What India’s Youngest TED Speaker can Teach us About Self-Belief

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It takes a keenly observant mind and a significant amount of nerve to address a live international audience in person. That’s exactly what Ishita Katyal did at the tender age of 10 when she became the youngest Indian to speak at the official TED Youth Conference in New York in 2015. Her talk on the subject “What do You Want to be Now” was inspired by the numerous times’ children are asked what they want to be when they ‘grow up.’ Working on the premise that age is just a number, Ishita set out to inspire children, or people of all ages, to follow their dreams. She questioned the social conditioning thrust upon us, where ‘childhood’ is meant for playing and dreaming, and the achievement of dreams is a matter relegated to adulthood. If a child is able to express their desires assertively, why does society feel they are not capable of working towards achieving them? Ishita’s own story is the best testament to her cause.

As a young and forward-thinking student of Vibgyor High School in Balewadi, Pune, Ishita attended her first TEDx event held in the city at the age of eight and was enamored by the speakers and everything they had to say. Without wasting any time, she approached the organizers directly and asked for details on how one could join their platform and become a speaker. After multiple sessions of grueling interviews conducted on Skype with the official TEDx team, this rising star was chosen to organize the first-ever TEDx Balewadi event in her school, becoming the youngest person ever to organize a TED event.

Age eight was instrumental for this clever young lady as she wrote and published her first book on Amazon Kindle and later with Partridge Publications. In her words, the book began as a diary of her reflections of that delicate age, but before she knew it, she had developed a life of its own as a work of fiction entitled “Simran’s Diary.” She faced many hurdles in publishing this book most of which revolved around adult prejudices against child authors, but she overcame these with élan, on the basis of her firm self-belief and the steadfast support of her parents.

At age ten, her TEDx journey was elevated to the next level when she was invited to speak at the TED Youth Conference in New York, becoming the youngest Indian to garner this accolade. Where others may have faltered at the prospect of flying across the world to address an international audience consisting of people much older than themselves, Ishita simply jumped at the chance. Since her first momentous appearance on the TED Youth stage, she has spoken at numerous TEDx talks around India.

She champions the cause of encouraging people to pursue their dreams at whatever age they would like to. Her shining confidence, ability to keep a live audience engaged through her personal anecdotes, and personal charm, have inspired audiences of all age groups and genders. The pandemic and ensuing lockdown have not dimmed Ishita’s desire to speak and spread her message. She has been inundated with invitations to speak on virtual platforms and address audiences from varied backgrounds. In addition, she also conducts Live Sessions on Zoom for her fan following on Facebook.

The young lady may be a mere 15 years of age, but she has achieved everything she set out to thus far. Her story is a shining example for children around the world, and in fact, people of all age groups who struggle to advance their careers or pursue their dream vocations, worried about societal pressures or failure. As Ishita has highlighted through her TED talks and own example, everyone has what it takes to succeed, right from the beginning of their lives. It is only a matter of taking that first step, with close ones’ support and carrying it through to completion by invoking an indomitable spirit and the will to achieve.

The writer is a featured columnist and blogger who pens lifestyle articles on her successful blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be found on Instagram @nooranandchawla.

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