A Commencement Address For Would-Be Entrepreneurs

commencementDear Graduates:

You think you know, but you have no idea. You are woefully unprepared for what’s next. You are entitled to nothing. You are responsible for defining and creating your own success. And, the 9 to 5 job that you’ll be lucky to earn will leave you empty and unfulfilled.

That’s the advice I wished I had received upon graduating.

Instead, I was told to be proud of my achievements and enthusiastic about the future. Exactly none of my three commencement addresses (high school, undergrad, and graduate school) told me what I needed to know – graduation is not the culmination of anything, it’s just the beginning. It’s simply a formality. It’s a false sense of accomplishment amidst a lifelong learning process. A process that we are free to create, change, define, and redefine if we’d like.

Unfortunately, most graduates are presented with the same tired story. We’re told to set our sights high, dream big, and become the leaders of tomorrow.

What does that mean?

Armed with nothing more than a bunch of clichés graduates refine their resume, update their LinkedIn profile, and set out in search of a job. When presented with an entry level position that promises advancement, they jump at the offer. Most settle in and hope for a promotion. Some excel and advance. Fewer are able to find joy, purpose, or meaning in their day job.

Perhaps the best piece of advice any graduate could receive is a truth that any would-be entrepreneur knows at heart; we do not have to accept things as they are. But, if we decide to change or challenge the status quo we must assume the risk, be 100% committed to the task, and persevere beyond the point that any reasonable people would quit.

 

A Better Commencement Address

Instead of crafting a speech that will captivate an audience of former students, soon to be employees, it’s time to deliver a commencement address that will inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Attack Life

As Steve Case, former CEO of AOL put it, we can’t go on the defensive – we must be attackers. In his commencement address at the University of North Carolina Case said that “entrepreneurship is the secret sauce that has powered our economy.” Instead of defending what we have, Case challenges us to be “attackers,” “people with bold, innovative ideas, who are trying to disrupt the status quo, and usher in a better way.”

Get Uncomfortable

Most individuals who have achieved success speak to the importance of risk taking, embracing failure, and stepping out of our comfort zone. For instance, fashion celebrity Carson Kressley told graduates at the Philadelphia University that, “Not a single successful person … has ever done great things because they played it safe.”

Uncertainty is also part of the risk taking equation. While uncertainty paralyzes most, Jim Yong King, president of World Bank, encourages graduates to think of uncertainty as freedom. “Uncertainty means that the future is yours to shape—with the force of your will, the force of your intellect, and the force of your compassion.” King told the audience at Northeastern University to “take that freedom and run with it.”

Redefine Success

Although it’s important to pursue success in the broad sense, it’s more important for us to define and then create our own definition of success. Science has proven that money and material goods do not provide us with a sustained sense of meaning or happiness. Do not cling to extrinsic motivators as a representation of your accomplishments, work towards intrinsic contentment instead.

Arianna Huffington built on this idea when she urged us to identify what we value; “There should be a third metric of success behind money and power,” and it needs to be based on “well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and to give back … Money and power by themselves are a two-legged stool—you can balance on them for a while, but eventually you’re going to topple over.”

In Closing

No matter which path graduates choose, it’s vital that they not lose sight of their life’s work; themselves.

Vi Hart said that; “Your greatest creation is yourself. Like any great work of art, creating a great self means putting in hard work, every day, for years.”

This self masterpiece is an undertaking that will never be complete, but can be neglected if you allow it – don’t allow it!

About Joe Vennare

Joe is the co-founder of Hybrid Athlete where he writes, instructs and speaks about all things fitness. But, there’s more to him than just exercise, so he moonlights as a writer, bookworm and self-professed knowledge addict. For more, follow his business and fitness escapades on Twitter, @JoeVennare

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