Saturday, 18 January 2014
Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, members of the Governing Council, members of the Faculty of Business and Law, distinguished guests, proud parents and above all, Graduates, good evening and thank you for the honour and the thrill of being here with you on this magnificent occasion.
The first thing I would like to say is...
Graduates - Congratulations for having the courage, the perseverance and the resolve to complete your university degree. You have achieved academic success and you have every right to feel proud, your family certainly do and so does ECU. Well done!
Delivering this speech is a great honour, one which comes with great responsibility. In the weeks leading up to this moment, I have racked my mind and my heart. I have asked myself what events in my life have shaped who I am today and the work that I do. I have asked myself what lessons have I learned during my career, in life and since completing my education with ECU.
I came up with just one event and five lessons. The lessons apply to career as much as they do to life in general and, what it takes to be successful professionally, as a person and in a community.
Some of what I am about to share with you may inspire you; other parts may bore you, most of it you will probably forget within the week. I hope there is something in it for you.
I ended up on this path through a childhood event which, though challenging at the time turned out to be an amazing gift. I was given a head start in life, an advantage. I was born with chronic asthma and lived the first nine years of my life with it. Asthma isn't an uncommon condition, though for anyone who has ever experienced it, and some of you may have, struggling to breathe is not a good feeling, it is actually quite frightening.
At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, that doesn't sound like an advantage, or any sort of gift I would like to receive. Is this guy crazy? Perhaps, though here's what happened. Because there were times when I wasn't well enough to run around with the other kids - I watched from the sideline. I learned to observe how people behave and see what was really going on. As time went by, I grew stronger. I still spent time on the sideline, though it was becoming less and less. I knew everything was going to be ok - I just needed to be patient. Now, no one likes sitting on the sideline during a game, so when I did take to the field I gave it my all and held nothing back. I participated wholeheartedly. The final part of this gift was perhaps the most surprising for me because at the time I had no idea that it would play such an important role in my life and the work that I do. I learned to control the way I breathe, an essential skill for having a clear and focussed mind.
I was lucky; I outgrew asthma by the age of nine. Soon after, I captained the sporting teams I played for and went on to lead several business organisations. I keep the gifts I was given with me and I use them often. Now, I am privileged to have a very cool job, one I love. I work in leadership development and I coach business, government and not for profit leaders to help them further realise their own potential and the potential of their organisations.
The lessons I am about to share with you often arise in the course of the work that I do. They underpin some of what it takes to be a successful leader. Here we go…
Lesson One: Be grateful, you are lucky
Lucky to be born, lucky to have family and friends who love and support you, lucky to have survived your teenage years, lucky your parents tolerated you during those years and lucky to have had the opportunity to obtain a university degree. Thank people often and from your heart. If you are not happy with something in your life change it, or if you are unable to change it, change the way you look at it. To be grateful is to have perspective. When we have perspective we can see clearly. We are less likely to be distracted by desires that pull us out of balance and we can be our best.
Lesson Two: Breathe, it is good for you
Obviously you know this already because you are all living proof. And we must be good at breathing because we've been doing it for such a long time that we don't even need to think about it - it just happens. The fact is we tend to breathe shallow.
May I encourage you to try an experiment? Once a day, more often if you can, stop what you are doing, relax your body and take a few deep breaths. It won't cost you anything to do and it will take just a couple of minutes. When you do, your body will let go of tension, your stress level will drop, your mind will become clearer and more focussed and you will be more aware of what is going on around you. You may also find that you are able to engage more meaningfully with other people, which in my opinion is fundamental to being successful as a leader and as a person. You will be present and when we are present we are able to participate wholeheartedly. Breathing really is good for you.
Lesson Three: Treat people with kindness and respect
Our parents raised us to act honestly and with integrity. Some of you already lead organisations; others are just starting out in your careers. There will be times during your career and in life when you have to make tough decisions, you may even face an ethical dilemma. A wise professor of ethics and leadership once told me:
When you are free, you must choose.
When you choose, you are responsible.
Ask yourself four questions and answer them honestly:
Am I doing the right thing?
Am I doing it for the right reason?
Am I doing it the right way?
Am I using what I have learned?
Every choice that you make goes into the 'book of you'. You are the author of this book and you are free to choose how it will read. Use what you have learned wisely, give generously and make the book of you amazing.
Lesson Four: Be original
Comedian, Robyn Williams once said, "You are only given a little spark of madness, you mustn't lose it". I agree.
You were born an original - one of a kind. And yes, you have this spark. Dare to be different - invent something, create a masterpiece, build a business that makes a real difference in the world, do something that others say cannot be done. If someone calls you crazy, mad or insane - smile and thank them for the compliment because there is a very fine line between insanity and genius. I encourage you to keep your spark of madness alive and use it. You may surprise yourself at what you really are capable of achieving.
Lesson Five: Nothing lasts for ever
Some of the things that I have tried during my career were a great success, others failed spectacularly. The ones in between sometimes did and at other times didn't turn out how I expected. We don't learn much from being successful all of the time. We can learn the most when things don't turn out how we expect or, if something we try fails. Life will knock you down and you can choose whether or not you get back up. If you experience this, it will feel uncomfortable, it may even hurt - it will dent your ego. It is a gift and I encourage you to embrace the learning opportunity because it will build your character and you will come back wiser and stronger as a result. In my opinion, there is something far worse than failing and that is fearing to attempt something in the first place.
Nothing lasts for ever... On average we spend about 100,000 hours at work during our life. That's more than 12,000 working days – It’s a long time. I encourage you to do what you love, to do what you are good at and to make sure that you are paid well for it. While you're are it, eat well and exercise daily - you'll die anyway though it will buy you some time. What matters is what you do in that time and the choices you make. Choose well.
Tonight you become ECU Alumni. On behalf of the Alumni community, welcome. You join more than 100,000 of us around the world, each making a difference in our own way. I encourage you to stay connected to each other and to ECU. You are ambassadors for the University and its values in the communities that we serve.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for indulging me this evening. If you don't remember anything that I've said, remember this... Everything is going to be ok. Your life is an occasion, rise to it. Live purposefully and with passion and, above all be true to yourself and you will inspire others.
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