Full text of Laurence Lewars’ talk: Questions Every Teenager Needs to Be Asked at TEDxDhahranHighSchool conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Questions Every Teenager Needs to Be Asked by Laurence Lewars
No one really knows what the world is going to look like, 30, 20 or even 10 years from now.
If history repeats itself, which it usually does, one day someone will be examining the way we’ve chosen to construct our society and many of our social norms today, may just very well be ridiculous things of the past.
So I wanted to take a moment, observe our world, the society we’ve created and talk about it. What kind of things would you have to say?
Now, I would love to come up here and talk to you guys about religion or politics or music or sports. Sadly, I’m not an expert in any of those fields. Anyone who’s seen me take a jump shot, could tell you that.
Now, I’ve decided to analyze the world from the perspective of a teenager. I wanted to find one problem; one issue which you’ve dealt with correctly may just change the world. That’s a big job.
So where do I start?
I turn to a friend, a friend who has never let me down in the past. And as long as I can remember a friend who has always been right, I turned to Google and Google told me, well, I searched in Google biggest problems for teens.
And under second I was hit with over 16 million results. I was bombarded with articles ‘top problems teen face’ and ‘teenage hurdles’, ‘life as a teen’. I quickly found that things like self-esteem, self-belief and a lack of self-fulfillment were some of the larger issues.
Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Teenagers can be insecure. But, one thing I found interesting was a lot of teenagers are too insecure to talk about their dreams. A lot of young people don’t feel comfortable talking about the person they aspire to be.
At first I didn’t understand, but I quickly remembered a conversation that I was having with my family at the breakfast table in London, one summer. My parents were discussing my stance towards school and I told them my GPA is fine. I take really rigorous courses and I have a nice looking transcript. The usual regurgitated responses.
They, however, felt that my issue wasn’t my production at school or the quality of my work. It was that I lacked the passion to be taking my courses, the ambition to like go to school. And I completely understood.
A big reason why I went to school like many teens was for AP credits and a good looking transcript. So at this point in the conversation, my father asked me, “What exactly do you see yourself doing 15 years from now?”
I gave him the same response I’d been giving since I was in the fifth grade- ‘I want to be a lawyer.’ But at this point my sister burst out laughing. What could possibly be so funny though?
I’ve said I was supposed to be a lawyer at least a hundred thousand times. Why was this time any different?
When she was able to get her breath back, my parents asked her what was up with the laughing and she replied, he’s too embarrassed to tell you he would rather be a rapper.
Now at this point my face went red. I’d never known my sister to embarrass me like that before. And the conversation went on. My dad continued and he asked me, okay, let me ask you a different question: “What would you be doing 15 years from now if you could do absolutely anything?”
I paused. No one had ever asked me that before. I didn’t know. For the most part I knew what I didn’t want to be, I didn’t want to be unhappy. I didn’t want to be struggling financially. And I guess I just wanted to feel a sense of significance.
I was really struggling to answer the question because I think we’ve all been asked what you want to do in the future. But that’s different than being completely hypothetically asked, what you would be doing if you could do absolutely anything.
So I started thinking about my significance and I didn’t want anyone else to tell me I was significant. I didn’t want my significance to be quantified through bank accounts or Facebook friends or degrees.
I just wanted to match my own definition of what it means to be significant and just reach the significance I dream of. Because in a world with 7 billion people, it can be kind of hard to make a name for yourself.
But I’m not the only one struggling with my dream, which brings me to the center of my talk.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that we live in a world in which it has become the norm for us to accept that one’s dream is unobtainable, unreasonable or unrealistic just off the basis that people said so.
But that is not a conclusion that came from my time on Google. No.
Over the past few months I’ve been conducting research to figure out what teenagers think about as far as goals, dreams, the future, the purpose of life.
What are we as individuals here to achieve?
So the first thing I had to do was establish an audience. I wanted my audience to be enriched with enough diversity to make my findings credible. I wanted people of different age groups, people who practiced different religions, people who not only came from different countries but were raised in different countries.
Eventually I was able to survey hundreds of teenagers from around the world. Okay, I had an audience. What kind of questions was I going to ask them?
I decided to start with the two questions that changed my whole mode of thinking, that one conversation at the breakfast table.
First, what do you see yourself doing 15 years from now?
8% of people didn’t know. 78% found themselves choosing one of three occupations. 78% felt that 15 years from now they were going to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. So what do I do? I jot down the names of all the lawyers because you never know when that’s going to come in handy.
No but seriously, my first reaction was 78%, three jobs? Really guys. But I quickly remembered since the fifth grade I myself said I was going to be a lawyer. I was in the fifth grade. I didn’t know anything about law, but when I said I wanted to be a lawyer, I got a good reaction from people. I felt good saying it. It seemed interesting. I knew I had to do was talking.
So why was this number so high with thousands of honorable professional jobs out there? Why did people feel that they needed to be one of three?
I believe it is because of the norms that society has created. We’ve put an emphasis on certain jobs and we as kids or young adults feel that we should, we should want these types of jobs for ourselves.
I remember when I was about seven or eight I came across this game and I love this game. It’s called, some of you may know it. It’s called ‘the game of life’. It was a recreation of the classical game of life and me and my cousins would play this all the time.
See, the reason I love this game, it’s not just because I always win. The reason I love it is because like life, your status in the game is always changing. Now, there’s tons of ways that you can win at the game, but the easiest is to have a lot of kids pay your debt off early in the game and save a lot of cash.