What’s the best advice ever given at a graduation commencement speech? I think it was given by Admiral William McRaven last year at the University of Texas graduation. McRaven commanded the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. McRaven spoke to the Texas graduates about the ten most important lessons he learned from the difficult SEAL training program. His first lesson is, in my opinion, probably the best advice I’ve heard.
It is, “Start your day by making your bed.” Why? McRaven stated that if you do so, it will mean that the first thing you do in the morning is to accomplish something, which sets the tone for the day, encourages you to accomplish more, and reinforces that little things in life matter. “And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made,” McRaven said, “and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
I also have advice for graduates. Since I haven’t been asked to speak anywhere, I’ll give it to you here. It is, “Graduates, it’s not about you.”
I can tell by that shocked look on your faces you’ve probably never heard this before. You have grown up in a world where high self-esteem is the ultimate goal. Parents, teachers, education officials, media and other adults have made sure of that.
Proper self-esteem is important, but the adults in your life have their reasons for wanting you to “feel good about yourself.” Your parents have been told by the “experts” that if they didn’t build you up and do everything exactly right you would turn into an ax murderer. And that would be a bad reflection on their parental skills.
Adults in institutions and organizations need you to need them. If they can help make you feel “special,” then they can justify their existence. Of course, there are a lot of adults who have been there in your life to help just because they care. And they also have listened to the “experts’ and don’t want a potential ax murderer loose in the neighborhood. Business and retail treat you as special because they want you to buy their stuff. And the media is there to help them sell you their stuff. They want you to feel “special” by buying their stuff.
Graduates, you will learn soon enough that employers are not out there just to provide you a job. Their purpose is to make a profit. If your labor and skill assist in this goal, you may get employment. If not, they will hire a candidate more suitable. It’s just that simple, it’s not about you.
And that pool of candidates for those jobs has grown tremendously over the past ten years. Remember when you called tech support for help on your computer last month. The person with the strange accent on the other end of the line was not from Raleigh or California, but from somewhere in India. By the way, he’s willing to work more hours and for half the pay than you are.
You’re thinking, “What about me? Don’t you know I’m special?” Graduates, every young generation thinks that they are “special.” I know my generation did. And I’m sure there were older people back then warning us of impending doom. But the difference is, I came into the job market at a time of an expanding economy, not today’s stagnant, debt-ridden economy. Also, my competition in the job market came from places like Roseboro and Raleigh. Today your competition will be not only from Roseboro and Raleigh, but also Hong Kong and Mumbai.
A quote I read from “USA Today” a few years ago probably explains what you are feeling right now. It stated, “If you grow up in a culture that says it’s all about you, it’s hard to think it isn’t.” So, I challenge you to change your thinking.
“It’s not about you.” That’s the first line in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life. In the book he states that it is not about me and my plans, wants and desires. It is about determining and achieving God’s purpose in our lives. If you do that, then you will find the life and career that you were created for.
But, maybe in some ways, it is about you. Or it will be. In finding God’s purpose for your lives, your generation may be able to tackle and handle the many social and economic problems that the older generation (that’s the rest of us) have been unwilling to face. That will make you “special.” Just don’t hate us for the mess we’re leaving you.
And remember to make up your bed in the morning.