Ted Talk: From Booksmart to Streetsmart…ish

From Booksmart to Streetsmart…Ish

The Importance of Balanced Experiences in Success


Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Shyla. I have been an AP ELA student since grade 10. I have learned so much from the past few years of watching these presentations, and I hope that my TED Talk inspires you as much as I have been inspired by those in the past.


Initially I struggled with writing this TED Talk – what do I, as a high school student, have the right to consider myself an expert in? For some, expertise manifests itself in inherent skill, through passion, or a title that carries with it the connotation of an expert. For me, expertise manifests itself in experience, namely failed experiences. And so this talk is an amalgamation of my experiences and my failures – from booksmart to streetsmart…ish – and the intrinsic quality of balance in those experiences.  


For those who knew me at the beginning of high school, I was very sure of what I wanted, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there. The first blog I ever wrote was entitled “I don’t believe, I want to know,” and, while that still holds true today, I now realize hypocrisy with which I pursued learning and success. I have always sought to be a well-rounded student, participating in athletics, arts, and still maintaining an academic focus. My experiences were all based on gaining and applying knowledge, rejecting that which I deemed unnecessary.What I failed to realize was that I did not fully experience these things by solely relying on reason to guide my choices, for we are not solely reasonable beings.


What I was missing was passion. Yes I had passion for the arts, for academics, and for the athletics, but my passion for those things was obscured by the rigidity and focus with which I pursued success in these things. To experience without passion, to rely solely on reason to guide my experiences was my first failure. But this led to one of my greatest realizations.


I was comfortable doing things just to learn from them, just to be able to get the satisfaction out of doing them well. And for a while, it worked. Eventually, however, you get to a point where you realize that the outcome you get should not be your sole motivator to do something. This is not at all sustainable. Then you realize that greater success is possible when one is able to unify passion and reason within themselves.With my current antics of embracing reason and rejecting passion, I had stifled the beauty in the experiences I was having. Again, I recognized my hypocrisy – I preached that one should try everything, but I myself was limited in what I was willing to try based on how it would “benefit” me. This was not part of my plan of who I wanted to become and how I wanted to become that person.


My cumulative experiences in high school taught me that I could not grow into the person I planned to be just by being comfortable – and by that I mean embodying reason and rejecting passion. I realized that growth begins outside of my comfort zone. By consciously placing yourself in situations where you experience discomfort, you are forcing yourself to adapt to new experiences. By not doing so, you become sensitized to comfort, to an unspontaneous, idle life.


And if you “don’t want to believe [you] want to know,” as I did in my first blog, there is a specific part of the brain that only responds to new experiences, those that have the potential to be uncomfortable, the potential to lead to the most personal growth. And what neurotransmitter is released from that part of the brain when activated? Dopamine – nature’s reward-motivated, happy-go-lucky chemical.


Only when I first began to feel discomfort, and take advantage of the passion and reason that I had, did I truly experience success in terms of growth. Physically, mentally, socially. Discomfort in sports only strengthened my physical well-being. Goals created by the need to succeed in uncomfortable situations enhanced my mental well-being. And while I am still, somewhat, an awkward person, pursuing uncomfortable social situations has rewarded me with the most fun, meaningful relationships I have had. Discomfort allows you to grow out of necessity – I was becoming booksmart in addition to streetsmart as I broadened my exposure to new experiences.  


As previously mentioned, there is an intrinsic quality to my successful experiences that resulted from reflection on my failed ones – balance. That is why this talk is titled “From Booksmart to Streetsmart…ish.” At the beginning of high school I sought to become booksmart. And to do that I rejected expanding my street smarts. I didn’t go to parties, every time alcohol was mentioned in a conversation I politely excused myself. In doing this I was denying myself  the opportunity to become a balance of traditional and societal knowledge. I denied myself relationships with others because they did things that I knew my parents would never approve of, even though the actions of other people did not define who I was and what my morals were. My experiences were heavily unbalanced. Reason and passion, booksmart and streetsmart, comfort and discomfort: there is a duality in everything. And failing to acknowledge both aspects is a sure way to guarantee that one is stagnant in their personal development.


It’s sort of like a dynamic equilibrium – when equilibrium is disturbed by pushing yourself to do uncomfortable things, there will be a period where things are changing. Eventually, you will respond to that change so as to relieve the effect of the discomfort. And when that happens, you will, again, reach equilibrium, but will have had to have grown, to have changed to allow that to happen. And then the uncomfortable doesn’t seem so scary anymore.


So that is why my experiences have taught me: that to become successful, one must have balanced experiences, and to have balanced experiences one must first get out of their comfort zone.


By negating the duality of all experiences, even those which cause you discomfort or you think are simply stupid, you are ridding yourself of new chances to grow, to experience, to create new relationships. You need balance in your life – passion and reason, comfort and discomfort, booksmart and streetsmart – to be successful. Something that I still have to put conscious effort into doing. But something that I know I have to do.


And so, I go back to my first question: What right do I have to consider myself an expert in anything? Put simply, no right. And I never will. As the breadth of my experiences grows, I will constantly be tipping the metaphorical scale, needing to seek out other experiences to regain balance I have lost. To consider yourself an expert does not mean that you accept the fact that you have learned all that you can – to be an expert is to embrace the idea and discomfort that, with the foundation of your experiences, you don’t know everything. And you never will. I hope this TED Talk highlighted this concept, and I hope that you all will learn to embrace the growth that comes with discomfort, and the entirety of all the experiences you have.


Thank you for taking the time to listen to my TED Talk.


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