My Commencement Speech: 5 Things I Would Tell Graduates

For the fifth month of the year I've been sharing tons of FIVES lists. There's only time for two more, but don't worry - I love lists, so there's always more to come.  Better your life in ways you can count on one hand, right here on


This morning on the radio I heard a few snippets of graduation commencement speeches from a variety of high profile people, like Jim Carrey and Sandra Bullock, and it got me to thinking about what I would say in a commencement speech if I were invited to give one (and who knows, maybe one day I will!).

Of course, I would want to encourage young adults while also giving them a dose of tough love.  I mean, they don't even know yet what they don't know.  (I sure didn't.)  I would want them to know that everything is possible, and never to settle, but also to stop whining and put in the hard work and be okay with being at the bottom of the food chain for a little while, while still keeping a wrinkle-free eye on the prize.  I would specifically have some advice for the women, things that my girlfriends and I now talk about and have learned independently and together, that can be passed down to the next generation of real-worlders.

Here are five things I would tell women graduating from college:

1. You are nothing, and you are everything.

You are nothing to other people until you've proven yourself.  There will always (or really, truly most of the time) be someone more experienced, more talented, more prepared, or with better ideas than you.  If you want it, if you love it, work for it.  That's the bottom line.  But also, you are everything.  Be everything to yourself.  Listen to your own voice.  Fill your own needs.  Be your own parent (even if you have wonderful parents, you're kind of on your own now, kid), your own housekeeper, your own assistant, your own best friend.  People WILL come and go.  You are your only constant.  

2. There's enough room at the top.

Think about how having a mentor who is in the exact top-of-the-food-chain position you dream of would aid in clearing the debris out of your career path and possibly change your life.  Be that person to others.  Never pass on helping someone because you want to get there first or be the only one to succeed.  If you're doing the work, if you believe in yourself, you will get there.  Others will cross along your path - give directions.

3. Love hard.  Let go easy.

Be the best friend, the best employee, the best girlfriend, you possibly can be.  Communicate.  Have empathy.  Be your authentic self.  And if it doesn't work, if it's not the right thing for you anymore (even if it was at one time  - no one is taking that away from you), then let it go.  Let it go and keep moving forward.  Even if all you can do for a while is take one breath at a time and put one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward.

4. Try lots of things.

You don't really know yet who you will become.  You can dream it, plan it, and shape it to an extent, but you can't force it.  Let the surprises of what you learn and how you grow along the way be delights and not reasons for panic.  How?  Try things.  Lots of things.  Outside of your comfort zone.  Fear and discomfort are signals for "this will change you."  Rock climb, visit Belize, spend a month on a sailboat, take cooking lessons (that's as scary to me as anything!), take a vacation by yourself just because, put a recording studio in your basement, or a potters wheel, and then use it.  Just, do.

5. Accept that life is short, but not that short.

Not everything you want will happen immediately.  Or this year. Or in your twenties.  Or maybe ever.  At twenty-one when I graduated college, I thought I would get "the job" and work my way to the top in a matter of months or a few very short years.  I would buy "the home" and marry "the guy" and have some beautiful babies and then turn, like, twenty-seven.  I'm thirty-one now.  I bought "the home" on my own and loved it and then sold it and moved to New York City.  I met a bunch of "ones" and then chose one and hope to marry him whenever the time is right for us.  I love my work and am enjoying building an empire and working hard and meeting people and trying everything.  Oh, and on my twenty-seveth birthday? My friend said to me, "want to go to Paris with me?" and we left the next week.

Those are two very different pictures, aren't they?  Know which one I like better?  The real one.  If I had the first life, I am pretty sure that I would have woken up on that twenty-seventh birthday and thought, "but what now?" instead of, "what's next!?"  I'm not saying you can't have a family, home, or top notch job in your twenties.  I AM saying, don't force it or expect it.  Your journey is longer than you think.  Yes, life is short.  But it's not that short.  See beyond the immediate.

So, when you take off that cap and gown, take a deep breath, and LIVE.