TED's 31 days of Ideas - Day 26: Origin stories aren't just for superheroes

What forces have shaped your purpose?

By Safwat Saleem

I'm fascinated by stories about origins: Where and how did things start? And how did what we see today come to be? Every great superhero has an origin story -- a story that clearly tells where the superhero's powers and purpose began. But what about the origins of the powers and purposes of non-superhero folks like you and me? Make no mistake, we all have an origin story that is just as interesting and worth understanding as the ones we've heard so many times for superheroes.

Too often, we mistake first impressions for something as nuanced and complicated as an origin story -- we assume that what makes someone who they are can be ascertained from their skin color or the way they dress or the kind of accent they have. We tend to use these superficial attributes to conclude we have others all figured out.

Hetain Patel's incredible TED Talk, "Who am I? Think again," challenges those preconceived notions in the way only a brilliant work of art can. I'm in awe of this talk not just because of what it says but how Hetain conveys his message. It's a great example of someone taking something as familiar as the TED Talk format and molding it into something that is entirely his own.

In questioning and trying to understand his own origin story, Hetain does not spell everything out but provides us with the dots to connect ourselves. Every time I re-watch this talk, I connect a few more of those dots, and I'll probably continue to do so for some time to come, reflecting on my own origin story as well. Hetain pushes me to consider the forces that have shaped my purpose, the path I've forged for myself and the direction I may go next. I hope this colorful talk can do the same for you.