The author addressed the graduating class of the Illinois Institute of Technology. This is an abridged version of his speech: 

Many of you are the first in your families to attend and graduate from college and, as the eldest of six children and a lifetime entrepreneur, I know in my heart just how hard it is to be the first at any new enterprise. To take that leap and that gamble. To put yourself out there with no net and no turning back. To leave the comfort and security of the way things have always been done and to believe instead that you, and you alone,  can make things different and better. For yourself, and for those close to you, but also for many who will follow in your footsteps and hope that you will take a moment and look back to lend them a helping hand.

And you have the additional responsibility of dealing with the naysayers. The ones who know what's best for you even as they sit squarely and safely on the sidelines. And the ones who are happy to tell you in great detail what's above you, or beyond you, or too big for your britches (whatever those are), or forever out of your reach. And finally, the ones who take great joy in pointing out all the reasons why things won't work-- even though they've never had the courage to try. They can find a million problems for any solution.

But, to build a better world, we have to keep moving forward and we can no longer afford to be afraid to fail. In fact, we can all expect to fail from time to time,  that's just part of the game. But  the key to the future is that we can never be afraid to try. Scrapes, scratches and skinned knees are all part of the process. Being brave means working to find things that are more important than your fears. You learn to focus your time and your energies on your desires, and the things that need to be changed, and not on your fears. Your faith - especially, but not exclusively, in yourself - needs to be stronger than your fears. And one day, not too distant from now,  all those doubters will be bragging that they knew you when.

Today is a convincing demonstration of exactly what each of us can achieve if we set our hearts and minds to it. We never know how much weight we can carry until we try or what burdens we can bear until we are really tested. And this day you showed us all. You met the tests and the challenges and you overcame them to reach this special moment.

You've gained powerful new skills; these are not to be wasted,  not to be withheld for fear of failing-- and, most importantly, not to be frittered away. Every one of you is better than that.  You shouldn't settle for anything less. Your careers will be very different from ours: not a linear path or a single employer , you'll move as you choose from job to job, gathering experiences,  gaining additional skills, learning from good and bad role models,  and ever-expanding outward as you grow toward what makes your life most complete.

The world is full of new and different opportunities everywhere you look. The rate of change in your lives will never be slower than it is right now. So hang on to something solid  and be prepared for the ride of your life. Entrepreneurs learn early on that - just like in racing - the world doesn't wait for you. The future isn't something that you wait and hope for, it's something that you grab hold of and make your own. You don't get what you wish for, you get what you work for.

Now I want to leave you with 3 more quick rules.

(1)       Focus is Everything.

You can do anything you want, but you can't do everything. Do a few important things in your life very well. The future will be all about difficult choices and constant triage. Too many opportunities and too little time. And be honest. Commit wholly to your choices. Don't say "maybe" when you mean "no". And remember that the hardest choices are those we make with our hearts, not our heads.

(2)       There is No Finish Line.

We all need to be lifelong learners if we want to make a difference and a contribution. Your education just started here. Iteration-- constantly examining, adjusting and improving every part of your lives-- is the way that we will all remain competitive, valuable and relevant in the global economy. It's easy to say. But it's a hard way to live. We get better by getting just a little bit better each and every day.

(3)       There's Always More Work.

Work is like rabbits. If you let it, work can multiply to fill all the hours in the day. This is called Parkinson's Law. And it's easy - especially when you're starting out - to confuse your work with who you are. But work is not your identity - work is  just what you do. And, even more importantly, while there's always more work, you only have one family and it's critical, but not easy, to remember to make time and room for them in your soon-to-be very busy life. Creating, supporting and nurturing your family will always be your most important work.

Published on: May 12, 2018
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