COLUMN: Commencement – what I would share

Early Saturday morning, I was out running near the Thomas Assembly Center and noted all the work going on preparing for Spring Commencement.  While Commencement is an exciting time for those graduating and their families, my thoughts went to what I would share with them if I were their speaker.  While many of us would see these types of ceremonies as a look back at the accomplishments, I prefer to celebrate the accomplishment but look ahead to the new opportunity.

If I were to speak to a high school group entering college, a college group entering the workforce, an athletic team preparing for the season, a group of adults entering mid-life, or to adults leaving the workforce seeking what’s next in life, I would share the following five key lessons that I learned from a 5K race years ago:

  • Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable:  I look back on my time in high school and college with fond memories but too many regrets as well.  My regrets involve decisions I made to avoid challenging opportunities.  Whether I was afraid of failure or just seeking a smoother path, I chose the safer, the more certain, or the less challenging path far too often.  I would encourage anyone, at any stage of life, to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  It’s only when we are willing to embrace challenging opportunities, unknown outcomes, or face failure, that we will ever reach our potential in life.  I learned this lesson later in life and wish I understood the concept much earlier in life.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Look Forward, not Behind:  Don’t let the past negatively impact your future.  Too often we let past failures or tough times negatively impact how we approach future challenges.  Learn from past mistakes but move forward.  You can’t see where you are going looking in the rear-view mirror.  The most important play in any game is the next play.  Too many allow the last play to impact the next play.  The same concept is true in any area of life.  Those that can learn from the past but focus on the present will experience more joy, more contentment, and likely more success.  Look forward, not behind.


  • Focus on Others, not Self:  There will be times in life that you need to sacrifice your goals to help someone else.  By placing an emphasis on others, you will have a perspective of life that will bring joy, contentment, and a level of humility that will attract others.  You will discover that true fulfillment comes through serving others and elevating their needs above your own.  I have found more fulfillment in serving others than any personal achievement ever received.  A life lived thinking of others will be a life well lived.  Focus on others, not self.
  • Talk to Yourself, but don’t Listen:  My mind will often talk me out of things that seem too hard, too difficult, or that would require too much effort.  If I listen to myself, I will often shut down well before I need to stop.  However, If I can talk to myself with encouraging words and positive statements, I will push through challenges more effectively.  There is always more gas in the tank – you can do more than your mind thinks you can.  Your mind will tell you so many reasons to stop, to give up, or to quit.  Don’t listen.  Just repeat encouraging words and songs that inspire you to keep going.  Success and fulfillment in life won’t always go to the most talented.  At some point, talent won’t be enough.  Toughness will be required.  Talk to yourself, but don’t listen.
  • Take One More Step: We never know how close we are to resolving the problem, repairing the relationship, making the next sale, or getting the next promotion.  We may not be able to see the finish line, envision the last treatment, or picture the final payoff.  Life can be hard and full of challenges.  The key so often is to just keep taking the next step.  There is great power in one more.  One more attempt at that challenge in the workplace may be the key.  One more repetition during a workout may make all the difference if done over time.  One more day of just going in for that treatment may be the one that makes all the difference.  Don’t discount the power of one more.  Take one more step.

Those are just five short thoughts for you to consider in whatever stage of life you are in today.  I wish I knew all five of them years ago.  I guess I learn the hard way!  If you would like to get a fully developed version of each of these lessons (and the backstory), just let me know.  I would love to share at your next “commencement.”