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In an earlier piece, I argued that the first universal theme running through many commencement speeches this year was to take advantage of the present moment. But there is a second theme, a corollary to the first. To fully take advantage of the present, you have to own your uniqueness and be confident in who you are.
Now before you dismiss this as just another commencement speech truism, give me a moment to explain.
You are more powerful than you realize. And believing in yourself ― as cliche as it sounds ― is a big part of taking back that power. From such a young age, we’re conditioned to give up that power. We give it to your parents, to our school, to our employers, even to friends and to significant others. But an important part of getting older is learning to take back that power (it’s worth the few extra wrinkles).
As we get older, our compass begins to shift away from what others believe to be important and tell us to do towards what we believe to be important and what we feel compelled to do. We learn to listen to that internal compass, we realize that it is a very useful guide, and as we get older its navigational pull gets increasingly stronger.
And to demonstrate just how important it is to listen to your own unique internal compass, it came up in speech after speech this commencement season.
“Own Your Own Memories And Experiences…”
Own your own memories and experiences even if they were traumatic. Own it. The world is broken because we’re broken. There are too many of us who want to forget. Who said that all of who you are has to be good. All of who you are is who you are.”
— Viola Davis at Barnard
“Everyone here has a unique story…”
You guys are all at the start of your film. And you guys are finishing up act one of your film and your story. Just asking you guys an open ended question: what is your act two? Everyone here has a different timeline. Everyone here has a unique story. Figure out what your act two is and emrbace the change, embrace the twists, and the unexpected turns. There will be good and there will be bad, but embrace that.”
— Ken Jeong at UNC Greensboro
“What…You Must Believe In…Is Your Inherent Uniqueness…”
What each of you have and what each of you must believe in from this day forward is your inherent uniqueness, your singular point of view. No one looks out into the world through your eyes. Your perspective is unique. Its important and it counts.”
— Glenn Close at William & Mary
“Everyone You’ll Ever Meet Knows Something That You Don’t…”
Everyone you’ll ever meet knows something that you don’t. Everyone. Farmers know some things about plants that even botanists never will. Bricklayers have an initmate knowledge about what it takes to lay bricks….Respect that knowledge and learn from others. It will bring out the best in them and it will bring out the best in you.”
— Bill Nye at Goucher
“Don’t Get Hung Up On What Other People Say Is Practical…”
When you go out into the world, don’t waste time on problems that have been solved. Don’t get hung up on what other people say is practical. Instead, steer your ship into the choppy seas. Look for the rough spots. The problems that seem too big. The complexities that other people are content to work around. It’s in those places that you’ll find your purpose. It’s there that you can make your biggest contribution.”
— Tim Cook at Tulane
You have probably been lectured on this lesson a number of times. But the older you get, the truth of it starts to sink in. And once you choose to live a life that is more in sync with who you are, the easier it somehow becomes. But that choice is always available to you no matter how old you are.
I’m going to make a bit of a statement, here. Being present and owning who you are are the two most important truths that sit above all others. Everything flows from there. Believe in yourself and take advantage of the opportunities that are right in front of you, today.
And f ollow Stephanie Denning on Twitter: @stephdenning
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June 1, 2019 at 12:03AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs