11 TEDx talks on failure you need to watch right now

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Hide. Run. Bury. Welcome to the 21st century’s default approach to failure. Sure, we enshrine motivational mottos like “Fail fast, fail often,” but moving those sentiments into our hearts is anything but easy.

Pride dogs us. Ego protests. And the pain of disappointment — not to mention the pain of embarrassment — can be overwhelming. While a few brave souls confide their losses to trusted friends, the one thing we never do is share our failures to be recorded and watched in perpetuity.

Maybe we should.

Long-term success comes from embracing our failures, not denying them. And the bigger the stage, the better the embrace. As proof, here are 11 TEDx Talks — “x” meaning independently organized, so there’s a good chance you haven’t seen them yet — to help you transform your failures.

1. Why you should let your fears guide you

From homeless and suicidal to an internationally recognized branding expert, Leonard Kim’s 2017 presentation at UC Irvine doesn’t shy away from the dark side of failure. The twist, however, isn’t so much about being led into the light. Instead, it’s about the positive role fear can in those moments of darkness as well as life itself.

“It was then I decided to end it all. I wrote a letter and said goodbye, but was too scared to send it to my grandmother, and too scared to send it to my mom; so I sent it to my former girlfriend, and surprisingly, that letter was the thing that changed my life.”

2. Risk you!

Far from a listless 20-something, Isvari Mohan has more accomplishments than people twice her age. She’s a graduate of Georgetown Law, former columnist at the Boston Globe, and published novelist. And yet, in opposition to hard-and-fast plans about who you want to be, Isvari’s “Risk You!” is a love letter to embrace experimentation, changing passions, and the unknown.

“Risk is hope we’re acting on now. It’s not the payoff that makes us happy. It’s not what we’re going to get at the end. It’s the risk. It’s the hope that maybe there’ll be a payoff and the adrenaline that maybe we’re gonna fail.”

3. Upwardly mobile

Diagnosed with a rare form of dwarfism at two years old, Brandon Farbstein’s 3’ 8” stature is only a small part of his story. As a teenager, Brandon’s doctor recommended he begin using a wheelchair or scooter. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life,” recalls Brandon, “having to constantly look up at people. Well, more than I have to already.” So instead, he turned to social media where he found not only the funds to design his own mobility device, but a calling that would shape his personal and professional future.

“Don’t let other people, even a doctor, dictate the experience you’re going to have. Take the advice you need, then have the courage to innovate your own solution.”

4. Why I read a book a day (and why you should too)

“It’s good to learn from your mistakes,” said Warren Buffett, “it’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” Tai Lopez embodies both of those principles. Mixing his own failures with hard-won lessons from others, Tai majors on shortcutting life’s the learning curve by investing in mentors, whether in person or on a page.

“I wrote a letter to the smartest person I could think of, my grandfather, and I was like, ‘Will you tell me how to design my life?’ Three days later, I got this letter back, ‘Sorry, Tai, I can’t help you. The modern world is too complicated. You will never find all the answers from just one person. If you’re lucky a handful of people along the way will point the way.’ So much for my shortcut, but seven days later a package came. It was books.”

5. Are you biased? I am.

As the Global Head of Human Resources for Roche Diagnostics in Switzerland, Kristen Pressner is the last person you’d expect to harbor prejudice. It turns out, that unlikeness is what makes Kristen’s admission — an “unconscious bias” that women make better supporters than providers — so raw and impactful. Moreover, her honesty offers a way forward for others struggling with the same hurdles.

“I have a bias against women leaders. I have a bias against myself.” 

6. The golden age of social entrepreneurship

Don’t let this talk’s title or introduction fool you. While Manu Goswami — an immigrant from Singapore and one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 — digs deep into the future of social entrepreneurship, the heart of his message centers on the struggles of being singled out as “different.” Citing a lifelong speech impediment, Manu’s story highlights the power of rejection, empathy, and getting back up.

“In no way do I consider myself an anomaly or an exception to the rule. I am the rule.”

7. Why smart is messed up

Most people wouldn’t turn to a high schooler for child care recommendations. But, then again, Noa Mintz isn’t your typical high schooler. The teenage founder of Nannies By Noa — now one of New York’s largest child care placement agencies — traces her atypical roots back to a pivotal conversation that redefined the meaning of “smart.” Rather than look to traditional sources like grades and popularity, Noa found it in the very place most of us would never think to look.

“The principle of my middle school saw the potential I had before I even saw it. One day he said to me, ‘Fail forward.’ I was so desperate for advice I took it, and it stuck with me.”

8. Borderline millennial disorder

Next to suicide or physical maladies, struggling with social media can sound trite. But Ryan Foland, an international speaker and communication strategist, found that his difficulty connecting online represented something larger. Ryan’s passion for sharing his insights was hindered by minimal experience with the technology most Millennials navigate natively. His solution deftly mixes humor with practical steps for overcoming that disconnect.

“Some days I feel like a Gen X and some days like a Millennial, so I did some soul searching and searching online, and it turns out I have borderline millennial disorder.”

9. Reprogramming your brain to overcome fear

Is it possible to change your brain’s fundamental response to fear? CEO of OL Consulting, rocket scientist, and “modern-day ‘Hidden Figure,’” Olympia LePoint, says yes. How? It starts with naming your fears, training your brain to “flip” them — i.e., to replace negative self-talk with positive — and then rebuilding your brain’s neurological pathways by taking action in direct opposition. 

“The truth is this: if we do not have a way to reprogram our minds to overcome fear, we will never be successful at our own missions in life.”

10. Stoic optimism

From a revolt under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to a fire that destroyed most of Thomas Edison’s factory, history’s most significant achievers have all faced equally significant obstacles. And that’s profoundly good news. Why? Because as Ryan Holiday points outs in case after case after case, life isn’t defined by what happens to us, but by how we respond.

“What blocked your path is now the path. What once impeded action, advances action. The obstacle is the way.” 

11. 100 days without fear

What do spiders, stand-up comedy, and quitting your job all have in common? They’re just three of the 100 fears Michelle Poler decided to face in her journey to understand fear itself. In addition to unearthing seven core fears behind the rest, Michelle’s final takeaway is perhaps the most powerful we’ve seen so far … and the perfect note to end on.

“After facing 100 fears, not even one time was the actual challenge worse than what I had in my head before. So WTF are we so afraid of?”


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