Graduation and transforming your life from a road to success to a path with heart.

Thanks to everyone - especially Carlos Gutierrez and the MORE office staff.

I have 20 minutes to say something of interest, something inspiring.  That isn’t long enough for a sitcom – it takes hours and hours for the bachelor to pick a wife from dozens of beautiful women with an entire nation watching, it takes an hour to find out who is not getting married in Grey’s Anatomy, and it takes weeks to find out how many days Paris will spend in jail and what she will eat.  So, what makes me hope that I can say something in 20 minutes that will transform anything? How arrogant is it for me, when I don’t even know you, to think I could come up with words that might transform your life?  So, I entitled this talk “Graduation and transforming your life from a road to success to a path with heart” because I thought it would make me think about what we were all doing here and what graduation can be.  This transformation is not about lowering standards – but about setting priorities.

First, let’s look at what a road is. You know a road.  It is something you go down, something you take to get from point A to point B, it is something that you have to travel overuse to get to the future.  Do you see what is along the road?  Well, almost never because you are going too fast, are too busy, and have someplace to go.  The only time you might notice a road is if you get a flat tire or your car stops or worse yet someone coming towards you in your lane.  Then something happens and BAM you stop and notice where you are.

For most of us our life is a road, punctuated by stops – a birthday party, a first date, seeing the face of the man or woman you love, giving birth, the death of a loved one, getting or losing a car, retiring – and, yes, graduation.

So, here you are, graduating, at a momentary stop.  You are done with tests, stopped for the celebrations, and waiting for the gifts, and looking forward to the rest of your life! And that is why I feel so lucky that our paths have crossed and I want to share some ideas with you. 

First of all, why it is worth transforming your road into a path?   I don’t want to dwell on death, but when John Kennedy Jr. died in the plane crash, I heard something that stuck in my mind.  Jesse Jackson said that we all live as if life were certain and death were uncertain, when, in fact, it is quite the opposite.  When you are graduating, you aren’t thinking about death – and shouldn’t be – but it is important to realize, that as graduation is a closure, so life itself is finite.  What each of us do with the life we have and the person we become is our choice – and the time each of us has for this experiment, this exercise is not yet known.

So, let me just suggest, from some experience, that finding a path with heart is critical to your being and becoming the great person you have inside you.  Many in your generation have as a life’s goal, to be a billionaire.  I would argue that while financial security is a good thing, making a fortune is not the most important thing and if your path is not one you find meaningful, money won’t fill the void.  I believe that making a difference – where ever that is – using the gifts and vision you have; growing as big a heart as you can; and taking opportunities to do good are most important.   I have a friend who is very wealthy and who is sick right now.  This person told me that they would give all their money to be healthy again.  Money isn’t everything.   We might remember who Howard Hughes was but we remember what Einstein, Mother Teresa, and Ceasar Chavez, Martin Luther King thought and did.

Martin Luther King wasn’t born speaking.  He didn’t change the world in high school or college – but he built who he was, step by thoughtful step, over time.  We aren’t going to be great when we get there unless we grow to greatness on our path.  There is not one athletic event that you become great at by doing nothing.  The accumulation of experience – thoughtful experience, starting this very moment - makes your life important, your days full, and your heart large.

So what keeps us from transforming our life into a path with heart?  There are a number of things that do this – some external and some internal to ourselves.  In other words, we sometimes cause this ourselves! 

One of the biggies is fear.  “I have to be beautiful to be happy.  I have to be handsome, rich, and on and on, to be happy.  So, I can’t be happy now – maybe I won’t ever be happy – I’ll be a FAILURE.”  If I don’t get into Stanford or go to this dance or have this outfit or get this grade, I will be a FAILURE!! 

How many of you have had times when you have felt inadequate, lacked self confidence, or thought to yourself that you couldn’t make it? Fear can immobilize you when you don’t feel up to the job – whether it is being beautiful, rich, or some other external measure that you have.

How many of you are planning on going to graduate school?  What you will find is that at some point, everyone has the idea “once they really know me, they’ll know I can’t do this.  I’m not good enough”  Well, let it go.  Put one foot in front of the other.  If you walk your path with honesty and thoughtfulness, you are up to the task, you will see that you, your friends, and family are beautiful, thoughtful, and wealthy in many ways and, even more amazing, INTERESTING.  – and you develop something that is even more valuable – you have a full, compassionate life full of the love you give and that you receive, you are happy now, you are an agent of change, and you are a leader.  So, go on,  I give you permission, encourage you, and challenge you to be fearless.

Another block in the path is, for lack of a better word, fundamentalism.  By this, I mean the idea that there is only one way to see something or one way to handle a situation. There are fundamentalists in every group.  But if it were true that there was only one solution, why would we have so many different apostles who wrote gospels, or so many mystery stories – so many different models of cars, types of music, or ongoing scientific research?   No one culture has all the answers, no one language can touch every emotion, no one person’s ideas are enough.  So I ask you to please keep your minds and hearts open.

Another thing that blinds you to your path is the habit of living in the future.  It is a common practice and our society encourages it.  How many times have you heard that you are the future?  How many times have you thought – when I grow up I will do this or that or not do something?   Of course, we all have to think about the future, but our society encourages us to live completely in the future.  I’ll be happy when we have this house or this car or when I have kids or that job or get this much salary. 
A philosopher Eckhart Tolle said “our striving for the future, our inner compulsion to deny the present moment , manifests itself as a continuous sense of unease and latent dissatisfaction with what is.”  So we ignore the present until - BAM – we are stopped by an event or someone in your lane.

The future is now.  It is built of all the “nows”, the step by steps, the moments that take you to greatness, whatever that is for you.

Alright, so I know the importance of living in the present and finding a path with heart and I know some things that get in my way – but how do I find my path?  First, find time to listen to your heart, then practice giving back.  Start by taking time to look around and thank those who have helped you – even, or maybe especially, the janitors and the secretaries, waiters - whoever – because everyone who has touched your life in a positive way had the choice to do that – and you have the choice to notice that or not.  They have lifted you up – and it takes only a moment to lift them up for their unselfish service.

You know the saying “think globally and act locally”?  I sometimes think of my life, what I do, as a bucket of water.  When I do good things, I drop a pebble in the bucket and that creates a wave.  But, interestingly, I have no idea how far that wave propagates – and sometimes I am very surprised by how far it goes – and most times, I have no idea.  Your lives are like that, too.  You can change the world one act at a time.  One act of kindness, one helping hand, one moment when you take the time to talk to a younger child or a friend and tell them how you see the world or how their behavior might be more loving starts something moving.  Because you are young, other people don’t expect you to speak up or take the lead. You are free to do something really amazing because people don’t expect it.   Doing this exercise on a regular basis will help you become a more sensitive, responsible, and compassionate person and, eventually, a great and effective leader.

Drop that pebble!

I have a little true story to tell you.  A few years ago, I was in a long line at Costco.  The women in the line next to mine saw that I had some bing cherries and she remarked that her husband loved bing cherries.  It wasn’t possible for her to go back and get some cherries, so we continued to talk about things.  When we reached the check out counter, I handed her the package of cherries and she was very, very grateful.  The check out clerks said what a nice thing that I did.  Anyway, about 9 months later, I was at a Christmas party for the new group my husband had just started working with.  There was a Hispanic man there, so I went to talk with him.  We talked about New Mexico, and the small town he was from – where I new some people – and after about 20 minutes our conversation turned to talking about produce at Costco.  He said he really liked their bing cherries.  I remarked that this was interesting because about 9 months ago, I’d been in line at Costco…and he finished my sentence “and you gave some cherries to a woman – that was my wife.”  Then he said, you know, she was so amazed to have something that nice happen in Albuquerque, that she has been doing good deeds ever since.” 

Drop that pebble – you never know how far a small good deed will reach.

What else?  Well, take time, remind yourself to notice things, reflect on your day.  If you realize you have gone a day with out saying thank you, without having an idea inspired by your experiences, or without laughing with your friends and family – then stop.  If you feel yourself thinking that your life has some terrible void or you are on the verge of falling off a cliff – stop!  Go to a park, the woods, your bedroom, your back yard, or the beach and let go of fear, pay attention to the moment, and find your heart again.

What if something bad happens on your path?  I know a student who got a DWI  - a felony charge.  We had a long talk about it and I explained that this event could either be what keeps them from getting into graduate school or what gets them into graduate school.  Over the past year, we have worked on how this student faces and takes responsibility for the DWI and, finally, how it can be seen as a blessing.  No one was killed.  The student’s irresponsible drinking was stopped early in his life.  He started to deal with what was driving this behavior.  It was a wake up call– and all those of us who know him, know that he has grown from this.  It will be one of the major events that gets him into graduate school.

What I want to say is that there are blessings in everything, even the bad things – you can choose to let events make you completely miserable or you can find the good in them.  When you find the good in them, they make you stronger and become important handholds on your path.

So, we have wandered together for a moment and I have mentioned a few things – paying attention to how fear, fundamentalism, and living in the future can keep you from seeing your path.  I have talked about the exercises you can do as you walk along. 

Each of us brings to this world something unique.  We decide whether to take this responsibility seriously or not.  It is a responsibility – to be honest to yourself and others and to be a leader – ready to make the hard decisions, if necessary.  And by seriously, I don’t mean solemnly, because I think humor is terribly important.  What I mean is that you need to become the best you – no matter what you do - not just for yourself, but for your family, for your school, your town, for all of us.

My son Alex has always liked a paraphrase of something Martin Luther King had said, “if you haven’t found a reason to die, you haven’t found a reason to live”.  I think what touched him most about that was that it so clearly described the importance of living a meaningful, passionate life.  This doesn’t mean your life should be a soap opera – but that it should be important to you, it should be a path with heart.  Making a difference is the foundation for that importance.  Turning off the TV is another step. Realize that the culture is trying to make you feel that the rich, famous, and beautiful people are more than you are, that you just need to buy something or have plastic surgery to be perfect and happy –  is a lie, you know it is a lie.   But is a lie that we have to work hard not to believe. 

I am so happy that our paths have crossed. Please take the time to be quiet and reflect what your heart is telling you, talk with your friends and family, thank those who have helped you, practice generosity, leadership, and action, pay attention, and write down your ideas.

I will close with a Taoist saying.  Making milk from water means to make something of what you have.  

Time is fleeting, learning is vast
No one knows the duration of ones’ life.
Therefore, choose the swans’ art of making milk from water
And devote yourself to the most precious path.