Commencement Address

commencement-speech-lead-ssIf I were ever to be asked to give a commencement address, it would go something like this…

Frequently, over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear words like ‘good luck and ‘congratulations.’ And of course, scores of people are going to ask the golden question, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’

While social norms almost require me to do so, I truly do not want to say any of those things to you. If you hear those things coming out of my mouth, know that I don’t mean any of them.

I will not wish you luck, because nothing great in life comes by way of luck. You’re going to have to earn all of it.

I would not say congratulations, as you have done nothing yet in your life. Even if you are the first person in your family’s history to go to a university, if you were to squander this opportunity that you have now in front of you, this opportunity to do great things in this life, then it is irrelevant whether you graduated from college or you didn’t.

And don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you the golden question. Statistics tell me that you will leave your first job out of college within 18 months. They also tell me that you are going to change careers five times before you reach the ripe old age of thirty. So I do not care, what the first of your five different jobs or careers happens to be.

Here is what I will say. Here is what I will wish you. This is what I do care about for you.

No, I don’t wish you luck, but I wish you the will to work hard enough to get anything you want in this world. I wish you the drive to push way past the ceiling of your potential. Your endless potential. If life is indeed a race, it is a race against yourself and time. The race is measured by how high can you push your ceiling. Luck has zero to do with your growth.

No, you haven’t done much yet. But you are standing on the shores of the great ocean that is life. You barely have a toe in the water right now. But you can reach the vastness and the depths of this world if you are ready to swim. That takes leaps and dives and journeys of great distances. The shoreline can be pretty and safe, but real beauty and adventure are out there, past the roped off area. To do something great in this world, you must venture out into the deeper water.

And I don’t care about what you are doing right after college for work. I care about how you are doing it. I care that you focus and work hard enough to master your first job out of school. And your second. And your third. Whatever job you put yourself in or find yourself in. Dominate it. Crush it. Become the absolute, clear-cut, best at it. I don’t care if you are a NASA scientist or a street sweeper. I don’t care if you take a job pouring coffee with this degree. If you are great at your job, you will soon find yourself in a much better situation in life. Immediately, you will feel better about yourself and about your life. When you go to bed at night, you will be proud of what you accomplished each day. You will make better connections with people. You will earn respect from people. People will want to give you glowing recommendations that can help you with your next steps and also later in life. You will, without a doubt, move on to bigger and better things. Wherever you are right now, can be your launching pad to do great things in this world. And lastly, and do not take this one too lightly, if you’re great at your job, the world will be a better place because you’re in it.

(dramatic pause)

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Despite what you probably think, you don’t know everything. Sorry to tell you that. But you don’t. You know next to nothing as compared to all that you are able to learn in this life. And I want to emphasize that word able. It is up to you how much you learn and grow in your life.

I was a pretty cocky kid growing up. I wore my hat off to the side. I had a little swag in my step. Felt like I could do anything. It took me a long while to learn that not only did I not deserve to be the president of the United States, but I was actually and surprisingly not qualified be in that role.

You see, as a child, my parents instilled the belief in me that I could do anything in this world. And that stuck with me. Which is amazing. What they failed to teach me, or more likely, what I was probably too thick-headed to learn at the time, was that I was going to have to work my ass off to do any of the great things that stirred in my head.

Extremely hard work pays off. It wins most of the time in the short-term. And almost every time in the long-term. That is something I likely would have scoffed at coming out of high school or college, but it is a rule that I have grown to live by. It’s a rule I have grown to love. True hard work is what separates people. Make sure you are on the correct side of that great divide.

If you take one thing from this talk today, let it be this one simple question. This is the key to a great life. Hear it. Remember it. Say it out loud to yourself. Daily or even several times a day. Get it baked into the fabric of who you are. That question is:

How can I get better?

Say it right now. How can I get better? Say it tomorrow. Ask yourself this every morning. And before you go to bed at night. Continue to say it ten years from now. And even fifty years from now.

Answer this question in regards to all aspects of your life. Not just work. But anything in life. Everything. Constantly improve. Whether you find yourself on top or on bottom, ask yourself, ‘How can I get better?’

How can I be a better friend? A better son or daughter. A better husband or wife. A better aunt or uncle. How can I be a better employee at work? Or be a better boss. Be better at taking care of yourself. Be better about relaxing. And having fun. How can I be better at life.

Integrating this as a core belief will be the single best choice you make in your life. You will constantly be growing. Never feeling the misery of stagnation. You will constantly be evolving. Changing with the rapidly changing times. You will constantly have a full life. An amazing life.

One of my favorite quotes evolved over time from many people, ‘Watch your thoughts they become words. Watch your words they become actions. Watch your actions they become habits.’ And it was Aristotle who said, ‘You are what you repeatedly do.’

Your habits are who you are.

So if you start thinking about getting better, then you start doing things to get better. You start doing things to get better, then you begin to make a habit out of being better. If you make a habit out of constantly getting better, you will constantly be moving upwards. In all areas of your life.

Stagnation is like a prison cell. A cell that you are both locked inside and one to which you hold the keys. You can choose to constantly grow. You can make the choice to never stop growing.

When you turn 70 years old, ask yourself how can you be a better father or mother? A better grandmother. A better boss. And employee.

Upon accepting a new job at the age of 75, a very smart man name John Gardener once said that a lot of people look at life like a mountain to climb with a summit. He said that is the wrong metaphor and that life is a constant unfolding. I believe that.

To my core, I believe that.

So the best thing you can do in life is to grow. Grow today. From where you are.

Live a lifetime of growth. This will get you to be the best possible you that you can possibly be.

One day you will look back, and see how far you’ve come. And with this mindset, you will look forward. And no matter what age you are, you will say, ‘Look how much further I have the ability to go.’ And you will be excited about that fact.

I am still cocky. Although not much of a kid anymore. But I am not arrogant about knowing everything. And I know that I do not deserve anything.

I am certain that I will work hard enough to be great at anything I set my mind to. I am cocky because I know that I will work hard enough to get what I want in this world. That my potential, even at my ripe age, will continue to rise. As I continue to get better. I am supremely confident that I will grow and grow and grow in this world. Because I have been given all the tools to do so. And this fire burns inside of me to constantly improve.

So I say to you, congratulations even though I don’t mean it. Good luck, even though I know that is a ridiculous and irrelevant thing to say. And I put it to you, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ even though I don’t care.

Because the only thing I really want to know is, from where you are now, are you going to get better?