A pick of some of the most motivating talks from TED, from women who have made their mark in different fields.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie, in this TED talk, traces her roots and speaks about being raised in a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family, moving to the US and finding an authentic cultural voice. She says, “I must say that before I went to the US, I didn’t consciously identify as African. But in the US when Africa came up, people turned to me. Never mind that I knew nothing about places like Namibia. But I did come to embrace this new identity, and in many ways I think of myself now as African.”
She reveals that to create a single story, “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become”. Adichie opines that power is the ability not to just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. In essence, our lives, our cultures are composed of many overlapping stories and that makes all the difference.
Sheryl Sandberg: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders
This impactful TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is said to have inspired her popular book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Here, she talks about the leadership conundrum and how, despite women having made significant progress in all walks of life, very few work in top leadership. She examines the reason behind this and elucidates how women can tackle the problem and come out successful. With the help of many instances in her own life, both personal and professional, Sandberg urges women to strive for the top echelons of the corporate ladder.
She has three hard-hitting messages. One, sit at the table, two, make your partner a real partner. And three, don’t leave before you leave. “Sit at the table,” she advises, “Don’t expect that you’ll get to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.” She also points out that women and women differ when it comes to crediting their success – the former happily attribute it to others while the latter take pride in their own efforts.
She also says, “Stay in. Keep your foot on the gas pedal, until the very day you need to leave to take a break for a child – and then make your decisions. Don’t make decisions too far in advance, particularly ones you’re not even conscious you’re making.”
Sheryl is, however, optimistic. “I think a world where half of our countries and our companies were run by women, would be a better world,” she concludes.
Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke about how humans can manipulate their brains to tackle stressful situations. She says confident people have high testosterone levels, while stress generates cortisol. She adds that it is possible to programme your brain to excel when it comes to stressful situations. “Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors,” she explains. “Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, oh, I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am,” she says. Amy Cuddy was named TED’s Global Speaker of 2012.
Dr Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight
In 1996, neuroscientist Dr Jill Bolt Taylor suffered a stroke to the left hemisphere of her brain. Through her experiences, while she was suffering, she was healed through self-realisation. The brain’s left hemisphere is “that little voice that says to me, ‘I am. I am.’ I become a single solid individual”, explains Dr Taylor.
Dr Taylor experienced her body shutting down. “I essentially became an infant in a woman’s body… Because I could not identify the position of my body in space [sic] my spirit soared free, like a great whale gliding through the sea of silent euphoria,” she recalls. “Nirvana. I found Nirvana…If I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana,” she realised. “The more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.”
Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love says people should manage their creativity and not panic when they envision the right idea at the wrong moment because creative ideas always come to people. Her inspiration for this is musician Tom Waits, whom she once interviewed.
“He was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles. He’s speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalising, and he wants it, you know, it’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it,” she recalls.
“He just looked up at the sky, and he said, ‘Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today’.” She advises people to not be overwhelmed by the creative process. “What I have to keep telling myself when I get really psyched out about that, is, don’t be afraid,” she finishes. “Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.”
Amy Purdy: Living Beyond Limits
Amy Purdy’s life changed forever at the age of 19 when she lost her legs to meningitis. She vividly remembers the first time she wore her prosthetic legs. “They were so painful and so confining that all I could think was how am I ever going to travel the world in these things?” To heal, she envisioned the life she’d wanted to live. “My leg maker and I put random parts together and we made a pair of feet that I could snowboard in,” she recalls. “I started snowboarding, then I went back to work, and back to school. Then in 2005, I co-founded a non-profit organisation for youth and young adults with physical disabilities.” She says her legs haven’t “disabled me if anything they’ve enabled me”. “They forced me to rely on my imagination and to believe in the possibilities. It is believing in those dreams and facing our fears head-on that allows us to live our lives beyond our limits.” Today, she is a professional snowboarder and a three-time World Cup gold medalist.
Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls
Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee is transforming her homeland of Liberia by empowering its women. “My wish is to be educated. And if I can’t be educated, when I see some of my sisters being educated, my wish has been fulfilled. I wish for a better life. I wish for food for my children. I wish that sexual abuse and exploitation in schools would stop.” That is the wish of the African girl, says Leymah. “I’m now on a journey to fulfill the wish, in my tiny capacity, of little African girls,” she says. “We set up a foundation. We’re giving full four-year scholarships to girls from villages that we see with potential. All of these great innovators and inventors that we’ve talked to and seen over the last few days are also sitting in tiny corners in different parts of the world,” she adds.
“All they’re asking us to do is create that space to unlock the intelligence, unlock the passion, unlock all of the great things that they hold within themselves. Let’s journey together.”