"Never in a Million Years"
by Kimberly Novosel
Meadville Area Senior High School
June 10, 2016
Thank you Principal Higgins. Hello Class of 2016, teachers and faculty, proud parents, family and friends.
You’ll have to pardon the southern accent I’ve picked up. I’ve been gone a long time now.
Fifteen years ago I sat in one of those chairs, in this room, ready and so eager for what was to come outside the walls of this high school and beyond the roads of my hometown. Never in a million years could I have imagined I'd stand on the red carpet at the Grammy awards alongside Beyonce, ride four wheelers across the desert in Arizona, take a trip to Paris by myself on a whim, or double stick tape Miley Cyrus into a Roberto Cavalli gown (back when she wore gowns). Never in a million years would I have imagined I'd live in LA, New York, Portland Oregon, and Nashville. Officiate a wedding on a beach in Mexico. Run a half marathon. Publish a book. Survive hurricane sandy and several broken hearts. Start my own artist management firm where I get to do what I love every single day. And truly, never in a million years, would I have imagined I'd be invited to come back to give this speech here today.
Hellen Keller wisely said, "Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all." It really is. I am living proof. As you set out into what lies ahead, you are in for the adventure, literally, of a lifetime. Trust me when I tell you that as you sit here today, never in a million years can you imagine the amazing things that lie ahead for you.
There are a few lessons I've learned in the fifteen years since I sat where you are that you may take with you as you set off on your incredible journey. I won't tell you WHO to be, I'll tell you HOW to be. These are my five BEs.
FIRST, Be really freaking patient.
Not everything you want will happen immediately. Or this year. Or in your twenties. At twenty-one when I graduated college, I thought I would get "the job” and work my way to the top into my own well decorated corner office in a matter of months or a few very short years. I would buy "the home” and have a family and then turn, like, twenty-seven. (The parents laughed at that but you students will just have to trust me, students, that life actually gets better after twenty-seven.) I was frustrated and full of impatience when just out of college “the dream job” I landed was in an office without any windows. I hadn’t earned the windows yet! No one was going to magically appoint me head of a record label or manager of a major artist just because I thought I was ready. But that job led to working on the TV show Nashville Star, and music videos for Blake Shelton and Josh Turner. That work led me to start an artist development company at which I was my only employee, which evolved into the management company I have now with a business partner and a team where I get to shape the careers of some really talented musicians.
Instead of “having it all” by twenty-seven, I was still discovering - I was figuring out what I was good at, what I may become exceptional at, about how the music industry was changing because of streaming and social media and what that meant for my career, and I was meeting more people who would provide valuable support to me as time went on. I was moving to New York to try something different and brought some outside perspective and a bit of a thicker skin back to Nashville. I was starting a business so that instead of a well-decorated corner office I’d have a shot at a whole empire. I was becoming a stronger decision maker and a better leader. And I was having a lot of fun while doing it. I didn’t know it at the time, especially in the earlier moments I was buying groceries with spare change, but I was living my daring adventure.
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 my twenty-seventh birthday and thought, "but what now?" instead of, "what's next!?" I'm not saying you can't or won’t have a family, home, or dream job in your twenties. I AM saying, don't force it or expect it. Don’t declare yourself a failure for not having achieved a certain level of success by some arbitrary deadline. Keep working hard. Keep exploring and discovering. Learn to love living in the “meantime.” I promise you, life is not that short.
SECOND, Be your own best friend.
My last semester of college I spent in a not-actually-abroad abroad program in LA, interning in MGM's music supervision department where I got to help research and select music for movies. "Maybe I'll stay in LA," I remember thinking. "Maybe I'll work where music and movies come together, and live in Venice beach, and surf on the weekends." When MGM didn't offer me a job at the end of the semester, I was disappointed. But I shouldn't have been. My supervisors could see what I couldn't. I did the work fine, but I didn't love it. It didn't drive me. I wouldn't have spent my days wanting to be there rather than anywhere else. I didn't really love to surf, either. I wasn't asking myself the right questions. I wasn't hearing my own voice loud and clear. Now, even on the really hard days when nothing is going right, I still love what I do.
Somewhere along the line, I got to know myself. I started asking myself the right questions. I learned to pinpoint my north on my compass, even if it was different from everyone else’s. And I learned to use that compass to make my own decisions, move forward, and not look back.
People will come and go in your life. You are your greatest constant. You can't abandon you. You can't move away from you. You can't break up with you. You can't grow apart from you. Nourish the relationship you have with yourself. Get to know yourself well. Celebrate your strengths. Be honest and kind to yourself about your weaknesses. Love yourself unconditionally. Try new things all the time. Treat yourself with great care. Trust your own gravity to lead you.
Author Augusten Burroughs wrote, "You will feel a pendulum swing within you, favoring one direction or another. And that is your answer. The answer is always inside your chest. The right choice weighs more."
Find north on your compass and follow it. Be your own best friend and even in the moments you’re alone, you will not be lost.
THIRD, Be limitless.
When I moved to New York, I wanted to find a workout I could afford on a more limited budget. (It’s true that New York is super expensive, y’all.) Prior to then I’d taken the occasional yoga class with friends or maybe ran-slash-walked a 5K for a good cause. Fitness was never my thing. I didn’t grow up an athlete. I wasn’t built for it, physically or mentally. Or so I thought. In New York I discovered that there was a track down the street in a public park – Lucky me! Free fitness! Unluckily, running had always been one of my least favorite activities. “I’m not a runner,” I had said over and over throughout my life. Yet I was determined.
Starting at a slow pace, I jogged around the track a lap or two before my lungs hurt and I had to walk. I might have been wearing my nearly ten year old Meadville cheerleading shoes. Every day I did this again. My agreement with myself was that I could go as slow as I needed to, so long as I ran further than the day before. I was kind to myself and patient with my improvement. There were tricks I invented to distract my doubting mind, for example I would picture clones of myself cheering me on, or each lap I would think of a new goal for myself, or another person I was grateful to have in my life. And wouldn’t you know, in less than three months I was able to run three miles - a 5K - in 27 minutes. And I actually kinda liked it! I went ahead and bought new running shoes.
This blew me away. It still does. I believed I wasn’t a runner. I thought it wasn’t in me. I thought I wasn’t capable. But none of that was ever true. After I broke that first huge barrier, there wasn’t much to stop me from breaking more in other aspects of my life. That simple shift in perspective changed me entirely. I no longer look at things as “can’t” and “can” or “able to” and “unable to.” Instead, I see things as “I haven’t tried it yet” or “I haven’t yet learned how.” But everything is possible.
You are capable of more than you can imagine. When I sat where you are now, I wasn’t the star athlete. I wasn’t the valedictorian or even a straight A student. I wasn’t the best dancer in my ballet classes or the best performer in my theatre productions or the best singer in chorus. I actually wasn’t a very good singer which is why I now make musicians and not music. I was - to be honest - average. And that’s because I believed I was average. Nothing has been decided for you. There are no limits placed on you aside from the ones you place on yourself, and it’s entirely up to you to remove them. “You haven’t tried it yet” and “you haven’t yet learned how,” but if you believe you can, you will. You are limitless.
FOURTH, Be absolutely fearless.
Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, said: "fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It's the mastery of fear."
You won’t be able to avoid the storms in life, and you shouldn’t. Instead, you can determine how to approach them. When a buffalo senses an oncoming storm, he runs into it, knowing that moving toward the storm rather than away from it will lessen the time he has to endure it. His courage reduces his suffering.
I have vowed to live like the buffalo. If something scares me in its greatness, like living in New York City or running a half-marathon or starting a business, I move in its direction. I Whether you fail or succeed isn’t the point. When I wrote my book, a novel called Loved, there were pieces in the story that were parts of my own life. My own secrets. My own mistakes. If I had been too fearful of putting those things out into the world, I wouldn’t have inspired my readers to learn from my mistakes and live stronger, bolder lives themselves. Here’s another example: I’m really quite nervous to be standing up here speaking to you. You’re all looking at me, and listening to what I think are interesting stories and smart lessons and maybe a few funny jokes. Or you may not even be listening which would be worse. But if I had said no, I wouldn’t have the chance to do something that never in a million years would I have thought I’d be invited to do. And honestly, let me just take this in for a second, because this is really pretty awesome. This is a moment I’ll never forget. And hopefully in attempting to master fear today I’ve been able to inspire you a little bit.
So, whether it means speaking in front of hundreds of people or climbing a mountain or even dedicating the next few years of your life to doing well in college, run toward what scares you. Face the challenges. Savor them. It is surviving the storms that makes life worth living.
Those are the first four BEs. Be really freaking patient. Be your own best friend. Be limitless. And be absolutely fearless.
But, most importantly, if you only remember one thing from what I've said to you today, let it be the fifth BE.
The future you, who could be standing up here in fifteen years. Who could be changing the world by giving shoes to children in need or sharing important news via your own media company or publishing New York Times best selling books, or a thousand other really incredible things, you are already becoming that person. Starting today, the choices you make shape who you’ll become. Not once you are wiser or richer or older, but right now. So I’m challenging you to do your best every day with what you have. Beginning today, you get to decide who you are becoming.
That's the fifth "be" - no matter where life takes you from here, be your very best self.