Education TED Conferences

What I’d tell my teenage self: Life and career advice from the TED staff

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The scene at TEDYouth last year. Photo: Ryan Lash

The scene at TEDYouth in 2012. The theme this year is “The Spark.” Photo: Ryan Lash

Four hundred middle and high school students will fill the TEDYouth auditorium this Saturday — and many of them will be put straight to work. Students who’ve expressed interest in cinematography will shadow our video production team, students who want to be event planners will hang out with our producers, and those interested in journalism will shadow the TED Blog team.

So this felt like a good moment to ask these assorted staffers: What advice would you give your teenage self?

“Do not waste any part of the last summer before you graduate on the boring internship you think will look good on your resume. Instead, do something you love. If you love being a camp counselor, you will learn far more doing that job than you will doing data entry in a cubicle. Also: It really and truly doesn’t matter what they think. Just be you. I know people always give this advice, but if my future self could have given it to me then, it might have saved me some teen angst. And, with any luck, I might not have succumbed to quite as many of the horrible fashions that dominated Texas in the Eighties.” — Kelly Stoetzel, Content Director

“Learn as much as you can, for as long as you can. Basic concepts in seemingly intimidating disciplines are not as hard to master as they may seem. And apathy is stupid.” — Thu-Huong Ha, Editorial Projects Specialist

“Do not be afraid of failure, because failing often means a chance was taken. Taking a chance and facing that risk head-on is the most rewarding way to achieve your dreams, even if there are a few stumbles along the way.” — Chris Hardy, Media Production Specialist

“Dear teenage self, you know how you’re always writing ideas down and shoving them into your back pocket? Don’t wash those pants. Later in life you’ll look back at the ideas that somehow avoid the laundry and you’ll find them hilarious/terrible/telling/exciting/motivating/worthless/ priceless … and you might even pursue one or two of them.” —Logan Smalley, Director of TED-Ed

“The smartest thing you can ever do is to love the people around you unconditionally, make new friends whenever you can, and always have a YES attitude — opportunities are going to arise, and you want to be the one people think about.” — Jordan Reeves, TED-Ed Community Manager

“I’d tell my teenage self that cheesy but helpful quote: ‘That which is yours will not pass you by.’” — Angela Cheng, Video Production Lead

“When school feels tedious and uninteresting, don’t lose your curiosity. Enjoy exploring and learning everything you can, while you can.” — Nick Weinberg, Content Coordinator

“I’d tell myself: Wear the helmet in Connecticut. Pack the sleeping mat in Utah. The sun sets 10 minutes earlier in Spain than you’ll expect it to. Take a friend’s car through a car wash after borrowing it. Don’t pray: pray. The same goes for skinny-dipping. G. is in love with you; be gentle with her heart. R. is not in love with you; be gentle with your heart. You can afford to be an artist, grapes will always be your favorite food and Grandma adores (and I mean adores) a sentimental man.” — Rives, TEDYouth co-Curator (yeah, watch one of his five equally fast-paced TED Talks)

“Your knowledge of the kinds of careers out there is pretty limited — to your parents, your teachers, your doctors, the people who help you every day — and the best thing you can do for yourself is expand it. Try internships and after-school jobs in fields other than ones you’re familiar with. Even if you think you know what you want to do, make sure you get a taste of something else, too.” — Morton Bast, Editorial Assistant

“Indecision is, in essence, a decision to stay stuck. Take action and make note of what excites you. Keep moving in that direction and trust your instincts. Often what makes you a little scared is the thing you must do!” — Dian Lofton, Photo Editor

“Go to more shows, be in more shows, work at more shows. Nothing in high school is as real as doing theater.”  — Emily McManus, Editor of

“If you have a crush on someone, go for it. There’s nothing to lose. You might feel embarrassed for a few days if it doesn’t work out, but you’ll get over it quickly and look back on it with fondness. You’ll learn more from your relationships than from most of your classes.” — Cloe Shasha, TED Projects Coordinator

“Do not let career counselors fool you—you do not need to know what you want to do right now. Your career trajectory will span, oh, about 40 years, so there is a lot of time to experiment, try new things, make subtle adjustments and find the right intersection of your skills and someone who needs them.” — me, Writer

Not able to make it to TEDYouth in person? Totally fine. The event will be webcast on Saturday, November 16, from 11am to 6pm CDT. Or find a TEDxYouthDay event near you. They are happening all over the world, in the 48-hour period surrounding TEDYouth.