In the midst of senioritis and end-of-semester slump, I had been struggling to keep up with the treadmill of college. I had no motivation to forgo those extra hours of sleep to finally flesh out an essay or find my way to NYU’s Leslie eLab where I’ve been meaning to brainstorm for hours with geniuses on a whiteboard in a dark dungeon.
The best inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, and my personal bi-annual spasm of enthusiasm occurred through TedxNYU’s April 3 event in Kimmel Center for University Life’s Grand Hall. Though each speaker left me feeling sappier than the previous one, there were five moments in particular that left my skin covered in goosebumps. Here are summaries of the five most impactful talks.
“I may be unconventional, but I am not impossible.”
If we were to graph identity, religion and gender on the X-axis and conventionally associated value on the Y-axis, Wazina Zondon, a queer Afghan raised in New York City, would perhaps be mapped on the very bottom left. If anyone knows what it feels like be marginalized and reduced to the world’s view of your identity, it’s her.
Throughout her talk, Zondon insisted that although her religion is part of her identity, it is not all that she is. She also said that her queerness shouldn’t make it impossible to look past her dating preferences and into her soul.
“Language is a vessel, an opportunity, to make us real, to make us imagined, to make us possible,” Zondon said.
Being able to say, “Yes, I’m gay” and “Yes, I’m Muslim” repeatedly, without the fear of entrapment in those identities, is true empowerment for Zondon.
Zondon emphasized that Islamophobia has deeper gravity than viewing anyone with a hijab as a threat. She reminded her audience that homophobia has a wider implication than discrimination against homosexual individuals. For Zondon, the real danger lies in failure to view someone who practices Namaaz, or chooses to date her own sex, as a full, complicated human being.
“You can’t solve problems with the same mindset that created them.”
Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth
A colorful duo both in spirit and attire, Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth championed the values of imagination, freedom and care in an approach to problem-solving in our culture.
Schmiedt, a black, queer survivor of sexual violence, turned to the power of choice to liberate herself from a a world of pain, isolation and destruction. She decided to be in charge of how she wants to invest her time and energy. She argued that “the millennial mindset” is the solution to the problems associated with technological change.
The value of exercising humanity is not as abstract and redundant as it may seem in our hyper-competitive world. Those tech jobs may be paying millions in the current day; it’s easy to forget that we are living in an “on the brink” moment, which will likely be followed by most jobs becoming automated. In such a world, creativity will be our only competitive advantage against technology. Today, we all use technology as an ally for our own means in an individualistic culture to chew each other out when what we should be doing is aiming for collective freedom and growth because guess what? Technology is likely to bite us back. Let’s try putting our eggs in the basket of “humanity,” which can be as simple as to Netflix and chill, or waking up to your cat’s nose, for Nastassja.
“Value your obsessions and attempts.”
Why should you be any less successful than Harry Potter in mobilizing an entire community and unleashing the leader within you? Alejandro Crawford, senior consultant at Acceleration Group, gave an actionable module for Potter’s success. Harry had knowledge of his power, he had Hogwarts, a space to harness and focus his power, and he had a rebel alliance — Dumbledore’s Army. So fellow wizards, never let the Mrs. Dursely in your life tell you that your unique ability or passion is futile.
As a high school junior, Crawford’s passion lay in creating trains out of metal and wood — an effort that produced failed models — but nonetheless won him third place in the school science fair. To this episode, the now Cornell BA and Dartmouth MBA graduate replies, “You can know a great deal about a society by the way it uses its nerds,” modifying Einstein’s original comment about the treatment of failures by their society to fit the millennial landscape.
“Get on your brink!”
Are you facing a grueling stretch in your life? Take it from someone who grew up raising five sisters in Northwestern Canada (yes, we’re talking cold, brutal winters and hot, dry summers) and went on to earn a design degree to become the General Manager of Vine. Hannah Donovan urges us use synonyms: as corny as it may sound, try replacing the word “stress” with “chasing my dreams,” you’ll be surprised.
Hold any unplanned, traumatic events in your life or your ‘crucibles’ sacred. If you look closely, you’ll realize that these are opportunities for realizing what really matters to you and focusing your energy in the same direction. Balance what you need to do — be it the nine to five job that pays the bills or the boring class you have to take for requirement’s sake — with what you want to do — that photography class you’ve been meaning to try out or the girl in your class you can’t get yourself to strike up a conversation with — to eliminate doing things simply to meet expectations.
“Why do we glorify stability?”
Hear it from a Sternie who has been through the quintessential junior-year grind: she felt the pressure of needing to figure out “what you wanna do” and convert it into an internship that ideally turns into a full-time job. Abby Lyall, like many of us, met with a “quarter-life crisis” last summer, one in which the finance and information systems major questioned the sense of meaning she derived from her career. Fast-forward to present day. The student venture capitalist now writes a monthly technology column targeted at millennial women.
“I’ve often been asked what I want to be when I grow up,” Lyall said. “As if there can only be one such answer. The best careers often don’t take a linear route.”
Stability brings us a sense of security and comfort. We hustle during concentrated periods of job applications and networking, putting our best face forward and pretending to have it together. Somewhere on that journey, we begin to believe in our pretense, and sooner or later, our future is dished out to us in platters we may no longer derive taste out of. We numbingly accept what we are given, because sometimes we just have to accept the blow, right?
An eccentric writer and entrepreneur who has literally taken the road less traveled, Abby has a panacea for us to break the cycle. Never let anyone coax you into feeling the need to answer “what you want to be when you grow up.” Instead, ask yourself, “How do I want to change the world? What adventures do I want to take?”
Email Mihika Agarwal at [email protected]