Every May/early June hundreds of thousands sit on uncomfortable folding chairs in the hot sun for hours in hopes of hearing inspiring pearls of wisdom from commencement speakers. Melinda Gates even gave a challenge this year to all the podium pontificators to up their game, and many tried to do just that.
Multiple celebrities got in on the action including Oprah Winfrey, Tim Cook, and Michael Keaton just to name a few. (My schedule, of course, made it implausible for me to accept any offers to speak)
But none offered more wisdom than the three-time Grammy Award winner (including Grammy's for 2017's Best New Artist and Best Rap Album of the Year), Chance the Rapper.
Chancellor Bennett (aka Chance the Rapper) gave the commencement speech at Dillard College, a historically black liberal arts college in Louisiana.
Here's the powerful part (you can watch the entire speech at the end of this article):
The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us, the people who sacrificed for us and gave us everything is to be better than them. Living up to your heroes is amazing, but it's not good enough. The difference between goodness and greatness is going beyond. You have to push forward and surpass their greatness in order to pay homage to their struggle.
Here why this advice is so smart.
First, Bennett starts from a place of respect. He hones in on the need to remember all those who paved the way before us, something that's so easy to forget when we're busy focusing on the microcosm of our own problems. We weren't the first to suffer and those before us eased the very suffering we're experiencing.
Second, Bennett flies in the face of what we usually hear about our heroes--the cry to be certain to live up to the standards our heroes set for us. The artist pushes past this platitude and directs us to actually do better than our heroes, mentors, and guides.
His charge is specific, aggressive, and yet profoundly respectful--just like the push you'd want from your own mentor.
It's brilliant because going past those who went before us is a high bar, but in the pursuit of such accomplishments, we evolve beyond good to great.
Bennett did just that by striving hard to surpass his mentor Kanye West (and succeeding). West gave the rapper the opportunity to open up his widely-hailed album, The Life of Pablo--the very album that Bennett beat out for Rap Album of the Year.
Even in his approach to the business model of music Bennett tries to go a step beyond those who went before him. The much sought after rapper refuses to be signed by a record label (despite multiple overtures from every major player) and instead chooses to give away his music for free on streaming services. He opts to make money on merchandising and concerts. Many industry experts are watching the bold move with great interest.
Entrepreneurs should take special note of the challenge to push beyond mentors. It's hard enough to succeed as an entrepreneur--thankfully mentors can help dramatically shorten your learning curve. But striving to surpass them gives you that extra motivational edge to help you succeed against the odds. And it's your duty to continue learning, growing, and creating something that will bring unique value to the world, something that brings value in a way different and better than your heroes did.
The third piece of brilliance in Bennett's challenge to go beyond our heroes is the fact that doing so demands you properly respect them. Bennett reasons that you'll soon come to appreciate how much they struggled to set the previous gold standard as you strive to set the new one.
The thrust to go beyond our heroes is respectful, motivating, and advances us all. In your own life, stop and think of your mentors, idols, and role-models. Then do them one better. They'll thank you and so will the people trying to outdo you.
What a wonderful virtuous cycle.