May 13, 2010
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. So…you did it!!! I’m so proud of you!!
Today, you officially join an ancient and noble profession. I know all the faith and effort and hard work it took to get here, and I salute each and every one of you for your extraordinary achievement.
This is also a very special day for all those who have helped you reach this point—your families, your friends, and your teachers. And I’m sure you’d like to take this opportunity to thank them.
Commencement is typically an occasion to meditate on the significance of success. Today, I’d like to turn that tradition on its head… and explore with you instead the importance of failure. Now, if you look back over my life, you might think I’ve chosen to talk about failure because I’ve been so good at it!
In other words, if things have turned out pretty well for me, it’s certainly not because I was a fast starter! Instead, I believe it’s because I learned from my disappointments and missteps. And I’d say I did two things right: I always tried to recognize when I did make a mistake, so it wouldn’t take on a life of its own…and I vowed never to make the same mistake again.
The key point, I think, is not just that everyone stumbles now and then, but that success in the deepest sense can’t happen without failure being part of the mix. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes, or feel you have to make excuses if you do. And—though it’s a tall order—you have to try and see adversity as an ally in disguise.
So what is it about failing that’s so important?
Well, first, I’d say that, unless it breaks you, it teaches you resilience. You learn to separate your ego from the importance of what you’re trying to do.
I’m convinced that people to whom success comes easily and early (not me)… rarely prove transcendent in the long run. Maybe, as time goes on, they spend their energies trying to avoid failure because they never really got the chance to prove to themselves they could survive it….
….or maybe they come to crave the accolades, and get caught up in trying to “look good,” and ultimately, in making sure they never “look bad.”
Failure is important because it forges your strength as a person.
And if you define success as accomplishing something meaningful with your life—as I’m sure you do—you have to be certain … right from the beginning…that you distinguish it from success for its own sake.
Whatever you do, you will have moments of feeling you didn’t get what you deserve. And the defining question will be what you do with that.
So let me leave you with these thoughts about the paradox of failure.
So I hope you will go forward from this day understanding that –from anything I know at least—if you hit dark patches where nothing seems to be working, that will probably be a pretty clear sign that you’re on the right track!
Bravo, again, to each of you. Believe in yourselves… and in the transcendent mission you’ve embraced. And remember that every time you make someone else’s life better, easier, more comfortable, you’ll have hit the one kind of home run that echoes forever…whether the record books cite it…or not.
Thank you very much.