A Message to H.S. and College Graduates

What you do today determines your level of happiness tomorrow. I sure wish this was my graduation speech. View the full transcript below.

I’m going to tell you young men and women today that life sucks.

You may think it sucks now, but it gets worse. You are probably going to be unhappy in your life.

Here’s the thing. We’re all kind of bred into this society where we’re taught that if you work hard enough and believe enough, that you’ll become everything you want to be. That’s not true.

Something that all young people need to learn is that nobody cares about you. Your mom may, your dad might, maybe your brothers and sisters, but outside of that, no one cares for you. If my best friend were faced with the choice of his family getting blown up in a bomb, or me getting shot in the head, he’s going to choose me getting shot in the head. Because nobody cares about you. When you get a job, your boss is not going to give a crap about you.

Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be about 30 times smarter than your boss and much more educated. They’re going to make the dumbest decisions, and you’re going to scream and yell and say, “You know what? I can do a better job!” But nobody cares. Nobody cares! The only thing that’s important is that that comfy chair in the corner office is filled. Oh, and by the way, there’s a line of people waiting to be next, waiting to be next.

I hope you don’t end up like me, where you get into a company after company after company. You work hard and you set high expectations for yourself, and you run into the glass ceiling every time. Every time. Every time.

You know where I’m heading now? I’ve got this suit and this tie. I’m looking real nice and fancy. Well, I’m heading to a Sam’s Club to sell therapeutic back massagers. Yup, I’m that guy that’s gonna pull you aside and try to get you to buy something that you don’t want. Do you think I like that? Do you think I go to bed every night looking forward to another day of making hardly any sales?

You know what sucks most about life? We all have one chance. It’s crazy when you think about that. It’s like, you’ve got one chance to pick one career out of the millions that are out there. You have one chance to pick a place where you love to live. Pick a passion. One chance to set up a life for yourself that you love to live.

I wish… I don’t know. I wish I could do it over again. And maybe…. maybe you can. Don’t, don’t find yourself in this position where you’re sitting in a Sam’s Club waiting to go inside to be rejected time and time again because nobody wants to buy the product that you’re selling. Don’t. Don’t do that.

I guarantee you that you’re going to look back one day and you’re doing to wish beyond anything else that you can redo it. Consider this your redo.

Let’s just say you’ve already lived my life. Let’s just say you’ve already been on the streets. Let’s just say you’ve already struggled. You’ve already lived an unhappy life. Pretend that you’re already living your second chance!

Pretend that you are your future. That you don’t like what you do, that your job makes you miserable, that the glass ceiling has beat you black and blue! Pretend that you’ve been through it all. Pretend that you’ve been through the thick and the worst of it. And decide today at the start of summer vacation, that you are going to fix it!

You’re going to make a good life for yourself. You’re going to set up a life that you love! No matter how much hard work it takes. Start today. You’re going to have the rest of your life to do anything you want. But you’re not going to if you’re stuck at a 9-5 where you’re working for five different managers who don’t give a rip about you.

Guys, figure out what you want to do. And figure it out now. Now is your time to invest in what you love. Forget the sports cars, forget the money, forget the girls, for now. Take all the money you have and put it in what you love. What do you love to do? Get good at what you love! Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re working for five different bosses. Because you’re not going to get their seat. You’re not going to get their offices. It’s not going to happen.

No matter how good your intentions, no matter how honorable your ideas are, you’re always going to be told no. Well, this is the biggest yes you’re going to get in your life. Go for it. Go for whatever it is you want to do. Make it your life. Make it your passion, and do it. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I really think it’ll be worth it.

Now you probably need a laugh:

Why “Being Yourself” is Actually Good Advice

I’ll be honest. I’ve always hated the advice, “Be yourself.”

Before a big speech or presentation or job interview, the last words echoing in your head are usually, “Be yourself.”

(Not so much if you’re about to act in a play. Then you don’t want to take that advice.)

But I always wanted something more from my supporters, like some grand philosophical entreaty from the Greek gods.

But I was always left with, “Just be yourself.” And why did I hate that? Because honestly, I’ve always kind of hated myself.

I hated my voice, my cereal gut, my bald spot. I’ve had some serious insecurities. So much so that not too long ago I deliberately lowered my voice to sound more like Bear from Armageddon. 

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As a result, a supervisor at work repeatedly asked if I was okay and said that I sounded like I just heard the truth about Santa Claus. After a week my wife lost it and told me to stop and that it’s annoying.

Recently my best friend wrote me something which kind of took me back. He spoke about how I have this gift of storytelling and evoking emotion in people when I speak. The truth is, the information I deliver may be utter bullshit, but I have this Steve-Jobs ability to make people feel, despite how annoying I think my voice is. My friend ended on this note:

And so, my advice to you is to learn to open up. Tap in to that inner place in your heart that is hidden from everyone else. Let the darkness see the light. For it is when we are most vulnerable and raw that we can truly impact the emotions of others. Because…you can actually influence others to be on your side. Storytelling is a way to relate to others and a way for them to relate to you. It’s a way for us to feel human. And before long, we find out that we all have similar journeys and experiences and that, despite what we may think, we aren’t in it alone after all. 

So yeah, I might get plugs when I hit the jackpot, and I can promise myself for the millionth time that I’m going to stop eating cereal and lose weight, and I can change my voice to sound like the Green Giant, but none of that will replace my skill of changing opinions through my orating, influencing ideas, and guiding peoples’ emotions like a crossing guard.

So when people tell you to be yourself, tap into your strengths. They’re not saying to lift your shirt and expose your fat, or to point to your twitching eye, or to walk around with a sign over your head saying, “ACCIDENTAL SLOB,” or “SUCKY CONVERSATIONALIST.”

They’re saying to be the best things about yourself. BE that confident speaker. BE that wonderful artist. Let your voice ring through the concert hall. Let your fingers fly across that piano.

Here’s the thing. We all have insecurities. They’re about 60% of who we are. Our confidence ranges from about 5-10%. The other stuff is just what we’re okay with.

When you’re told to be yourself, they mean to check the 60% at the door. Go in there and inflate your 5-10% to 70%, because now you’ve got a 60% gap to fill. If you’re awkward talking to people, capitalize on it. Point out that you’re awkward, be comfortable enough to joke about it, but make sure that what you have to say is going to knock their socks off.

Think about why your friends are your friends. They’re not friends with you because of your thin hair or your personal hygiene or because you have to drop a deuce  every half an hour. They’re friends with you in spite of those things. They’re friends with you because they love the 5-10% of what you’re so often trying to bury underneath your 60%.

That 5-10% of awesomeness is what draws people to you. It’s what gets you ahead.

And it’s what you need to focus on expanding and bringing to the forefront. No one cares that I’m balding, even though I do. But if I can forget about it and check it at the door, I then can make room to be more of my awesome self instead of my insecure self.

So today, go out there and be yourself. Really dig into that 5-10% you’ve been hiding from everyone and just let it out, and then you’ll find that you’re not as awful as you once thought. Because, as my friend said, we’re really just all the same.

The Most Important Thing to Have at Work

I’ve been asked to pitch some ideas for an intracompany newsletter at my job today. The point of it being two-fold:

  1. To increase better communication between colleagues and management
  2. To make work fun

They don’t know it, but I’ve gone over and beyond with a Power Point presentation all set up and everything. In honor of Michael Scott, I even thought about throwing out candy bars during the pitch.

But it got me thinking a lot about having fun at work.

Why is that such a big deal and is it that important?

Speaking to a buddy of mine, I asked him the question I ask almost everyone I come in contact with: “What do you want out of life?” His answer: “I want to have fun at work. I want to sit back and laugh with my friends while we get work done.”

When we’re kids we naturally gravitate toward anything that’s bright, colorful, or even has the potential to be fun or funny.  Then we go through a phase where we back off from that sort of stuff for appearance’s sake. But once we’ve been in the dark long enough, as adults we crave what we fought so hard to obtain as kids.

We want the fun back.

We browse YouTube for hours looking for the next big laugh.

Fun and humor stimulate us. Back when I was the director of some after school programs, our best and most successful ideas came out of just gabbing and cracking jokes. Ed Catmull, in his brilliant and flawless book, Creativity, Inc. says the same thing about his team of power brains making all those Pixar movies.

Fun begets passion. When there’s no fun, there’s no passion. Passion drives ideas. Passion almost always benefits the bottom line. 

If you’re the owner of a company, imagine if all of your employees had passion on the clock. How much better would your customers be treated? How much could your business grow because of that?

I love the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. Like, even though we can’t own it since there’s kids in the house, that movie is on my list of top five favorites. Why? Because those dudes be havin’ FUN! Sure, they broke the law and got busted, but I don’t think they ever looked back and regretted the fun they had.

wows-dwarfI also don’t think it’s a coincidence that my favorite band is Fun..

So, I challenge you to put together a list of ideas for your team at work, or for your manager, and present this simple yet beautiful idea of fun. If you can’t do that, start cracking jokes at company meetings, shake things up. Wear a funny hat to work or pull some pranks. Some work environments might not like it, so know the rules and don’t get yourself fired (and if you’re in that sort of situation, get out of there already), but find little things you can do to brighten up your day. Because when you’re happy, others will be happy, too. Happiness is contagious.

Here’s a little something I did at work not too long ago. My little addition to the janitor’s sign was taken down after like, a minute, but I did see the guy after me walk out smiling.

Now, start aiming for a good time. Life is short (and it’s even shorter if you die of a heart attack because work is so stressful and boring).