Every year many young people graduate from universities, colleges and schools to continue their wonderful journey to success in life. I enjoy watching inspirational commencement speeches by leaders and celebrities, and I’d like to share with you some of my favorite ones to inspire you.
Success is not about what we do or have
I love these particular graduation speeches by Jeff Bezos, Chris Gardner and Angela Ahrendts, because the main point in all of them is – “success is not about what we do or have, but about who we are”.
I can tell you from my own failures and successes in my personal and professional life, and also from observing lives of other people, that who WE ARE lays a solid foundation for long term success, not only at work but in all of life. Attitude, character, persistence, commitment, etc. – these are the essentials of success in anything we do and have a direct impact on the level of greatness we can achieve at work and in life.
Jeff Bezos is CEO of Amazon.com. As of March 2015, Bezos’s personal wealth is estimated to be USD 34.8 billion, ranking him number 15 on the Forbes list of billionaires.
This is an excerpt of his Graduation speech at Princeton University in 2010.
Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice.
As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores. We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially “Days of our Lives.” My grandparents belonged to a Caravan Club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who travel together around the U.S. and Canada. And every few summers, we’d join the caravan. We’d hitch up the Airstream trailer to my grandfather’s car, and off we’d go, in a line with 300 other Airstream adventurers. I loved and worshipped my grandparents and I really looked forward to these trips. On one particular trip, I was about 10 years old. I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.
At that age, I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d calculate our gas mileage — figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending. I’d been hearing an ad campaign about smoking. I can’t remember the details, but basically the ad said, every puff of a cigarette takes some number of minutes off of your life: I think it might have been two minutes per puff. At any rate, I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on. When I was satisfied that I’d come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off your life!”
I have a vivid memory of what happened, and it was not what I expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and arithmetic skills. “Jeff, you’re so smart. You had to have made some tricky estimates, figure out the number of minutes in a year and do some division.” That’s not what happened. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears. I sat in the backseat and did not know what to do. While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather, who had been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble? My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time? Or maybe he would ask that I get back in the car and apologize to my grandmother. I had no experience in this realm with my grandparents and no way to gauge what the consequences might be. We stopped beside the trailer.
My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”
We Are Our Choices
Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice.
Gifts are easy – they’re given after all. Choices can be hard.
You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices. How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices?
Tomorrow, in a very real sense, your life – the life you author from scratch on your own – begins.
- How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
- Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
- Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
- Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
- Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
- Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
- Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
- Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
- When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
- Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
- Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made.
In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.
Angela Ahrendts was the CEO of Burberry from 2006 to 2014. She left Burberry to join Apple Inc. as Senior Vice President of Retail in 2014. Ahrendts was ranked 25th in Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world, and 29th in Fortune’s 2014 list of the world’s most powerful women in business.
This is an excerpt of her Commencement speech at Ball State University in Indiana in 2010.
Character and Core Purpose
This speech-writing journey forced me to stop and reflect, in a way I haven’t done in years. I realized that the most vital component of my life that has guided every aspect of my professional career is my Character, and its Midwestern “Core Values”.
Do you realize you may already possess the foundation of your success? You might have the answer to the most important test question in life. What if you could answer it now and use it to your advantage versus mid-life?
The game changing question is,
“Do you truly know what your Core Purpose in life is, your fundamental reason for existence, and can you clearly articulate your Core Values, your guiding principles?”
I love the way management guru Jim Collins phrases it for business, he says a
“Core Purpose is your reason for being, it captures your soul, with the primary role to guide and inspire. You cannot fulfill a Purpose, it is like a guiding star on the horizon—forever pursued, but never reached.”
What is your Core Purpose, your “life book” profile?
Your Core Values are the soul mate of your Core Purpose and are your purest beliefs, your conscience and convictions. They rarely change throughout your life.
“We live by what we believe, not by what we see.”
Identifying your Core Values early in life will help provide clarity into the type of organization you want to work for, the type of people you want to be with, and the type of leader you aspire to be.
- Caring or compassion is a Key Value. Growing up I was always told to put myself in the other person’s shoes, to be aware and sensitive of my impact on others.
- Being the best I could be was a Core Value my mother instilled in me from a young age. Along with this, she would constantly remind me that “God helps those who help themselves,” and the importance of faith.
- Another Core value is Humility. My dad would always say, “When you look at a photo do you see yourself last?” and then would remind me of a line from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”. “…or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch…”
So, with the focus on your left brain, or your education, the last few years, you may not have given much thought to right brain Core Values. But with the world moving and changing so fast, they are your foundation. They offer confidence and peace and their significance and influence should never be compromised in anything anyone sees from you off or on line.
These could be your most important assets, your differentiator in this digital age. If you can clearly articulate the answer to this question early in life, it could be your best shortcut to success.
While Core Values are your foundation there are many other emotional facets such as dreams and passion, fear and insecurity, underpinned by heart and faith that provide additional guidance and inspiration as your career commences.
The Dream phase is that wow moment that lets your imagination see everything so positively. Dreams are your most exciting thoughts, your future life in 3D, and by envisioning in your mind you are creating your life roadmap.
“Whatever we focus on, we become”.
You see, if your dreams are your road map, your heart is your true guide. With the world at your fingertips,
- Have you learned to listen to your heart, your intuition and your instincts?
- Have you learned to feel what others will feel before you say a word?
- Do you understand the lasting impact of a smile, or a simple thank you?
- Do you truly “do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”
Your heart is your guiding force, teach yourself to listen to it, nurture it, and let it guide as you start this next exciting chapter of life.
Chris Gardner is an American entrepreneur, CEO of Gardner Rich & Co, and philanthropist who, during the early 1980s, struggled with homelessness while raising his toddler son. Gardner’s book of memoirs, The Pursuit of Happyness, was published in May 2006 and is portrayed in the 2006 motion picture The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith.
This is an excerpt of his Commencement speech at UC Berkeley in 2009.
Somebody Else Helped You
I want to thank everybody who helped us to get here today, because no one is going to walk across this stage today alone. Everybody got here today because somebody helped them. And I want you to consider something else – there was somebody else who’s not here today, who helped you get to where you are. Maybe this person was a high-school teacher, a counselor, or maybe it was someone who just worked in a school who saw in you something that maybe at some point you did not see in yourself. And I want to ask you today – to reach out to that person. Don’t call them, go see them. Shake their hands, hug them, laugh with them, cry with them and say “Thank You”.
New Vision of The American Dream
What would I wanna hear from someone today? Someone saying “in the midst of all this chaos and turbulence there is an opportunity to create a new vision of the American Dream”.
A new vision that says:
- Achieving balance in your life is more important than achieving a balance in your checking account.
- Appreciation is greater than expectation.
- For too long a lot of us have been living in exile in a place called “things” and it’s time for us to come home to prayers, family and focus.
- Do not confuse your net worth with your self-worth.
- Hey, stuff, toys and things exist, but they are not necessary for you to be happy.
A new vision means “What you do does not define who you are”.
This vision is firmly rooted in the past, appreciative of today, but clearly focused on the future that we can choose to create.
You are in a position to go forward and I encourage you that whatever you do for the rest of your life, always pursue happiness. And you can start where you are.
Have a meaningful day!
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