I was honored to be selected as the commencement speaker for Vatterott College’s 2010 graduation on May 8. It was a wonderful graduation. Afterward, many people stopped by to tell me their appreciation for what I said. It was encouraging to know that I was able to inspire the students and their parents. Here is the speech titled “A Rewarding Life”.
Faculty and staff, parents and friends of the graduates, and the graduating class of 2010. It’s a great honor to commemorate your graduation and all the dedication and effort that went into it. You should be proud.I’m sure you’re eager to leave here, diploma in hand, to celebrate with all your friends. Before you do, let me share three features of a rewarding life. These features will help you live a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose.
First, be willing to change. We live in a world where innovation is crucial to success. It’s a volatile world where changes occur in the blink of an eye. I encourage you to be flexible and ready to adapt.
Second, cultivate real relationships. Career pursuits, technology, entertainment, and life pressures have a way of distancing us from others. Don’t let that happen. Establish deep relationships with a few close people. They’re the ones who can be relied on in troubled times and they make life worth living.
Third, enjoy the journey. Goals are necessary and wonderful but don’t let your joy only come at their completion. Be satisfied in the journey. You’ll always be working towards something. Up till now, it was your degree. Tomorrow it will be something else. Be proud today for what you’ve achieved and rejoice tomorrow for what you pursue. Seize the joy in each day for it is there. You just need to look for it.
Leading a rewarding life involves change. There’s a picture in my office of a tree in a meadow. Beneath the picture is the word change written in all caps. Little buds of spring can be seen sprouting from the tree’s limbs under a bright sunny sky. The scene changes when viewed from different angles. In one, leaves take form clothing it in a beautiful green canopy. Another shows it adorned with the colorful leaves of fall. The last depicts it with snow covering its bare branches surrounded by an untouched sea of white powdery snow.
I look at this picture often. It’s a reminder that change is a natural part of life. We sometimes forget that, despite the fact that we’ve lived with constant change throughout my lives. After all, I change my diet, my interests, and those I associate with. So why do I find change so difficult to deal with?
The main reason is control. Diet, interests, and friends are things I have control over. The difficulty comes when change is forced upon us. Lack of control can create uncertainty and fear. Some try to resist change but that just makes life harder. It can increase stress and result in missed opportunities. I want to impress on you that change is good for us. It makes life interesting.
So how do I conquer my fear of change? You can do it in two ways. First, learn to expect it.
In 2001, I attended a conference where the founder of a Japanese animation studio described how he switched all the computers in his company from PC to Mac and then back again a few years later. He did it to compel his staff to do tasks differently. He wanted them to become accustomed to approaching problems in a new way, often discovering better methods in the process. His technique made quite a statement to his employees and they remain a creative and profitable company today because they expect change. In fact, they seek it out.
The second method for conquering the fear of change is to seek to understand it.
When the federal rules for electronic discovery were modified in 2006 many law firms struggled to adapt. We at JurInnov had been following the changes and were familiar with how they impacted the industry. Our proactive stance and positive response to the change allowed us to step in and provide guidance to these firms. In seeking to understand the change I realized an opportunity.
You’re about to experience a big change. School is over. Now it’s time for a career. You’re entering into a new world full of challenges. You’re going to have to learn new skills, modify your routines and make sacrifices. So I ask you to expect change, seek to understand it and embrace it because it is one part of leading a rewarding life. This, like many other changes ahead of you, is a great opportunity.
Another feature of a rewarding life is meaningful relationships. I joined Facebook a few years ago and boy did it change my life. I quickly connected with friends from school and work. Soon after, family members joined my circle of friends. People I hadn’t talked to in years came out of the digital woodwork, eager to reconnect, share experiences, photos, and memories. Looking at each page was like meeting in a coffee shop sharing wallet photos and catching up.
It didn’t take long, however, before I had a few hundred friends. Friends who tried their best to keep me up-to-date on their lives. I was flooded with information on the games they were playing, the food they were eating, or the programs they liked on TV. The intimate coffee shop I had liked so much turned into a busy train station.
I tried my best to keep up with it all. I read their updates and posted thoughtful replies until one day I saw one of my friends at the store. I tried to remember something she’d recently posted on Facebook so I could strike up a conversation, but it was all a jumble in my head. She had just gotten back from scuba diving. No. That was someone else. Her sister had a baby. No, still not right.
I realized then that I was trying to do the impossible. By dividing my attention among so many people I wasn’t being a good friend to any of them. Mark Vernon, the author of The Philosophy of Friendship, says, “You really have to have mulled over things with [someone] to become really good friends and there’s only so many people you can do that with.” In other words, you need to spend quality time together in order to cultivate really good friends and you can only do that with a few people. Quality time is sometimes a shared experience. At other times it is giving a person your undivided attention or a listening ear.
“Be courteous to all”, George Washington said, “but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”
We need a few close friends – the kind you can call anytime or count on in times of trouble. They are the ones who love you and want the best for you. Sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona found that these close friendships have decreased by a third in the last twenty years. A third of close friendships lost in a period where technological advances would seem to make us more connected. Instead, I am becoming increasingly isolated.
Meaningful relationships need to be cultivated. It’s something you’ll have to make time for. This is important because a lack of close friends can lead to loneliness, anxiety, and a diminished satisfaction in life. I want you to live a happy fulfilled life. A life you’re not going to find in social networking, climbing the corporate ladder or driving that fancy new Lexus. Don’t get so caught up in life that you forget to cherish relationships. You’ve come this far and I’m sure it wasn’t all on your own. You’ve had some help from parents, a spouse, friends, teachers, or peers. Take a minute to identify those people and vow to cultivate those relationships, for the rewarding life is not built alone.
We come to the last feature of a rewarding life, enjoying the journey.
I started writing a novel about a year ago. I went into it bursting with creativity, eager to give shape and form to my ideas. It didn’t take long before I realized how little I knew about people. I asked myself, how do you describe a smile? What makes one smile warmer than another? What goes through your mind when you’re threatened, scared, excited, or in love? I had to take a step back and look at the everyday things I hardly even notice and it gave me joy. I realized that life is so much deeper than I realize. There is beauty, wonder, and intricate complexities that only experience and open eyes can see. Things I was missing in my haste to move through life.
Society pressures us to rush through life as if that’s the only way to meet my goals and objectives, but there is no enjoyment in that. As stress builds you reach a point of diminishing returns where your productivity decreases more and more. In the long term, this can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, insomnia, and depression. This is why workplaces ask you to take breaks. Here’s a little secret. When you enjoy what you are doing, you’ll end up meeting your goals and objectives too.
I have to admit, this is an ongoing struggle. I find myself hurrying here and there frustrated when I lack the time to do everything on my list. It is times like this when I have to force myself to slow down, prioritize, and make time to relax.
Haste can cause you to miss out on life. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So, avoid the stress and enjoy life. Make time in your schedule for reading the book sitting next to your bed. Spend time with loved ones. Take a walk in the park, or whatever activity you enjoy. You’ll have a much more fulfilling life if you do.
Let me take this final moment to summarize these features of a rewarding life. First, embrace change. Look for the opportunities in it and celebrate the changes awaiting you. Second, take the time to cultivate real relationships. They will be more valuable to you than anything else you achieve. Lastly, enjoy the journey. Step away from all the pressure, refocus, and give yourself room to succeed. I’m excited for you all. Congratulations.