There are videos that energize us, inspire us, and motivate us to do great things. Then there are the very few that do all of that--and touch us so deeply that we wind up watching them over and over. We find their messages so compelling, we know we can turn to them whenever we feel dragged down and in need of a dose of inspiration.
These nine videos do that for me. I'm betting at least one of them will do the same for you.
1. Sting: Rejecting the "dead man's boots."
Who was Gordon Sumner before he became Sting? A boy from a small shipyard town in England that built some of the largest vessels in the world. Though the shipyard was "noisy, dangerous, highly toxic, with an appalling health and safety record," he grew up with the expectation that he should aspire to work there. Shipyard jobs were so valued that, the saying went, you could only get one if someone died--by filling a "dead man's boots."
Sting's rise to fame with The Police is how he fulfilled his dream to escape that town and that life. And yet, when he found himself severely blocked and no longer able to write songs, going back to that time in his life and the conflict he had with his father helped him find his creative spark again. He tells the story in speech and song in this highly personal talk.
2. Steve Jobs: Ask yourself one question.
If you've never watched Steve Jobs' legendary 2005 Stanford commencement speech, stop everything else and go watch it now. If you have watched it, watch it again. That speech is a perfect distillation of what made the Apple founder great. From the value of unexpected connections to a reminder to "Stay hungry. Stay foolish,"--as Jobs did his whole life--there's enough wisdom here to ponder for a long, long time.
The part that inspires me the most, and that I struggle with the most, is the powerful question Jobs asked himself every day: If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you're doing?
For Jobs, running Apple, the answer to that question was yes. How about you?
3. Boniface Mwangi: The day I stood up alone.
For photographer Boniface Mwangi, taking pictures of Kenya's political violence was a deeply troubling experience. So when politicians were quick to move on and act as though the killings had never happened, Mwangi and some of his friends planned to protest by heckling during a presidential speech. When his friends failed to show up, Mwangi stood up all alone, and managed to shout out a few protests before he was grabbed, silenced, arrested, and beaten up. Till that day, he had been a "smart coward," staying silent, and staying alive. From that day on, he became a heckler, a troublemaker, and an obstacle to government oppression. He's no longer a smart coward--and no longer alone.
"There are two most powerful days in your life: the day you're born, and the day you discover why," he says. "Do you know why you were born?"
4. Jim Carrey: Choose love over fear.
Our decisions are made from either love or fear--usually disguised as practicality, explains Jim Carrey in this amazing commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management. But, as he learned when his father was let go from a supposedly safe job, "you can fail at something you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love." It's a fantastic (and highly entertaining) reminder of why you should always follow your dreams.
5. Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career.
I've watched this TED talk so many times I practically know it by heart. With brutal honesty and a great deal of humor, Smith, an economist and professor, takes the audience through every excuse people use to avoid following their passions. And then blasts every one of those excuses to smithereens.
6. Neil Gaiman: The one unique thing you have is you.
The creator of the Sandman series offers valuable advice about creativity: You're not going to know what you're doing, and that's a good thing. You're going to make mistakes, and that's a good thing, too. You may even start out copying others, but you should eventually find your own voice, he says. "The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you."
7. X Ambassadors: Nothing can stop you.
I don't often turn to music videos for inspiration, but the official video for the hit song "Renegades" is different. It opens not with music, or with the band members, but with an interview with a blind weight lifter. The video goes on to showcase an amazing crop of disabled athletes and daredevils doing things most people can't--including the band's keyboard player Casey Harris, who happens to be blind as well.
I once saw an interviewer ask X Ambassador frontman Sam Harris to describe what the video was about for people who hadn't seen it. "It's about people who defy the odds," he said without missing a beat. It's a fantastic song, too.
8. David Carr: The hotshots don't always win.
I've always been a huge fan of the late New York Times media reporter David Carr, whose life was definitely stranger than fiction. A former crackhead and alcoholic, a single father of twin girls, Carr not only turned his life around, but became a figure in the national media scene--exactly as he'd told his future wife when he was washed out and on welfare. Even though it seemed completely improbable at the time.
"There are gunners who are really just heads and shoulders above everybody, and they're bound for glory," he told the graduating students at UC Berkeley School of Journalism in 2014. "They're not the ones that are going to change the world. It's somebody that was underestimated... I guarantee it."
Then he added, "You know what? Maybe you're that person."
9. Shane Koyczan: If you don't see you're beautiful, get a better mirror.
The seven-and-a-half-minute video "To This Day" has been viewed more than 18 million times on YouTube. It's an animated version of a spoken word poem about the consequences of growing up bullied and different, written by the Canadian poet Shane Koyczan. Koyczan, who was writing from personal experience, crowdsourced the animation. The breathtakingly beautiful final product was jointly created by 80 artists and 12 animators.
Among the thousands of comments is one by someone who claims watching it saved her from suicide. I can see why. As the poem says: "Our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty."