TED Talks for Career Inspiration

Ideally, your career is something you want to do, not something you have to do. It’s not always that simple, of course. At times it can be hard to remain positive if your career isn’t in a situation that you’re comfortable with.

That applies to the entire spectrum of workers — from those seeking their first job in their career field of choice all the way to long-time veterans with an eye on retirement.

In recent years, TED Talks have grown in popularity as educational and inspirational tools.

Here are some TED Talks that will help motivate you and drive happiness in your career, no matter what stage you’re in.

  1. The Happy Secret to Better Work, by Shawn Achor:

In this video, psychologist Shawn Achor takes a serious but light-hearted look at how happiness can inspire you to be more productive. While conventional wisdom tells you the harder you work, the happier you’ll be, he argues that the opposite is actually true — the happier you are, the more successful you’ll be at work. If you love it, which I’m sure you will, pick up his book, The Happiness Advantage. You won’t be disappointed.

  1. Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, by Larry Smith:

The somewhat cynical title might be a turnoff to some, but give it a chance — the chat by economist Larry Smith is actually about happiness and the excuses people give for why they haven’t had success in their careers. Most of the excuses come down to fear. You’re afraid of looking bad. You’re afraid to go after your passion. Smith explains why you’re likely to fail to have a great career unless you address these concerns.

  1. Say Goodbye to Career Planning, by Tim Clark:

In his talk, entrepreneur Tim Clark challenges the traditional way most people go about navigating their careers. He says most are based on the hypothesis that you would like a certain job, along with tests — whether or not you actually like the job. Clark says to get rid of this line of thinking and instead focus on what he calls a “personal business plan.”

  1. Why the Best Hire Might Not Have the Perfect Resume, by Regina Hartley:

This one should provide inspiration to job seekers specifically. The argument here is that someone “scrappy” who has spent his or her life fighting through adversity might be a better candidate than someone with the perfect resume on paper. If anyone should know, it’s Regina Hartley — she has spent years as a human resources executive. She says the strengths of a “scrapper” are passion and purpose.

  1. Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling, by Emilie Wapnick:

Inspiring for everyone from those looking for their first job to those questioning a years-old career choice, writer and artist Emilie Wapnick explains why the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” shouldn’t cause anxiety. She describes that many people — maybe even you — have a range of interests and careers over the course of their lifetime.

  1. Flow, the Secret to Happiness, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

If you’re a basketball fan, you know that at times NBA star Steph Curry is “in the zone,” seemingly unconscious as he makes shots from all over the court. Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how getting into a flow — or “in the zone” — can lead to happiness at work and in other aspects of your life.

  1. The Power of Time Off, by Stefan Sagmeister:

Stefan Sagmeister is a designer who closes his studio every seven years for one year. That means totally closed and not available to clients, leaving time for other things he calls “experiments.” That may not be ideal for the everyday worker, but Sagmeister discusses how time off can be a powerful tool for both workers and businesses.

  1. Trust Your Struggle, by Zain Asher:

You’ve no doubt heard that if you want something in life, you have to put in the work. News anchor Zain Asher embodies that line of thinking, telling the story of how she was able to obtain her dream job. It wasn’t just given to her — she filmed faux news stories around Los Angeles in hopes that she would get noticed. Asher is one example of how putting in the hard work can get you where you want to be.

  1. The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get, by Susan Colantuono:

Susan Colantuono is the chief executive officer at the consulting firm Leading Women, but her TED Talk is inspiring to both men and women. She makes clear that if you want to advance your career, you must be known for your leadership skills. In addition, you have to use those skills to help whatever organization you’re a part of achieve its goals.

  1. What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work, by Dan Ariely:

Money is one thing that motivates people to do good work, and happiness is another. In this talk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains how money and happiness aren’t the only things that drive productivity. Making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose are major drivers as well.

  1. Embrace the Near Win, by Sarah Lewis:

It seems that some people can do no wrong, while others can do nothing right. In reality everybody has their share of career struggles at some point. Rather than taking this as a negative, art historian Sarah Lewis urges you to look at your life and career as a piece of art. Not every painting is a masterpiece, but near wins can be just as beautiful.

  1. The Key to Success? Grit, by Angela Lee Duckworth:

In this talk, former consultant Angela Lee Duckworth tells the story of her experience teaching seventh grade math. She realized that a high IQ or “book smarts” weren’t the only characteristics that drove which students were successful and which weren’t. The same is true in your career: Hard work is key.

  1. The Habits of Happiness, by Matthieu Ricard:

This talk isn’t geared toward careers per se, but the message of happiness can indeed be applied to the workplace. Matthieu Ricard, a former biochemist turned Buddhist monk, discusses how you can train your mind to become habitually happy, which in the long run will make you more productive in your career.

  1. How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break, by Carol Fishman Cohen:

This talk caters to people who have already once had a career and are now looking to rejoin the workforce. Career expert Carol Fishman Cohen talks about why you should consider taking an internship if you’re looking to restart your career, and discusses her own experiences returning to work after a break.

  1. The Mad Scientist of Music, by Mark Applebaum

This talk doesn’t specifically address careers, happiness or motivation, yet it still contains a number of valuable insights for those looking for career inspiration. Chief among them — we live our everyday lives by a certain set of rules, but those willing to bend or break those rules can be truly innovative and inspiring.

What TED talk has you motivated? Share your favorites in the comments! While you’re here, be sure to subscribe to the PC newsletter for more career inspiration!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on 15 TED Talks for Major Career Inspiration

  1. Charlene Rhinehart
    July 27, 2016 at 12:00 am (5 years ago)

    This is great information! Thanks for sharing. I’ve only listened to one talk on the list and that was “The Key to Success. Grit?”Phenomenal speech by Angela Duckworth! I will have to bookmark this page and listen to the others. Thanks!!

    • Sarah Landrum
      July 27, 2016 at 11:50 am (5 years ago)

      Such a great talk! My favorite is probably the one by Shawn Achor if you’re looking for a place to start! (I highly recommend his book as well.)


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