Yara Shahidi Wants You to Embrace Curiosity as More Than a 'Distraction'

The actress and college grad gave a TED Talk on how doing that helped her balance both Hollywood and Harvard.

a woman (yara shahidi) wearing a painted dress gives a ted talk
(Image credit: TED)

Yara Shahidi can add another title to her bio: actress, producer, activist, TED Talk speaker. The Grown-ish star's talk, named "Let Curiosity Lead," was uploaded to TED's website and YouTube recently, several months after she gave the in-person presentation in April 2023. The fully recorded speech gives fans a chance to listen to Shahidi's advice on embracing all of your various interests rather than viewing your curiosity as a "distraction."

In the 11-minute speech, the multi-hyphenate discusses her journey towards embracing varying subjects and career paths, instead of listening to advice to follow just one passion. She references August 2018, when she was beginning her freshman year at Harvard University at the same time Grown-ish was heading into its second season, and explains that both academic advisors and people in entertainment were telling her that "there was no symbiotic relationship between the two worlds."

"I was searching for an 'and,' but I kept getting presented an 'either-or.' And I almost let those five words—'Are you sure about that?'—stop me," she continued.

Yara Shahidi, wearing a gold gown and cornrows, attends the London premiere of "Peter Pan & Wendy"

(Image credit: Kate Green/Getty Images)

She went on to advocate for harnessing the power of creativity instead, in turn honoring your childhood sense of wonder and keeping your mind open to new opportunities.

"Think about how many times we ask each other the question, 'What do you do?' Which is really a proxy in my mind for a much more pressing question: 'Who are you right now?' Because what we do is only a fraction of who we are. And this culture of heralding expertise means that our curiosities are often mislabelled as distractions. I would love to think through what we could be missing out on by not actively prioritizing our curiosity,” she said.

In a celebratory Instagram post, the Sitting In Bars With Cake actress opened up about her lifelong goal of speaking at TED, writing, "15 years old YARA’S bucket list dream ACCOMPLISHED."

"April 2023 I was invited to speak at @TED in Vancouver," she added. "I SAID, I WAS INVITED TO SPEAK AT TED!! While still in awe of the ask to share my thoughts during this iconic conference, I also sit in gratitude to have shared the stage with people who have changed my trajectory and introduced me to new ways of thinking. (Yep, I was that 10 year old listener, and that 15 year old that would memorize TED talks for speech and debate competitions, and listen to TED radio hour when in need of inspiration). What a FULL CIRCLE moment to be able to share my passion around the transformative powers of embracing curiosity."

"Vancouver was amazing and I am beyond excited to share this moment with you all. Thank you for always supporting my words and my work no matter how big or small the stage … XO Yara," she wrote.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.