wholehearted living

12 Must-See TED Talks for Women

When my husband first started cueing TED talks for us, I’d try to convince him to go for Modern Family instead. But it wasn’t long before I caught on. A TED talk means you are twenty minutes away from feeling like you can do amazing things. I’ve spent a lot of time narrowing it down, and these are my twelve favorite TED talks for women living with purpose. Enjoy!

12 Must-See TED Talks for Women

1. Lessons from the Mental Hospital by Glennon Doyle Melton. Although at first glance this talk seems to be about the grip of addiction, it’s actually about the bravery of living with our whole hearts in this big, messy world. The amazing writer of Momastery speaks here with as much humor and honesty as she writes with on her blog. “Life is beautiful and life is brutal…I used to numb my feelings and hide, and now I feel my feelings and I share.” (TEDx – 500,000 views)

2. How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy. How we hold our bodies shapes the message we send ourselves, not just the people around us. The day after I watched this talk, I found myself in a job-related situation where I needed to defend myself. I squared my shoulders and stood tall, and I really felt my confidence follow. “Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.” (15 million views) More by Amy in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

3. The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown. What do people who have a sense of worthiness—of love and belonging—have in common? They believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. (14 million views) Also of note: this audio book is essentially a longer version of her TED talk—and one of the best things you’ll ever listen to.

4. The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship by Esther Perel. For this one, I stopped multitasking and took full-on notes. AND watched it with my husband the next day. 🙂 She dives into the contrast between love and desire. On the one hand, we crave stability, companionship, and connection. On the other—adventure, novelty, and separateness. A few (of the many) gems: Sex is a place we go—a space we enter—not something we do. Imagination is key. “Responsibility and desire just. butt. heads.” (FYI, she lost us with the parent-child analogy toward the end. Was it an analogy for the self, literal parenting advice, or a subtle plug for open marriage? Let me know what you decide!) (4 million views)

5. Why 30 Is Not the New 20 by Meg Jay. No matter how old you are, this talk is an important reminder of how to make our time count—now. And as a mom, it helped me think about how I’ll teach my children about the significance of their choices in the decade after they leave home. (5.8 million views) More on this topic in Meg’s book, The Defining Decade.

6. Listening to Shame by Brené Brown. “Empathy is the antidote to shame. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.” This talk picks up in the second half and is all-out beautiful by the end. It will make you want to dare greatly. (3.6 million views)

7. How to Spot a Liar by Pamela Meyer. I loved when she described the evolution of the ability to lie as children grow. Moms gotta be able to spot the half-truths! And while I laughed at the fact that we start telling more white lies to our partners once we’re married (compared to when we’re dating), it was a beautiful reminder of how important it is to live truthfully. (7 million views)

8. The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. I was inspired to value what both personality types have to offer the workplace and the world, and I’m watching curiously to see which way each of my children lean. (Also, now I know why I always groaned inside when teachers said the words “group project.”) (7.5 million views) More on this topic in Susan’s book Quiet.

9. How Schools Kill Creativity by Ken Robinson. Ken talks about how children gradually pick up the fear of being wrong, because our society stigmatizes mistakes. This is SUCH a good one for moms who want to help their kids retain the creativity that drives them to turn every piece of silverware into a stealth bomber. (Also, I know I’m not the only girl out there who is a sucker for a British accent and a quick wit.) (25 million views)

10. On Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. After you listen to Ken Robinson’s talk, cue this one. If Ken’s is a description of how children develop the fear of being wrong, Kathryn’s is the extension—how we as adults safeguard ourselves against being wrong and how it feels to think we’re right even we’re not. (2 million views)

11. All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes by Andy Puddicombe. Pull this ten-minute talk out of your back pocket on a day when thoughts and emotions are pulling you too many directions, when you can’t remember what the point is. (3.5 million views)

12. Living Beyond Limits by Amy Purdy. After losing both her legs below the knee at age 19, Amy went on to win two World Cup gold medals in snowboarding. She challenges us to start looking at our limitations as “magnificent gifts that help us ignite our imaginations, and help us go further than we ever knew we could go.” (Tedx – 500,000 views)

Have any of these impacted you? And do you have a favorite that I missed?

If you enjoyed this, I think you’d love my top 16 resources—4 TEDs, 4 books, 4 podcasts, 4 blogs—for women living with their hearts and eyes wide open. (Only 1 of the 4 TEDs is on this list… You know you want to see what the other 3 are!)

Just enter your info below to have the list sent straight to your inbox!

PS. Let’s change the world.

  • Katie @ Wonderfully Made
    February 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Wow, Erica, this is awesome! Can’t wait to watch some of these!

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Saw you watched Brene’s vulnerability talk – Glad you jumped right into the list! That one is amazing. (And thanks for passing the post on!)

  • Van
    February 25, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    ditto that, Katie!
    Erica, when am I supposed to get my work done???

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 25, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Ha! Well if you’re asking that, I guess it means I’m doing SOMEthing right!

      If it’s any consolation, I’ve logged a LOT of time on the TED website in the last week or two, prepping for this post… 🙂

  • Amy | Club Narwhal
    February 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    I love this compilation of Ted Talks and am excited to listen to some I missed, especially 10 Mindful Minutes. Confession: when I’m having a bad day, I always listen to The Power of Vulnerability. Brene Brown just has a way of speaking to my soul 🙂

  • Sarah
    February 26, 2014 at 4:08 am


    Thank you so much for bringing these to my attention. I am listening to them as I work tonight. I LOVED #9. My oldest son is 9 and is extremely creative and imaginative. I almost cried when Ken Robinson was talking about the girl who’s parents were told she may have ADD because she could not sit still, but instead the therapist played music and they watched her dance – and they told the parents to put her in dance class because well, she needs to dance! She went on to be a ballerina and own her own company!

    I have had those conversations with teachers, and I agree more with what he said. It really shows how important it is for us as parents to make sure the schools are not squandering who our children really are or let them fit them into molds.

    Thank you!!!

    • Sarah
      February 26, 2014 at 4:10 am

      I meant…squandering who our children really are to make them fit into molds.


    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 26, 2014 at 4:17 am

      Love that, Sarah! I know – that one is really, really eye-opening. We’re only just delving into all the school stuff, with our oldest in kindergarten, but I’m nervous and excited at the same time to be watchful and try to help them be who they’re supposed to be. Good luck over there!

  • HomeGrownMommy {Jen}
    February 26, 2014 at 5:09 am

    I Love it!! My husband and I love watching TEDTalks after the kiddos go to bed (and even some with the kids!) This looks like a great list to work through! Thanks for posting!!

    I saw you in the Works for Me Wednesday link party!

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  • Rachel T.
    March 2, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I haven’t gotten into Ted talks, but I think I should. I’m glad you shared these cause now I know where to start. I think the only one I watched was that one about how 30s are the not the new 20s (if you know which one that is!). I really liked that one too.

  • Kristen @ One in 1 Hundred
    March 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing! I had not heard of these and now I am addicted! Love them.

    XO Kristen at one in1hundred.blogspot

    • Erica Layne
      March 5, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      I’m so glad, Kristen! XO right back at ya!

  • Richella @ Imparting Grace
    March 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Love this, Erica! I’ve seen a couple of these, but most of them I haven’t. Thanks for compiling a super list. I’ve pinned this, and I’m featuring you at this week’s Grace at Home!

  • Sarah
    March 7, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Great list – I think I found this list through Modern Mrs. Darcy. I just wanted to let you know that the link for On Being Wrong is, wait for it, wrong. It goes to Brene’s other talk, which is fantastic, but not Kathryn’s talk. 🙂 I’m loving watching these talks – I do feel so empowered!

    • Erica Layne
      March 7, 2014 at 5:44 am

      Hi Sarah! Just wanted to say thanks a ton for letting me know. I corrected the link!

  • Amber Garrison Duncan
    July 23, 2014 at 8:11 am

    This is a fabulous list of TedTalks that I frequently watch over and over! However, there are some significant talks that better represent all women, especially women of color, and I would like to draw them to your attention. Would you maybe consider adding some of these to the list above? That way all women can see themselves in the narratives shared?

    The key to success? Grit

    Tales of Passion

    Mellody Hobson – Color Blind or Color Brave?

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The Danger of a Single Story

    Geena Rocero – Why I Must Come Out

    Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the Intelligence, Passion, Greatness of Girls

    • Erica Layne
      July 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Amber – Thank you so much for the new material. I’m excited to dive into these. I wrote this post in February, before a couple of these talks had come out, and I’m always discovering new and old talks that would fit well here. I might need to do another follow-up! Best wishes.

  • Milk and Love
    August 5, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Wow. Great List. I’ll add them to my to watch list. LOVE Tedx!

  • Alli
    September 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Loved this so much that I posted a link to it on my blog! Thanks for sharing!

  • Betsy (Eco-novice)
    October 11, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    We love ted talks too. Can’t wait to check these out.

  • Emily
    October 13, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    This list is fantastic! I’ve seen a couple of these talks (love Susan Cain’s) but there are so many here that I haven’t seen. Thanks for sharing – I’m adding these to my queue right now. 🙂

  • Bobbie
    October 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I loved these talks. The desire vs. love talk was particularly interesting. I think that the parent/child analogy is about how our partner reacts to our fantasies and internal adventures. If we feel ashamed of them, then we will get rid of our imagination, resent our partner and hide our imagination, or escape into our imagination and run from our partner. Thanks for the roundup.

  • rochon
    October 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

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  • Steph
    November 1, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Nice list Erica. I haven’t watched them all yet, but I liked 10 Mindful Minutes and recommend others check it out.

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  • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect
    January 2, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    You know, I was totally going to come back to this and watch all of these. Um, you know, 11 months ago? I WILL DO IT NOW.

    • Erica Layne
      January 2, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      It’s never too late! Go for it, girl! You won’t regret it. 🙂

  • Laurel
    February 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    This is so perfect! Reblogged it!

    • Erica Layne
      February 3, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Laurel, I’m glad you’re enjoying the talks! And thanks for linking to my post!

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  • Milena
    October 3, 2015 at 4:34 am

    Hi Erica! I love TED talks. I agree with your list. You are definitely on point. These are very inspiring talks and I have them on my favorites. Thanks for making this list!
    Have an awesome day!

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