15 Inspiring TED Talks on Overcoming Challenges

Here are 15 of our favorite TED talks on overcoming challenges. We ranked them according to the number of total views they received on a number of platforms, including Ted.com and YouTube.

1. My Escape from North Korea – Hyeonseo Lee

February 2013

At age 7, Hyeonseo Lee saw her first public execution. But it wasn’t until the famine of the 1990s, when more than a million North Koreans died, that she realized something was wrong. After escaping to China, she was separated from her family for 14 years. When she finally helped her family escape, they were arrested in Laos. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, she was able to get them out of prison and return to South Korea. But getting to freedom is only half the battle, she says. The international community is a ray of hope to North Koreans.

2. To This Day … For the Bullied and the Beautiful – Shane Koyczan

February 2013

Poet Shane Koyczan tells his story in this moving talk about growing up. We are expected to define ourselves at an early age, he says. To accept the identity that others will give us. Often our childhood dreams are dismissed for being silly, foolish, and impossible. He shares what it’s like to be bullied and speaks to those who are struggling: “If you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself,” he says, “get a better mirror, look a little closer, stare a little longer.”

3. The World Needs All Kinds of Minds – Temple Grandin

February 2010

The world needs different minds to work together, says autism activist Temple Grandin. Diagnosed with autism as a child, she shares how she thinks in pictures – like Google images – and how that was a huge asset in her career designing livestock facilities. Visual thinking gives great insight into the animal mind. In this passionate talk, she discusses three kinds of minds and the need to develop those minds, especially in schools.

4. Never, ever give up – Diana Nyad

December 2013

Life is about the journey, not the destination. Record-setting long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad tells the fascinating story of her epic journey in the ocean – a 100 mile swim from Cuba to Florida. After four failed attempts, she finally made it with the help of the expert team behind her. In this talk, she shares how “reaching for the horizon” helps to build character and spirit and the three things she learned along the way: Never, ever give up. You’re never too old. And it’s a team effort.

5. The Voices In My Head – Eleanor Longden

February 2013

Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Eleanor Longden was fearful and resistant to the voices in her head. After being diagnosed, drugged, and discarded, she was eventually empowered to save herself and understand that the voices were not her enemies but “a source of insight into solvable emotional problems.” Now a research psychologist, she argues that an important question in psychiatry shouldn’t be what’s wrong with you but rather what’s happened to you.

6. The Best Gift I Ever Survived – Stacey Kramer

February 2010

In this short, moving talk, Stacey Kramer describes a gift that altered her life in ways she could never have imagined. “So the next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted and uncertain,” she says, “consider that it just may be a gift.”

7. A Tale of Mental Illness – From the Inside – Elyn Saks

June 2012

Law scholar Elyn Saks describes her struggle with schizophrenia, likening it to having a nightmare while you’re awake. Quoting directly from her journals, she gives us an insider’s look into the psychotic mind. Although given a “grave” prognosis, she gives three reasons why she is here today, including excellent treatment, close family and friends, and a supportive work environment. Saks believes we need to stop criminalizing mental illness and that there should be more research and treatment.

8. The Fight Against Sex Slavery – Sunitha Krishnan

November 2009

Fueled by anger from her own experience, Sunitha Krishnan fights to save other women and children from modern-day slavery – human trafficking. She shares heartbreaking stories and pictures of what she’s seen and heard. Her biggest challenge isn’t the traffickers, but the stigma surrounding the women and children who are trying to rebuild their lives. She is the voice of the victims and survivors: “They need your compassion. They need your empathy. They need, much more than anything else, your acceptance.”

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9. Confessions of a Depressed Comic – Kevin Breel

May 2013

Every 30 seconds, someone in the world takes their own life because of depression. Kevin Breel is one of the lucky ones, he says – he’s alive to tell his story. In this honest, revealing talk, he shares how he hid his depression and lived two separate lives. He was on the honor roll, captain of the basketball team, at every party, but “beneath my smile, there was struggle, and beneath my light, there was dark, and beneath my big personality just hid even bigger pain.”

10. Looking Past Limits – Caroline Casey

December 2010

At the age of 17, Caroline Casey learned the truth. But she continued to believe in her ability and potential – no labels, no limitations. From global management consultant to elephant handler, Caroline Casey tells us “it’s extraordinary how far belief can take you.”

11. The Opportunity of Adversity – Aimee Mullins

October 2009

Paralympian Aimee Mullins discusses the need to change our language to reflect the changes in society. By describing someone as “disabled,” we may be putting limits on them instead of opening doors. Everyone has something rare and powerful to offer, she says, and the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset. She argues that it’s not so much about overcoming adversity but embracing it. Rather than shielding our children from it, we need to be preparing them for it.

12. A Broken Body Isn’t a Broken Person – Janine Shepherd

October 2012

Janine Shepherd faced the fight of her life after being hit by a truck on a training bike ride and waking up paralyzed. Here she shares the fascinating story of rebuilding her life and discovering that her real strength never came from her body. “It wasn’t until I let go of the life I thought I should have,” she says, “that I was able to embrace the life that was waiting for me.”

13. In Search of the Man Who Broke My Neck – Joshua Prager

March 2013

At the age of 19, Joshua Prager broke his neck in a bus accident and became a quadriplegic. He went on to graduate college and become a journalist and author, writing stories mirroring his own that centered on a life-changing event. But he still wanted to hear, “I’m sorry,” from the man who had caused the crash. Years later, he returned to Israel to find the man who broke his neck. In this talk, he shares what his journey taught him.

14. Living Beyond Limits – Amy Purdy

May 2011

After losing both legs below the knee, Amy Purdy was physically and emotionally broken. In this emotional talk, she reveals the life-defining question she asked herself: “If my life were a book and I were the author, how would I want the story to go?” Her story includes becoming the highest-ranking female adaptive snowboarder and co-founding Adaptive Action Sports, a non-profit dedicated to introducing people with physical challenges to action sports.

15. Be Passionate. Be Courageous. Be Your Best. – Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly

March 2014

In a moving interview on the TED stage, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, discuss their lives before and after the moment that changed everything. After being shot in the head in 2011, Giffords has had a slow, difficult recovery, but she is still “fighting to make the world a better place.” Together, they are working to bring balance to the debate over gun ownership.


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