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5 Must-Watch TED Talks (During a Pandemic)

These inspirational and informative short-form talks have given me perspective in these trying times.

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The reality is that this pandemic has rattled us all in different ways. Maybe you are facing financial, emotional, or physical challenges? Maybe there simply isn’t enough time to get your tasks done, or maybe time seems to stand still. And if you miss the social interactions with your friends, you are not alone.

As a family doctor, recently I have seen a lot of fear in my patients’ eyes. Each day I come home and self-isolate in my room, to protect my family from exposure. 

When I look in the mirror, I see my own fear. Day after day, it builds up. 

The Fear is Real

But how do we overcome our fear? I default to my mother’s sage advice she imparted when I was young. When she could sense I was scared, she would come to my bedside and say, “Daughter, remember the antidote to fear is knowledge. Let’s focus on learning, and help you overcome this fear I see in you.”

My mother passed long ago, but this memory stays afresh. I don’t have her loving words and guidance, but the good news is that for every fear you have, there is information that will help you overcome it. 

One of my favorite things to do to mitigate my fears when I’m at home is to look up TED/TEDx Talks. I watch and listen to these talks to gain valuable information on topics important to me. In addition, they are entertaining and feed my curious side. 

I wanted to share my top picks and explain why the information in each of them has helped me gain knowledge and important perspective during these challenging times. My hope is that one of the talks I mention below benefits you.

10 ways to have a better conversation | Celeste Headlee

I believe many of us, myself included, can learn to improve our conversational techniques. For me, it is very important both professionally and personally. Professionally, I need to master having conversations with people that help make them feel more comfortable and at ease, so they can be honest about their aches, pains, and health issues. Personally, now that my boys are teenagers, I need a lot of help with conversations.

One of my favorite takeaways from this TEDx Talk by Celeste Headlee is when she said, “Be present in the moment.” I have known and truly believed for a long time that happiness is a mindset, and is connected to living in the present moment. Instead of running through multiple scenarios in my head of how something will turn out well, I need to relax a little. 

Professionally, I can lift the spirits of the dispirited and shine a light on someone’s dark day. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do for each other?

And personally…maybe, just maybe, if I’m more present in the moment, I can rejoice in the smaller conversations with my boys (since currently they don’t want to have long conversations with me)!

Celeste said at the end of her TEDx Talk that she believes what makes her a better host is that she keeps her mouth shut as often as she possibly can, keeps an open mind, and is always prepared to be amazed. She is never disappointed because of her mindset.

So let’s all talk to each other, listen to each other, not judge one another, and most importantly be our authentic selves. I know there is room for improvement in my conversational techniques, and I will probably revisit this talk a few more times. I think after you watch it, you will be inspired to be a better communicator as well. 

A guide to believing in yourself (but for real this time) | Catherine Reitman | TEDxToronto

This presentation by Catherine Reitman resonated on multiple levels with me and my journey. It’s the journey of not feeling confident, living in a constant state of self-doubt and the continuous work to achieve self-belief in my life.

Catherine mentioned that only a few years before her talk, she felt completely powerless, unqualified and unable to make decisions. She lived most of her adult life constantly facing rejection as an actress. Then, she began to write, but as more rejections came she felt shame for even stepping outside her comfort zone. 

I do admit, I have made the choice of ignoring my inner voice and listening to my more critical voice telling me I’m not good enough, and I’m not smart enough. Even though I know this thinking isn’t productive, it happens often, and unfortunately I continue to think this way. I take responsibility for my thoughts, but I can’t ignore that society, circumstances, and my surroundings oftentimes adds to these ego-crushing thoughts. 

How many of us sabotage our own dreams and feel silenced by others’ voices? 

I have (and I bet you have too).

Unfortunately, all throughout my life I’ve allowed myself to stay constricted in a small box. Sometimes I feel like it’s what has been prescribed for me. It feels less frightening to stay in that box. But that’s no way to live a full life.

Catherine’s talk showed me a glimpse of what it looks like to make the choice of stepping outside your comfort zone. She said, “If you are going to be brave enough to say yes to the choice, you must also have the courage to stick to your vision, because it will be tested.”

The journey to free myself of self-doubt is not an easy process, but I feel I now have the bandwidth to acknowledge that unclipping my wings requires an endless amount of work. When I feel inspired to be my truest self, but hold myself back, I watch this TEDx Talk, and it reminds me that the process is not easy, and it’s a lot of work, but it is possible. 

It’s a choice I can make. And it’s a choice you can make, too.

Become who you really are | Andrea Pennington | TEDxIUM

Everything in this talk by Andrea Pennington touched my soul deeply.

Why?

She said, “When we are coerced to be something that we are not, or forced to pursue goals that are not of our own choosing, we often take on the beliefs of others that can literally cause our self-rejection and self-loathing.” 

This was definitely a ‘wow’ moment for me. 

I have felt what she described for so many years, but was never able to articulate it myself. It’s no wonder I’m still struggling with self-rejection and self-loathing. 

After watching this talk, it made me realize that for a long time, I lived between my true, authentic self and who I was programmed to become. My authentic and programmed self always clashed, and this caused me much grief.

This talk made me realize the following:

  • They don’t program people like me to have dreams, aspirations, grit, resilience. 
  • They program people like me to be the opposite. 
  • They program people like me to be complacent with the status quo. 
  • They program people like me to stay on the sidelines and never enter the arena. 
  • They program people like me to not invest in my own potential, and keep my dreams small. They laugh at people like me when I dare to dream big and believe differently.
  • They program people like me to cave under pressure, to live in fear, and not face challenges head-on. 

Andrea also said, “The sad thing is, most of us end up forcing the unacceptable parts of our personality into the shadow, and we end up masquerading a half-baked version of ourselves.” 

Actually, I believe we end up existing with way less than a half-baked version of ourselves, which I guess was the goal anyway. I am far from perfect, but others made me believe that I was supposed to suppress my personality traits. 

This made me feel flawed. 

How can we be summoned to shine when the world tells us that we are supposed to be barely visible? How can I live my own truth when the edited version of my truth is the version that is more accepted by society?

Pretty heavy thoughts, I know. But this talk inspires me. The simple message from Andrea is to try to know ourselves, love ourselves, and be who we really are. That is easier said than done, but she’s a testament to its reality.

Just imagine, what if we all yearn for our truest truth; shout our dreams aloud; chase our passion; flourish our potentials; and embrace all of our differences? I believe that if we did this, the world would be a much better place.

Watch this talk, and see how it resonates with you. 


How to gain control of your free time | Laura Vanderkam | TED

The TED Talk by Laura Vanderkam called “How to gain control of your free time” was on my radar from Nick Morgan’s Just One Question Podcast. After watching it for the first time, I have had to revisit it multiple times since. Every time I watch her talk, I am convinced that I can find more time in my day. Give it a watch and you might find the same. 

“We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want and time saves itself,” Laura said. 

I really don’t recall hearing a single person lately say, “I have a lot of free time.” Whether they are parents of young children or empty-nesters, fully retired or working two jobs. Whether they’re still going to school (remotely) or have finished their PhD program. There seems to be a consensus that there isn’t enough time to get things done. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t dedicate enough time for self-care.

Some might flamboyantly brag about not having enough time to sleep, but is that really something to be proud of?

I never seem to have time to organize my closet, or clean out the spice cabinet in my kitchen, and I have very creative answers to why I haven’t done so yet. However, I can spend hours discussing and looking online with my sister for tiles and countertops, for the bathroom she wants to upgrade (and find it therapeutic to do so). 

I also have time to call not one, but three, different radiologists if I need to review an ultrasound report for a patient if things are not adding up. I make time to answer my son when he calls asking me how to make the salad dressing that I make from scratch for him. 

So yes, as Laura points out, when I say, “I don’t have time,” it really means that I am not making it a priority. Laura also says we have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there. My closet will stay the way it is and my spice cabinet will continue to be very confusing to everyone else opening it. 

This TED Talk reminds me that what I make time for is my priority. I will continue to dedicate as much time as my boys want me to spend with them. I will continue to snuggle with my dog (his name is Duke) to tell him a thousand times how handsome he is. And I will continue to chat with my sisters about very haphazard/non-relevant subject matters.

My favorite line of Laura’s talk is, “Small moments can have great power. You can use your bits of time for bits of joy.” 

As you face different challenges and time becomes a bigger consideration, try to squeeze in small joyous bits and moments. If I can do it, I am sure you can, too. 

I know my closet and kitchen cabinets will continue to not be priorities because they really aren’t, but I will continue to enjoy the moments when my son criticizes what I made for dinner. I will cherish every time he tells me that he would like my cooking more if I would stop making the same dishes over and over. Because of my son, I now have the desire to learn new recipes to please him (I actually looked up a couple more recipes last night that I will try soon)!

When we prioritize things that bring us joy, time becomes elastic. That is why you need to make time to watch Laura’s talk.

The Kurds: the most famous unknown people in the world | Stephen Mansfield | TEDxNashville

At first glance, this talk by Stephen Mansfield might not grab your attention, but it got me choked up because he spoke about the people of my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. They are people who I have witnessed bring intense joy, pride, and honor to my parents. People to whom my parents pledged their commitment. People who embodied the beauty of my mother and the kindness of my father. People I felt cleansed when I was around. People who rehabbed themselves and their land back to beauty and grace after each and every atrocity committed against them. People with undeniable courage who faced insurmountable challenges, yet never lost their culture and heritage.
These are my people. 

Even if the Kurds are not “your people,” I think you will find their courage and bravery inspiring.

One of the most heartwarming and fulfilling parts of Stephen’s talk is when he says, “Kurds are proud of the fact that women are extremely prominent in their society.” That is refreshing to hear. And this is why Stephen tells three stories of women who embody the power that women have to shape history and our future.

I still recall the amount of respect and honor my father had for my mother. They both came from very simple backgrounds. They were never part of the posh community, but they commanded so much respect and envy from so many. What was their secret? It seems that being respectful and proud to be equal partners in their relationship was the key. 

No matter who your people are, this talk reminds me of the power women have in shaping our cultures and societies today.

In Conclusion

With over 50,000 worldwide TED/TEDx Talks, it can be intimidating to decide which ones to invest your time in. Personally, I consume TED and TEDx Talks like they are Tabbouleh (it’s a Middle Eastern, Lebanese salad that is really, really good). If you are new to these types of talks, the five picks I discuss are a great place to start. If you are like me and love to watch short and inspirational talks, make sure to add these ones to your playlist. 

TED is built around the concept of presenting ideas worth sharing. I’m glad I could share the ones that really resonated with me. 
Do you have any favorite TED or TEDx Talks? If you do, I’d love to hear about them. Tweet me the links to your favorite talks, and make sure to tag the speaker. I will add them to my watch list, and Tweet you back once I’ve watched them!

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