I love graduation season. Graduations are some of the moments most of us remember most clearly, marking both an ending and a new beginning…a time of massive change and promise and yes, fear. I take note of the nostalgia that arrives as the season does, and I love the sense of possibility and optimism and truth that comes with it. For people like me, whose only “graduation” this year is a kid’s migration from diapers to underwear, the posts and re-posts of graduation speeches that share nuggets of wisdom that both take us back to another time and make us think about our lives today. Even if we’re worlds away from being twenty-two.
Transcripts and videos of speeches are all around us this time of year. Time has a list of the top 10 graduation speeches of all time (yes, the famous Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford is on the list), as well as a great editorial by Ken Robinson about “What Graduation Speeches Should Say, but Don’t.” (in short, our education system needs to be focused on helping people “find their element” and translate it into their lives and their work). I’ll come back to that topic in another post. But for now, I’ll get back to graduation speeches and which one prompted me to write this post…
Yesterday The Atlantic published an excerpt from the commencement address Jon Lovett gave to the graduates of Pitzer College last weekend. The speech was called “Life Lessons in Fighting the Culture of Bullshit.” He talks about the fact that graduates are entering a world where we’re drowning in bullshit — partisan rhetoric, inauthentic human connection, casual acquaintances saying “I love you, people describing everything as the “best thing ever.” I usually call this bullshit “noise,” which is all of the talk that sits in the background of our minds drawing our attention away from the here + now…away from the things that really matter. As any good graduation speech giver does, Jon gives graduates three pieces of advice as they go out into the world:
- Don’t cover for your inexperience.
- Sometimes you’re going to be inexperienced, naïve, untested and totally right. Then, you need to decide: is this a time to speak up, or hang back?
- Know that being honest — both about what you do know, and what you don’t — can and will pay off.
What I like so much about this speech is the idea that being honest about who you are, what matters to you, what you know and what you’re working on is important. It’s clarifying. It helps us find signal in the increasing amount of noise that fills our lives. If we all could do this…focus on the meaning and the purpose and the real connections and our authentic “elements,” as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, we may experience more quiet…more peace…more direction…and greater well-being. I struggle with this daily, as the curious part of me loves noise. But I find more peace when I’m able to then look inward and filter the noise. This inward view can show up in lots of forms — writing, talking with a close friend, meeting with a coach or mentor, figuring out what you love and what you loathe…all in service of being honest with yourself first, so that you can be just as honest with the people around you.
What do you think? Do you feel bombarded by bullshit, and what do you do to filter out what matters most?