The Most Important Message Graduates Need to Hear
It’s not the most talented who succeed. It’s those who never stop trying.
Congratulations graduates! I remember being where you are today and looking out across the future which seemed unlimited in its possibilities. I thought I knew so much about life back then. I thought my skills and my knowledge had prepared me for life. But my degree only taught me how to succeed. It didn’t teach me how to fail and learn from pain itself.
We try to run from pain and wish it away. But it finds us no matter where or who we are. We’ve all had moments when we wonder how we will find a way forward, when we can hardly breathe, when life throws us down, again and again.
But pain also gives us the gift of grit, that powerful ability to make our way through the obstacles no matter how much it hurts. To keep fighting and to endure.
We know the famous stories of people who have achieved great things only because they never gave up.
Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became President.
Thomas Edison’s teachers told him that he was too stupid to learn anything, and he performed one thousand failed experiments before he discovered the light bulb.
Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job as an anchor in Baltimore for getting “too emotionally involved in her stories.”
Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts many times.
Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting, “The Red Vineyard,” in his life and that sale was just months before his death.
After Harrison Ford’s first small movie role, an executive took him into his office and told him he would never succeed in the movie business.
Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) had his first book rejected by 27 publishers.
Why didn’t they give up? If I failed at an experiment ten times, I’m not sure I would keep trying. If someone told me that I had no talent, I would probably believe him. At least I would start doubting my career choice.
What did Abraham Lincoln say to himself after he lost that eighth election? How did he pick himself up? What did he do with the pain?
What motivated Thomas Edison to begin his experiment again after one thousand failed attempts? What was he thinking? Would he have ever given up?
Why did Van Gogh keep painting when no one else recognized his talent?
What did Oprah Winfrey do right after she was fired? What steps did she take? What made her stay in the arena?
What will you say to yourself when the first one thousand ideas don’t work? Find your answer.
I don’t know the answers. I’m not famous and I haven’t invented anything extraordinary. But I do know that we need to run every race in life as hard as we can. Because when we cross the finish line, even if we are doubled over in pain, we will know that we have left nothing out there on the course. And at the next starting line, we will be less afraid of the pain.
I do know that when we are hurt and exhausted and have nothing left, we need to keep going. We need to try again. And when we get knocked down, let pain be our teacher. Let it teach us to say: I’m going to run until… I’m going to write until… I’m going to invent until… I’m going to try until…
Graduates, ask yourselves before you embark on your journeys: How will you keep going when life gets hard? What will you say to yourselves when the first one thousand ideas don’t work? Find your answer. Let pain be your teacher. And remember: It’s not the one with the most talent who gets the part. It’s not the person with the most knowledge who writes the book. It’s not the scientist with the most intelligence who invents incredible things. It’s the one who keeps trying until…
May God give you the courage to stay in the arena. The wisdom to learn from your pain. And the grit to keep trying until you succeed.