Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Commencement Address That No One Asked For

Photo courtesy of tessandwich's Instagram.

To the Graduating Class of 2014: you don't know me, but I know you.

I was you once, and in many ways I still am.  I was recognized here and there for my achievements, showered with praise once or twice, and then admonished about my failures over and over again.  I embarrassingly made out with people I don't remember while trying to carpe diem when I did study abroad.  And after coming home from said study abroad, I annoyingly spoke with an affected accent to show off like a jackass.  Again, just like you.

But, for the most part, I am an unknown.  Also like you.  So really, there's no reason whatsoever you should take my advice, except for the fact that I am older, and am therefore statistically closer to the prospect of dying alone. So, I would like to give you a few pieces of advice I wish I had known when I was graduating either high school or college that I have since learned and think you will find useful.

Be Kind

I have never regretted being kind.  I have always regretted being cruel.  Don't be the jerk that makes everyone anxious.  Just be nice, if for no other reason than being nice allows you to take the high road in any given situation, which allows you to feel superior, and superior people have better skin and get invited to the better parties.

Wine Makes You Smart

Inhibitions stop those creative juices from flowing.  Alcohol makes you lose your inhibitions.  But you knew that already.

Accept Yourself

Not only does this mean forgive yourself when you forget the whole "be kind" rule, but also embrace yourself.  Your flaws, your likes, your dislikes; instead of being embarrassed by them, flaunt them.  Once you do, you'll attract others who are into those flaws.  If you keep trying to hide who you are, how do you expect to make friends and fall in love with someone who truly "gets" you?

What's more, once you accept yourself for who you are, you'll notice you're a lot more accepting of other people.

Spare the Dramatics

Crying makes you look bloated.  Do so sparingly.

Follow Your Passion

I've worked jobs I couldn't care less about.  They paid the bills, but I was miserable.  I've also worked jobs for free doing what I love.  I always had more fun doing the latter.

You can either die doing what you hate because you're afraid of failing at what you love, or you can try for what you love and die always knowing that at least you tried.  Which sounds like the more life-fulfilling option to you?

And if your passion is spreading cement, more power to you.  Don't let anyone shame you for having different dreams than your own.  Hey, you figured out what you love, which puts you in better shape than most people.  Own it.

Don't Be Afraid to Succeed

Growing up, I had the lowest levels of self-confidence imaginable.  I literally thought I was the worst, and that everyone else knew what they were doing but me.

I wasted so much time being afraid to look like a fool, that I missed out on a lot of great opportunities to prove myself.  I didn't realize it until long after college, but no one has any idea what they're doing.  We're all born breathing the same air, walking the same streets, and forced to hug the same toilet after eating bad sushi.  We're all in this together.  You're no more important than anyone else, but by the same token, no one else is any more important than you.

So, next time you find yourself presented with an opportunity you want, take it.  Why not you?  The worst that can happen is you fail, just like everyone else has the chance to fail.  Which brings me to my next point...

Don't Be Afraid to Fail

The chance for success only presents itself when there's just as much of a chance for failure.  You can't succeed without setting yourself up to fail.  And you will fail.  You'll look and feel like a fool.  For a moment.  And then people will forget all about it, and you'll learn what you're truly capable of.  A bunch of times.  You will chase after a dream only to realize it doesn't fulfill you.  You will fall in love only to watch it fall apart.  You will decide to go for a haircut that makes you look like an enraged poodle.

I have a little secret: the only time I've learned how to become a better person was after I experienced failure.  Realizing you can do better and be better is the only mindset that will actually make you better.  Not setting yourself up for failure means you're equally not setting yourself up for success.  Which means you're stagnating.  The only people who never fail at anything are the people who have the most boring stories at parties.

A lot of the people who tell you you're no good always, always writhe in their own insecurities.  Putting people down makes them feel better about their own failures.  Don't let anyone make you believe you're less of a person than you know you are. 

For inspiration, here's a list of famous people we love who experienced their fair share of setbacks before reaching the upper echelons of their dreams:

Tina Fey (“In Chicago, I worked a cruddy job folding towels at a YMCA from 5:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. I’d nap, then go to improv class all night. I made, like, $7 an hour, and it was freezing in Chicago — but I was so happy....")

Hugh Jackman (got fired from 7-Eleven for talking too much to the customers)

Jerry Seinfeld (booed off the stage at a comedy show, and fired after a poor performance on his very minor role on the sitcom Benson, which he only found out after showing up on set to find his part written out of the script)

Michelle Yeoh (a spinal injury prohibited her from her dreams of becoming a ballerina. She went on to become an award-winning actress instead)

Dr. Seuss, (And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times by publishers.  Also, the first book he ever wrote was The Pocket Book of Boners, so, there's that...)

Oprah Winfrey (fired as a news reporter because she couldn’t sever her emotions from her stories)

Bill Gates (dropped out of college and his first business venture flopped)

J.K. Rowling (she got fired from the London office of Amnesty International because she would write stories on her work computer all day long)

Anna Wintour (fired from Harper's Bazaar for being "too edgy")

Abraham Lincoln (demoted from Captain to Private in the military, lost political runs for office several times before becoming one of the most memorable presidents of the United States)

Arianna Huffington (her second book was rejected by 36 publishers)

Michael Jordan (cut from his high school's basketball team.  Has been quoted as saying, "I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”)

Steve Jobs (fired from Apple, the very company he created)

Steven Spielberg (rejected three times from USC film school. USC named him an honorary alumni in ‘94 and dedicated a building to him as a thank you for his donations.)

You Will Have to Work Hard for Everything That Matters

According to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, the difference between mediocrity and success is 10,000 hours.

10,000 hours is how much practice it takes to become a master at your craft, and to become as good as the other greats.  Bill Gates spent hours as a kid in Washington building computers for his school; by the time he built Microsoft, he'd averaged around 10,000 hours of tinkering with equipment.  By 1964, the year they got big on the international scene, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together, not including the hours of training and practice leading up to that point.

10,000 hours might seem like a lot, but the takeaway from this is that even the best in their field spent hours of dedication perfecting their craft before they made it to where they wanted to be.  You'll have to, too.

Laugh at Yourself

Seriously.  Stop being so serious. 

Never Sacrifice Your Relationships

Money will buy guests to your wedding, will buy attendees to your funeral, and it might even buy you a spouse (or two or three), but what it won't buy you is someone who will let you cry to them at 3:00 in the morning when you're worried about making rent, or who knew you as a kid when you had that weird rash but loves you anyway, or who doesn't judge the fact that you're a closeted Justin Bieber fan.

Family is a great thing.  The best of things, really.  In the end, family--whether it be your biological family or the family you've chosen for yourself--is the support system that never fails.  They will give you advice and support your crazy dreams and just truly want the best for you.

A job that asks to own so much of your time that you never get to be with the people you love most isn't worth your time.  Never. I know the money's nice, but your BMW payments won't hold your hand on your deathbed and say, "Thank you for being in my life.  I wish I was as good looking as you."  

Don't Be Afraid to Quit

"Quit" is a dirty word in our culture, which is a shame.  I'm terrified of being associated with it myself, which is really pretty ridiculous.  Because all quitting is, is saying "this isn't the best path for me.  I'm ready for something else."

Why be miserable by sticking with something that doesn't make you happy with yourself at the end of the day?  Whether it be a relationship, a job, or a living situation, the hardest part of saying "this isn't working out" is letting the words come out of your mouth.  The rest is pretty easy, and just like my mom said, "you'll look back and wonder, 'What took me so long?!'"

Be the master of your destiny, instead of letting some crappy retail job be the master of you.  Something better will come along, as long as you're willing to do the work that goes into finding it.  Promise.

Well, ladies and gentlemen.  That's what I've far.  You've got a fancy degree and a fake ID.  Go get 'em!


  1. I have been the quitter. Unfortunately once it was really bad. The second time although I did quit it was like a mutually agreed quit so I left of my own accord rather than being sacked which was good. I think I just needed a job that I suited a bit better. There were aspects of my job that I loved - social media and spreadsheets but then I had to do a heap of stuff I hated and it wasn't working. But then I found myself working in an old peoples home last summer which I loved and then got a new job working in the solar panel department of an energy company and now I'm going to be a mummy so am on maternity leave for now. I have an idea of what I'd like to do if I have to go back to work but I guess it depends if I can get the job lol. Also if it makes sense to go back.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Hannah! I have quit things in the past and even though I felt really guilty about it at the time, quitting was definitely a good learning experience and I don't regret it one bit. I do regret staying in situations that didn't fit. I don't know, I guess I've just learned that you can't let your guilt about leaving force you to stay in something that's making you miserable. I hope you find that job! Best of luck to you and congrats on being a mum!! xx

  2. This is why I love you, Leith! I remember that insecure girl in high school (remember how you were absolutely convinced you'd fail the AP English exam?!?). I think it is amazing looking back at the paths we have taken, and seeing with hindsight where we tripped up. Wish hindsight could improve foresight!! I'd love to stop walking paths blindly, but c'est la vie.