As the mom of two teenage sons, I’ve been spending a lot more time than usual with them amid the pandemic.

Like many parents prior to COVID-19, I would drop my sons off at school and regroup later that day during soccer practice and dinner. Over the past year, I have seen them at school pretty much every single day since we all work from home together. I’ve watched my eldest start his own nonprofit called Books Build Bridges to help fundraise books for underserved communities. (And I’ve been impressed that he was not only able to fill our garage with nearly 10,000 books but organize and donate almost nearly all of them to local nonprofits!) On the weekends, the two work together to make lunches for a local charity that helps deliver meals to those in need.

I’m always proud of my boys but watching them navigate the pandemic with humility and kindness is truly a once in a lifetime experience. We have even been watching TED Talks together, finding common ground with four speeches that every student — no matter where they are in their studies — should watch.

“Squiggly” careers and the end of the traditional path

In today’s landscape, students do not necessarily need to take a traditional path to be successful or fulfilled in their careers.

Getting to the top of your career, in this TED Talks from Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper, is something we often mentally visualize as a climb. What if we took a moment to think about what it means to progress upward on the career ladder — and realized that despite prestigious job titles, the ladder could be holding us back from something more?

In “Squiggly” careers and the end of the traditional path, Ellis and Tupper share what it means to have a squiggly career. It’s a wonderful career path to follow because squiggly careers allow us to embrace a world full of uncertainty and possibility.

Both Ellis and Tupper left their linear careers in favor of squiggly careers and experienced great success in doing so. In their talk, Ellis and Tupper discuss the history of career ladders and their limited role in today’s society, how losing the ladder begins with redefining our relationship with work, and how learning is personal to each one of us. In a squiggly career, they remind viewers, we all have the capacity to learn and to teach one another.

Everyday leadership

Everyday leadership opens with leadership speaker Drew Dudley asking the audience how many people are comfortable with calling themselves a leader. The answer, through Dudley’s years of experience in asking this question, is that most of the audience will not put up their hand.

Why is that? Everyday leadership explores, by way of the “lollipop moment” personal anecdote from Dudley, those seemingly small moments where we do or say something that changes someone else’s life. The greatest part? Every person has had these extraordinary moments in their everyday lives.

Why a good book is a secret door

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both of my sons read many books. (Not totally surprising that one started a nonprofit off the love for literature, huh?) Books have long acted as a form of escapism, allowing us to travel the world, venture into distant lands, and visit unusual, magical places.

This is especially true of children’s books. Why a good book is a secret door, led by speaker and children’s book author Mac Barnett, speaks of the world’s secret doors and the sense of wonder that art allows us to reach in a special book. It’s a door that exists around us if we are willing to open it.

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

I’m wrapping up this list with one of my personal favorite TED Talks from author Angela Lee Duckworth. This is Grit: The power of passion and perseverance.

We’ve learned about careers that take a squiggly road to success, about everyday acts of leadership that influence our lives, and about the importance of keeping a sense of wonder within your life. In this TED conference, Duckworth talks her time spent teaching students in public school. The best students and highest performers did not always have high IQs, the traditional benchmark for what is perceived as intelligence. The greatest predictor of success is actually grit.

Grit is defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals. If you love what you do and want to get better at it, you will keep the stamina going until you reach these goals. Grit is the mindset that your career is not a race or a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Don’t give up! Amid this challenging time, those that embrace a gritty mindset can turn anything they are passionate about into reality.