Each year since 1999, TIME magazine has ranked the world’s most influential people. The list has included heavyweights like Oprah (10 times), Barack Obama (nine times), Nelson Mandela (three times) and the Dalai Lama (three times).
It’s not necessarily political power, wealth or a talk show that make someone influential though. It’s widely acknowledged that “the key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority,” and influence is achievable at any age. Teens often have that fearless courage (or sometimes, worldly naivety) that, combined with easy access to millions via social media, gives them the ability to be incredibly influential too. It might not be as obviously profound as the US President or His Holiness, but there’s often a real and valuable message there, untarnished by jaded decades and mid-life crises.
Here’s what we can all learn – whether we’re 17 or 70 – from TIME’s most influential teens in 2014.
1. Sasha Obama, 13, and Malia Obama, 16: Be true to your own passions
2. Flynn McGarry, 15: Start with what you have, where you areEureka, in the Californian bedroom of his family home. It’s now a pop up restaurant serving eight to 10 courses of “progressive American cuisine” for up to 50 guests. He’s now working with the world’s top chefs in LA and NYC and has appeared on the Today Show and the cover of The New York Times.
The most common excuse for not pursuing our dreams is that we’re waiting for the ideal tools or circumstances to align. Flynn is a great reminder to ditch the excuses and start with what you have, where you are.
3. Erik Finman, 15: Stay curious – be an eager learner
Erik – an eager student and grateful for his own diverse educational opportunities – wanted to make stimulating education easily accessible to everyone, so Botangle uses alternative learning tools such as video tutoring and virtual whiteboards. But that’s not the really impressive part. Erik funded the start up project by investing $1,000 his Grandma gave him at Easter in Bitcoin and turning it into $100,000. Here’s proof that being an eager learner and student of life will always bring a “return on investment” in one way or another.
4. Salma Kakar, 17: Push the walls of the world you find yourself in
Whilst many Afghan women cannot get an education, employment or even a driver’s licence, Salma insists that views are changing. And despite the verbal abuse and harassment for being “un-Islamic,” she also receives messages of support from many Afghans, men included. She has a more progressive and supportive family than most – her mother is a pediatrician, her father an engineer and her elder sister a publisher of Afghanistan’s first feminist magazine, Riudad – but she has refused to accept the traditional boundaries of the world she was born into.
5. Malala Yousafzai, 17: A single defeat is not a final defeat
On 9 October, 2012, Malala was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen while riding the bus to school. Most would be forgiven for taking a step back from the spotlight and feeling defeated – but not Malala. She has since started the Malala Fund to continue to promote girls’ education, assist Syrian refugee children and raise awareness of the kidnapped Nigerian girls. She has gone on to receive an honorary doctorate in civil law from the University of King’s College in Canada, spoken at the United Nations and is now the youngest ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize (October 2014). Her influence is undeniable and her message – “We will speak, no matter how hard it is to do so” – is a reminder that a single defeat is not a final defeat.
6. Rachel Fox, 18: Look past the stereotypesFox on Stocks, to demystify finance and investments for teens. She also tracks the influence of pop culture on stock trading – everything from Gagnam Style to Justin Bieber – and lists the top 20 companies teens love to buy from on a “MyGenLoves Index,” which includes Netflix and Urban Outfitters.
7. Rico Rodriguez, 16: Let your personality shine (quirks and all)
8. Lorde, 17: True beauty is in the imperfections
9. Joshua Wong, 18: Speak up – every voice counts
10. Jazz Jennings, 14: See the rainbow in the world – it’s not all black and white
According to TIME, “Teens today might have a mixed reputation, but there’s no denying their influence.” The rise of social media has undoubtedly played a big role in that, but these teens have achieved more than most and have a message worth spreading. The rest of the world can just sit back, and have greatness thrust upon them.
Featured photo credit: Wikimedia via upload.wikimedia.org