the world’s greatest minds.
Why should you watch a TED Talk? Because they’re amazing, especially if you’ve been lacking inspiration or motivation to make the most of your twenties.
TED Talks are my ultimate go-to for a dose of inspiration. And since all the videos are 18 minutes or less, I often like to put one on while I’m getting ready for work in the morning – it’s an amazing way to start the day!
They’re also great to watch when you find yourself procrastinating, I find it can really help to get your day back on track (unless you get persuaded into watching exactly 50 TED Talks – I’m sorry!)
Where to start
I know that giving you a list of 50 TED Talks to watch is a little overwhelming (that’s over 15 hours of TED Talks!) so I’ve made a cheatsheet to make sure you start with the best of the best.
The cheatsheet includes my 3 favourite TED Talks of all-time (and the ones I think should be mandatory viewing for any twenty something who want to make their twenties count).
I encourage you to download the cheatsheet now so you can keep these TED Talks in mind as you read through this blog post.
These inspiring TED Talks for twenty somethings from Meg Jay, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook and author of Lean In), Shonda Rhimes (creator of one of my all-time favourite shows, Grey’s Anatomy, and author of Year of Yes), Sarah Kay and Ric Elias will have you itching for a pen and calendar to start making BIG plans for your twenties and beyond.
TED: Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade. In this provocative talk, Jay says that just because marriage, work and kids are happening later in life, doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now. She gives 3 pieces of advice for how twentysomethings can re-claim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.
TED: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.
TED: Shonda Rhimes, the titan behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, is responsible for some 70 hours of television per season, and she loves to work. “When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling,” she says. She has a name for this feeling: The hum. The hum is a drug, the hum is music, the hum is God’s whisper in her ear. But what happens when it stops? Is she anything besides the hum? In this moving talk, join Rhimes on a journey through her “year of yes” and find out how she got her hum back.
TED: “If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s gonna call me Point B … ” began spoken word poet Sarah Kay, in a talk that inspired two standing ovations at TED2011. She tells the story of her metamorphosis — from a wide-eyed teenager soaking in verse at New York’s Bowery Poetry Club to a teacher connecting kids with the power of self-expression through Project V.O.I.C.E. — and gives two breathtaking performances of “B” and “Hiroshima.”
TED: Ric Elias had a front-row seat on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009. What went through his mind as the doomed plane went down? At TED, he tells his story publicly for the first time.
These TED Talks for twenty somethings are on my favourite topic – personal development. Learn from Brené Brown (the amazing author of Daring Greatly and some other incredible books), Andy Puddicombe (creator of the app Headspace), Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts), Cameron Russell and Margaret Heffernan in these amazing TED talks.
TED: Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.
TED: When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions.)
TED: In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.
TED: Cameron Russell admits she won “a genetic lottery”: she’s tall, pretty and an underwear model. But don’t judge her by her looks. In this fearless talk, she takes a wry look at the industry that had her looking highly seductive at barely 16 years old.
TED: Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.
These TED Talks for twenty somethings are all about success and will help you think about it in a whole new way, no matter what your definition of success is. Watch these TED Talks from Angela Lee Duckworth, Amy Cuddy, Larry Smith, Alain de Botton and John Wooden if you want to be successful in your twenties.
TED: Leaving a high-flying job in consulting, Angela Lee Duckworth took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success.
TED: Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.
TED: In this funny and blunt talk, Larry Smith pulls no punches when he calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions.
TED: Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.
TED: With profound simplicity, Coach John Wooden redefines success and urges us all to pursue the best in ourselves. In this inspiring talk he shares the advice he gave his players at UCLA, quotes poetry and remembers his father’s wisdom.
These TED Talks for twenty somethings are all about creativity and they’re not just for those of us that identify with being creative. These TED Talks apply to you even if your 3rd grade teacher told you you should never pick up a paintbrush again. Learn from some of the greatest minds in the creative space – Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear), Julie Burstein, Amy Tan and David Kelley.
TED: Elizabeth Gilbert was once an “unpublished diner waitress,” devastated by rejection letters. And yet, in the wake of the success of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ she found herself identifying strongly with her former self. With beautiful insight, Gilbert reflects on why success can be as disorienting as failure and offers a simple — though hard — way to carry on, regardless of outcomes.
TED: Radio host Julie Burstein talks with creative people for a living — and shares four lessons about how to create in the face of challenge, self-doubt and loss. Hear insights from filmmaker Mira Nair, writer Richard Ford, sculptor Richard Serra and photographer Joel Meyerowitz.
TED: Novelist Amy Tan digs deep into the creative process, looking for hints of how hers evolved.
TED: Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.
TED: Is your school or workplace divided into “creatives” versus practical people? Yet surely, David Kelley suggests, creativity is not the domain of only a chosen few. Telling stories from his legendary design career and his own life, he offers ways to build the confidence to create.
Career + Business
These TED Talks for twenty somethings will help you get ahead in your career and business. Watch to learn amazing lessons from some of the world’s best – Richard Branson, Kelly McGonical, Simon Sinek, Seth Godin and Nigel Marsh.
I particularly love Simon Sinek’s talk about how great leaders inspire action – so simple yet so insightful.
TED: Richard Branson talks to TED’s Chris Anderson about the ups and the downs of his career, from his multibillionaire success to his multiple near-death experiences — and reveals some of his (very surprising) motivations.
TED: Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.
TED: Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.
TED: In a world of too many options and too little time, our obvious choice is to just ignore the ordinary stuff. Marketing guru Seth Godin spells out why, when it comes to getting our attention, bad or bizarre ideas are more successful than boring ones.
TED: Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity — and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen.
Habits + Productivity
These TED Talks for twenty somethings are all about habits and productivity, something that’s extremely important in your twenties. And with these TED Talks you can learn from the greats in your own bedroom – Judson Brewer, Arianna Huffington (author of Thrive), Dan Pink, Tony Robbins (who I LOVE) and Derek Sivers.
TED: Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? Psychiatrist Judson Brewer studies the relationship between mindfulness and addiction — from smoking to overeating to all those other things we do even though we know they’re bad for us. Learn more about the mechanism of habit development and discover a simple but profound tactic that might help you beat your next urge to smoke, snack or check a text while driving.
TED: In this short talk, Arianna Huffington shares a small idea that can awaken much bigger ones: the power of a good night’s sleep. Instead of bragging about our sleep deficits, she urges us to shut our eyes and see the big picture: We can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness — and smarter decision-making.
TED: Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.
TED: Tony Robbins discusses the “invisible forces” that motivate everyone’s actions — and high-fives Al Gore in the front row.
TED: After hitting on a brilliant new life plan, our first instinct is to tell someone, but Derek Sivers says it’s better to keep goals secret. He presents research stretching as far back as the 1920s to show why people who talk about their ambitions may be less likely to achieve them.
We’re only just over half-way through! If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how many amazing TED Talks there are, make sure you download the free TED Talk Cheatsheet so you know exactly which ones to start with!
These amazing TED Talks for twenty somethings explore the concept of happiness and how we can create it in our lives. Learn from Scott Dinsmore, Dan Gilbert, Shawn Achor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Waldinger.
TED: Scott Dinsmore quit a job that made him miserable, and spent the next four years wondering how to find work that was joyful and meaningful. He shares what he learned in this deceptively simple talk about finding out what matters to you — and then getting started doing it.
TED: Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.
TED: We believe we should work hard in order to be happy, but could we be thinking about things backwards? In this fast-moving and very funny talk, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that, actually, happiness inspires us to be more productive.
TED: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”
TED: What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.
Still a student? Even if you’re not you need to check out these TED Talks for twenty somethings all about how we learn from Tim Urban, Ken Robinson (who has the most watched TED Talk to date), Clifford Stoll and Tim Ferriss (one of my favourite entrepreneurs).
I particularly love Tim Urban’s talk on procrastination – it hits so close to home!
TED: Tim Urban knows that procrastination doesn’t make sense, but he’s never been able to shake his habit of waiting until the last minute to get things done. In this hilarious and insightful talk, Urban takes us on a journey through YouTube binges, Wikipedia rabbit holes and bouts of staring out the window — and encourages us to think harder about what we’re really procrastinating on, before we run out of time.
TED: Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.
TED: Clifford Stoll captivates his audience with a wildly energetic sprinkling of anecdotes, observations, asides — and even a science experiment. After all, by his own definition, he’s a scientist: “Once I do something, I want to do something else.”
TED: From the EG conference: Productivity guru Tim Ferriss’ fun, encouraging anecdotes show how one simple question — “What’s the worst that could happen?” — is all you need to learn to do anything.
TED: Sir Ken Robinson outlines 3 principles crucial for the human mind to flourish — and how current education culture works against them. In a funny, stirring talk he tells us how to get out of the educational “death valley” we now face, and how to nurture our youngest generations with a climate of possibility.
These TED Talks for twenty somethings are about something that a lot of us overlook in our twenties – our relationships. Watch these insightful TED Talks from Amanda Palmer, Monica Lewinsky, Esther Perel, Lesley Morgan Steiner and Mary Roach.
TED: Don’t make people pay for music, says Amanda Palmer: Let them. In a passionate talk that begins in her days as a street performer (drop a dollar in the hat for the Eight-Foot Bride!), she examines the new relationship between artist and fan.
TED: “Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” says Monica Lewinsky. In 1998, she says, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Today, the kind of online public shaming she went through has become constant — and can turn deadly. In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, and asks for a different way.
TED: In long-term relationships, we often expect our beloved to be both best friend and erotic partner. But as Esther Perel argues, good and committed sex draws on two conflicting needs: our need for security and our need for surprise. So how do you sustain desire? With wit and eloquence, Perel lets us in on the mystery of erotic intelligence.
TED: Leslie Morgan Steiner was in “crazy love” — that is, madly in love with a man who routinely abused her and threatened her life. Steiner tells the dark story of her relationship, correcting misconceptions many people hold about victims of domestic violence, and explaining how we can all help break the silence. (Filmed at TEDxRainier.)
TED: “Bonk” author Mary Roach delves into obscure scientific research, some of it centuries old, to make 10 surprising claims about sexual climax, ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious.
The last of the TED Talks for twenty somethings are all about money and the many interesting ways to look at it. See what you can learn from Bill and Melinda Gates, Dan Ariely, Shlomo Benartzi, Jessica Jackley and Chrystia Freeland.
TED: In 1993, Bill and Melinda Gates took a walk on the beach and made a big decision: to give their Microsoft wealth back to society. In conversation with Chris Anderson, the couple talks about their work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as their marriage, their children, their failures and the satisfaction of giving most of their money away.
TED: The news of society’s growing inequality makes all of us uneasy. But why? Dan Ariely reveals some new, surprising research on what we think is fair, as far as how wealth is distributed over societies … then shows how it stacks up to the real stats.
TED: It’s easy to imagine saving money next week, but how about right now? Generally, we want to spend it. Economist Shlomo Benartzi says this is one of the biggest obstacles to saving enough for retirement, and asks: How do we turn this behavioral challenge into a behavioral solution?
TED: What do you think of people in poverty? Maybe what Jessica Jackley once did: “they” need “our” help, in the form of a few coins in a jar. The co-founder of Kiva.org talks about how her attitude changed — and how her work with microloans has brought new power to people who live on a few dollars a day.
TED: Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds — and so is economic inequality, says writer Chrystia Freeland. In an impassioned talk, she charts the rise of a new class of plutocrats (those who are extremely powerful because they are extremely wealthy), and suggests that globalization and new technology are actually fueling, rather than closing, the global income gap. Freeland lays out three problems with plutocracy … and one glimmer of hope.