Thanks to modern technology we all now have the ability to learn and grow from commencement speeches. It is a very American tradition but us Brits can definitely learn a lot from the often wise words of the right commencement speaker. I was particularly moved by the commencement address given by Shonda Rhimes (writer of Grey's Anatomy) on June 8th 2014 at Dartmouth University. She imparted an important message that it is time for us to ditch our dreams and start living.
She started the address focusing us on the fact that we all talk a great talk of positive thinking but we should be positive 'doing'
"I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing."
It is so important to put your action plans into action otherwise they are just words on a piece of paper that will never materialise. We so often navel gaze and Shonda is right that the lint in our navels gets embarrassed for us! She goes on to impart a three point lesson.
"Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward"
I often tell my clients and write about the fact that happiness is best experienced when one is constantly moving towards a goal. It is imperative that we keep moving forward because stagnation is the main component of a severely challenged life. Shonda pushes herself and inspires the next generation of graduates to do the same.
"Lesson two is that tomorrow is going to be the worst day ever for you."
This is true for the graduates as they are going to be flung into the big wide world. When we face a crossroads we often have the same dread of the uncertainty as to what our choices will bring. We can hesitate to avoid the potential fear, but the graduates have no choice. They are have their comfort rug whipped from underneath them. Just like pulling off a plaster we should push ourselves to metaphorically pull our own rug from underneath ourselves, so we can find our own feet and use them to move in a more positive direction.
"Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it's good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it."
"So you're out there, and you're giving back and you're doing, and it's working. And life is good. You are making it. You're a success. And it's exciting and it's great... And people are constantly asking me, how do you do it?"
The question most clients need to ask themselves is do I have a good work/life balance and how is that working for me? Shonda explains that it's impossible to be perfect and that we often face the Faustian deal that everything in life comes as a package. To gain in one area of your life, you often lose a little in another.
"If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids' Halloween costumes, I'm probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby's first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter's debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh's last scene ever being filmed at Grey's Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous."
It's a powerful message, happiness is not perfection, it is acceptance that there can be balance but there will always be give and take.