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← What do you want to be when you grow up? | Teagan Wall | TEDxSouthPasadenaHigh

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Showing Revision 24 created 01/23/2019 by Peter van de Ven.

  1. I'm really excited to be here;

  2. I'm excited to talk with you all,
  3. share some of what I know,
    some of what I've learned.
  4. But I'm also kind of confused.
  5. Because in my mind, TED Talks,
    TEDx Talks, TEDxYouth Talks,
  6. they're given by people
    with a path and a vision.
  7. And I still have no idea
    what I want to be when I grow up.
  8. I've been putting off having to choose.
  9. When I was very small,
    I was told that I was smart.
  10. And not just any kind of smart:
  11. I was told that I was scientifically
    and mathematically inclined,
  12. as opposed to someone like my brother
  13. who was deemed talented
    in things like language and art.
  14. I was told, "Girls can too,"
  15. which was a phrase meant to inspire me
  16. to keep studying mathematics
    and go into the hard sciences.
  17. I was told about my dad's work
    for the Air Force,
  18. about how he always wished
    he had completed his pilot's license,
  19. and how when he was a kid,
    he used to build rockets.
  20. I was told bedtime stories
    of Shannon Lucid and Sally Ride,
  21. and if I wanted to stay up late
    to watch a shuttle launch,
  22. my parents let me.
  23. It's no surprise that I wanted
    to be an astronaut.
  24. At five,
  25. I could have told you I wanted to earn
    my bachelor's degree from Annapolis,
  26. become a jet jockey,
  27. and then apply to NASA.
  28. Everyone was so proud
    and so impressed at this little kid
  29. with this well-thought-out
    and well-researched life.
  30. But when I was 14,
    I stopped really caring about school.
  31. Our country was two years into a new war,
  32. and as I started to learn
    more about the military,
  33. I realized I didn't want to be
    a part of that system.
  34. Despite being one of the most common paths
    to becoming an astronaut,
  35. I started to find
    I didn't want to go Annapolis,
  36. I didn't want to be a jet jockey,
  37. I didn't want to become an astronaut.
  38. This thing,
  39. this goal that I had been pointed at
    by parents and teachers and friends,
  40. this piece of my identity,
  41. was suddenly gone.
  42. I had lost my destiny.
  43. I felt like such a disappointment,
  44. like whatever I did
    for the rest of my life,
  45. no matter how well I did it,
  46. it would always be in the shadow
    of this monumental failure,
  47. a failure to even get started.
  48. Luckily, the grownups
    weren't completely wrong.
  49. I still depend on mankind's number one
    evolutionary advantage:
  50. our brains.
  51. We don't have the biggest brains
    in the animal kingdom,
  52. not by a long shot.
  53. But this is the prefrontal cortex,
  54. and we've evolved to have really big ones
    when compared to the rest of our brains.
  55. The prefrontal cortex is responsible
  56. for everything that we think
    that make us different from other animals.
  57. It's responsible for executive function.
  58. It's responsible
    for our ability to empathize,
  59. our ability to think ahead and plan,
  60. predict what's going to happen
    in the future.
  61. It's responsible for social control.
  62. Our really big prefrontal cortexes
    makes us problem-solving machines.
  63. We're decisions makers.
  64. When presented with a list of options,
  65. we're not only able to quickly
    and efficiently make a choice,
  66. but we're able to generate new options
  67. from outside of
    the originally defined set.
  68. Think of all of the choices
    that you're making right now,
  69. just sitting in this theater.
  70. You're choosing not to get up
    and start dancing.
  71. You're choosing to listen.
  72. You're choosing not to wet your pants,
  73. (Laughter)
  74. I hope.
  75. (Laughter)
  76. Most of these choices
  77. your brain makes without you having
    to devote any conscious awareness to them.
  78. But some choices, like what to be
    when you will grow up,
  79. are a much, much bigger deal.
  80. Since closing the door
    on being an astronaut,
  81. my education background
    has been in economics, political science,
  82. mathematics, neuroeconomics
    and neurobiology.
  83. Which basically means
  84. when I was presented
    with a list of majors in college,
  85. I just refused to make a decision
  86. and looked for the box
    marked "All of the above."
  87. (Laughter)
  88. But I'm going to let you in
    on a little secret.
  89. It turns out that economics,
    neuroscience and political science
  90. all actually study the exact same thing,
  91. which is, Why do people make
    the decisions that they make,
  92. sometimes even working
    against their own best interest?
  93. We see people working minimum-wage jobs
    voting against minimum-wage hikes.
  94. We see parents refusing to vaccinate
    their otherwise healthy kids
  95. despite the fact that
    that is evolutionary disadvantageous
  96. at both the individual
    and societal levels.
  97. We see teenagers who've been bombarded
    with anti-smoking information
  98. their whole lives,
  99. who know the risks
    associated with smoking,
  100. start anyway.
  101. And we as a society are so confused
    about why people would do these things
  102. that we use science and social science
  103. and TED Talks and crystal balls
    and mathematics
  104. to figure out why.

  105. Why would people do these things?
  106. And everybody does this.
  107. No one is immune from these breaks
    in what economists call "rationality."
  108. We all have things that can show us
    predictably biased choices.
  109. I'm going to give you an example.
  110. Let's play a game.
  111. I'm going to flip a coin -
    it's a fair coin.
  112. If the first flip comes up heads,
    you get two dollars.
  113. I flip it again;
  114. if it comes up heads a second time,
    you get four dollars.
  115. A third time, eight dollars.
  116. Fourth, 16, until the coin comes up tails.
  117. And then I pay you your money.
  118. So if the coin comes up heads five times
    in a row before the first tails,
  119. you get 32 dollars.
  120. If it come up 20 times in a row
    before your first tails,
  121. you get over a million dollars.
  122. So think to yourself,
  123. how much would you be willing to pay
    to play this game?
  124. If you're like most people,
  125. you'd be willing to pay
    less than 25 dollars.
  126. But if you played this game forever,
  127. you would be expected to make
    an infinite amount of money,
  128. no matter how much you paid per game.
  129. This game has an infinite expected value,
  130. and yet everybody has a point,
    a number usually really low,
  131. that they'd no longer
    be willing to pay to play.
  132. Here's another one.
  133. It's like getting your eyes
    checked at the eye doctor:
  134. I'm going to present A or B, and you'll
    tell me which one you think is better.
  135. So A, I give you a million dollars,
  136. just like that.
  137. Cold million, you walk away,
    go home, it's wonderful.
  138. Or B,
  139. you can take a gamble.
  140. There's an 89% chance
    of winning a million dollars,
  141. a 1% chance of winning nothing -
    you walk home empty-handed -
  142. and a 10% chance
    at winning five million dollars.
  143. Which would you choose?
  144. If you're like most people,
    you'd actually choose A -
  145. no risk, no gamble,
  146. you just walk away with the cold million.
  147. Here's the next one: choice C.
  148. There's a 89% chance
    of getting zero dollars
  149. and an 11% chance of getting a million,
  150. or D, there's a 90% chance
    of getting zero dollars
  151. and a 10% chance of getting five million.
  152. This time, if you're like most people,
  153. you'd pick D and hope
    for the five million.
  154. But if we do some quick math,
  155. we actually find that
    the first two choices are equivalent.
  156. and that when it's framed one way,
  157. you pick A,

  158. and when it's framed another way,
  159. you pick D.
  160. Just based on how the information
    is presented to you,
  161. I can get you to pick door number one
    or door number two.
  162. And the weird thing is
    that making any other decision
  163. probably feels really wrong.
  164. It turns out that intuition
    and economic rationality
  165. don't always agree.
  166. So these are just two economic examples
    of biases in decision making.
  167. It turns out that
    there's actually a lot of factors

  168. that can predictably bias
    what we choose.
  169. The first was an example
  170. of inappropriately weighting
    small probabilities.
  171. There's less than a 3% chance
  172. that you'll win at least $32
    in the quarter-flipping game,
  173. and as a result, we have a hard time
    even taking into account
  174. the chance of making a million.
  175. This same bias is seen in people
    who fail to vaccinate their kids.
  176. If your unvaccinated child
    only has a 5% chance of getting sick,
  177. it's really hard to take into account
  178. the possible consequences
    of them not being vaccinated,
  179. which could be as high
    as the child's life.
  180. The second example is of a framing effect.
  181. This affects everything
    from what cereal we buy at the store
  182. to how we report judgments
    of our own emotions.
  183. For example, you're much more likely
    to report being happy
  184. if I ask, "Are you happy?"
  185. than if I ask, "Are you unhappy?"
  186. Other biases include
    aversion to uncertainty
  187. and making choices that try to avoid it.
  188. We can miss out on
    some really great opportunities
  189. by trying to avoid unknown unknowns.
  190. We're also biased by the number
    of options that are presented to us.
  191. Having a wide range of options,
    it turns out, isn't always better.
  192. It can make deciding harder
  193. and actually affect both our levels
    of happiness and anxiety.
  194. So how do these biases
    affect big decisions
  195. like what to be when you grow up?
  196. We're going to do
    some quick audience participation.
  197. Raise your hand if you've ever been told
  198. that you can be anything
    you want to be when you grow up.
  199. Yeah? You can put your hands down.
  200. Being told that you can be anything
    you want feels pretty good.
  201. It feels like you can live your life
  202. according to your own rules,
    your owns wants, your own goals.
  203. Like you can become
    the person you want to be:
  204. proud, successful, happy.
  205. It give you a feeling
    of agency over your life,
  206. a feeling of freedom.
  207. Life is an open field,
  208. and you can go anywhere you want to go.
  209. But humans don't have infinite time.
  210. While you may be able
    to do anything you want,
  211. you probably won't be able
    to do everything you want.
  212. Having to choose between so many options
  213. can be anxiety inducing
    and detrimental to our happiness.
  214. We as humans hate eliminating options,
  215. even if we know that
    that's not a path we want to choose.
  216. We feel like we're losing out on something
  217. simply by giving up
    the possibility of something.
  218. I want you to raise you hand
    if you're even been told
  219. anything similar to one of the statements
    that I'm about to say.
  220. Just put your hand up and leave it, okay?
  221. If you put your mind to it,
    you could be really great at blank.
  222. Whatever that is for you.
  223. If you dedicate your life to it,
  224. you could help cure cancer
  225. or do some other difficult
    and yet very specific feat.
  226. If you really try,
  227. you could win a Nobel Prize
    or an Olympic gold medal or an Oscar.
  228. How about this one?
  229. You'd make a really great astronaut.
  230. (Laughter)
  231. You can put your hands down.
  232. These statements are very different
    from the first statement.
  233. Well, both are meant
    to motivate and inspire.
  234. The first instills a sense
    of freedom and agency.
  235. The second implies a responsibility
    to the path that's been laid out.
  236. If this person is right,
  237. and I could help cure cancer
    if I just devote my entire life to it,
  238. then is it bad if I want to become
    a professional cellist?
  239. If I truly could win a Nobel Prize,
  240. am I depriving the world
    by focusing on painting?
  241. If I can be the next Meryl Streep,
  242. is it wrong that I want to code
    for a tech startup?
  243. If we're told that we can be
    anything we want to be,
  244. then we make our own decisions,
  245. bearing the stress and the anxiety
    that come with that.
  246. When someone else sets our path,
  247. we don't have to worry
    about closing doors,
  248. but we lose a sense of autonomy.
  249. And taking any other path
    than the one laid out for us
  250. feels like we're letting someone down
    or doing something wrong.
  251. The pressure that comes with being told
    that you could be great at something,
  252. that you have the potential
    to win a Nobel Prize
  253. or save the polar bears
    or be an astronaut,
  254. can actually prevent you
  255. from doing something
    that you really want to do.
  256. Almost every smart, talented
    or hardworking person I know
  257. has felt this pressure
    at some point in their lives.
  258. Even if they don't know exactly
    what they want to be when they grow up,
  259. being told that they could be great
    at a specific thing
  260. makes them feel responsible
    for achieving that goal.
  261. It's a responsibility
    that is placed on them,
  262. often accidentally,
    by parents or teachers or friends,
  263. and if it's internalized,
    it can be destructive,
  264. fueling anger or resentment.
  265. The possible anxiety
    of having too many choices
  266. doesn't seem so bad when it comes
    with the freedom to set your own path.
  267. I don't have the answers
  268. on how to decide
    what to do with your life,
  269. what doors to close
    or what opportunities to pursue.
  270. But it can help to recognize
    that you have choices,
  271. no one sets your path but you.
  272. But in case the anxiety
    does start to get paralyzing,
  273. I want to leave you with this:
  274. No matter what you choose
    to do with your life -
  275. and you can do anything,
    including nothing at all -
  276. you are still important,
  277. you are still worthy of love,
  278. and there will still be
    people who love you.
  279. Being smart or talented is a privilege.
  280. It allows you to do something,
    possibly multiple things,
  281. better, faster or easier
    than the average person.
  282. But being smart or talented
    is not a responsibility.
  283. It's not your job to save anyone;
  284. it's not your duty to fix anything;
  285. it's not your responsibility to create.
  286. You, just like everybody else
    in this world, have only one job:
  287. love.
  288. Love yourself,
  289. do your very, very best to love others,
  290. and whatever it is
    you decide to do with your life,
  291. do it for love.
  292. If you follow that, you can't go wrong.
  293. Thank you.
  294. (Applause)