I recently completed the first main Toastmaster’s club achievement and my final assignment was to deliver an inspirational speech aimed at an appropriate event. I choose a graduation speech which I would deliver to a graduating class of 2018.
Good evening graduates of the class of 2018. Tonight you graduate, you finish, but tonight isn’t just about finishing: it’s about new beginnings too. Tonight you begin the rest of your life.
If I rewind my life by 16 years and I imagine myself sitting just like you in the audience here tonight, I realise I’ve learned so many things in that time. Tonight I’ll share some of those things with you.
The comedian Wil Anderson says you either spend your life running from things, or running to things. Up until I graduated I spent my days running away from my childhood. Since then I’ve spent my time running towards a better life, for myself and my wife and three children.
There’s an old saying “no grit; no pearl”. It’s a perfectly succinct way of stating the benefits of adversity. You will all suffer in various ways, the key is to use your suffering to your advantage.
They say life is like trying to swim down the middle of a river – there are two riverbanks: on one side is the riverbank that represents chaos – this will pull you in at various times of your life, like for example when you have young children. The other riverbank represents rigidity. It’s almost too tempting to swim to that riverbank, especially when you’re on the chaos side, but rigidity can be just as bad for you as chaos can be. Your goal in life is to not get drawn in to either side of the river: go with the flow and float down the river, otherwise you’ll spend your time fighting against the currents pulling you to either side.
During the times of your life that will be chaotic you will have a great deal of stress. Don’t avoid stress, deal with it and use it to your advantage. William James once said “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another”.
There’s also a good chance you’ll get addicted to things, if you’re not already. This may be something as simple as Instagram or Caramello Koalas. Addiction isn’t a disease: it’s not something you can recover from. To overcome your addictions you’ll need to develop through them by changing your desires and establishing human connection.
Someone one said that to be successful in life you need three distinct hobbies: one to make you money as we all need that to live. Another hobby to keep you active and fit, as that’s a really important part of health, and finally a hobby to express your creativity that we often bottle up inside us.
To be successful in your hobbies and life focus on systems not goals. Examples of goals are to lose weight or get a promotion. An example of a system is establishing a regime where you’re active everyday and you crave healthy fresh foods. Another system is making yourself so valuable to your employer they have no choice but to keep you around.
When you’re successful you’ll become passionate about something. That’s right, passion comes from success, success doesn’t come from being passionate about something! There are plenty of passionate people who are unemployed, on the dole, or have started failed businesses and are bankrupt.
When you are successful, resist the urge to outsource your life and hard work. We alienate ourselves from our true lives when we do this. Sweat pays us back with meaning.
You’ll have days when you’re so anxious you don’t want to do anything or even leave your house. During these times you need to ask yourself whether you would rather die doing something you love, or lead a comfortable risk-free life that you hate?
You don’t need to be happy all the time. Happiness is a fleeting state and that only happens sometimes! Aim to be emotionally healthy instead of always being happy.
In the end a great life is just a series of great days, so ask yourself what will make today great?
Some of the oldest teachings in the world focus on the theme of personality reactivity. No matter what happens in life, no matter what is thrown at you, no matter how much chaos or uncertainty there is, the only thing you can fully and always control is your reaction. Choose your reactions.
I’ll leave you tonight with a story.
Once there was a farmer who had a beautiful horse. One day the horse ran away. The farmer’s neighbours leant over the fence and said to the farmer: “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer responded “maybe”.
The next day the farmer’s horse returned to the farm and it bought with it three of the most beautiful wild horses one has ever seen. With the horses on the farm the neighbours visited and said “you now have four beautiful horses, that’s very lucky’ to which the farmer said “maybe”.
The next day the farmer’s adult son was taming one of the wild horses when the horse bucked him violently across the paddock where the son landed on his leg and shattered it to pieces. At the hospital the doctors told the farmer his son would never walk straight again. When the neighbours heard about this they said “oh, that’s very unlucky” to which the farmer replied “maybe”.
A few months later the army was coming through town conscripting all the young adults to serve in war. They had a look at the farmers son and said he couldn’t possibly serve in war as he walked with a permanent limp. The neighbours overheard and they said “oh, that’s very lucky about your son” to which the farmer answered “maybe”.
Congratulations on your graduation and all the best in your lives ahead!