The 3 Commencement Speeches I Keep Going Back To

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Watching Time: 38 minutes

There are times when we all need some motivation and inspiration, one of my favourite ways of replenishing motivational supplies is to watch commencement speeches by various folks. Below are three of my favourites which I’ve watched on countless occasions. I’ve written some thoughts and commentary about what resonates most with me from these speeches at the end. I hope you enjoy these and let me know if you have any recommendations to share.

Neil Gaiman @ University of the Arts
Steve Jobs @ Stanford
(Jobs starts speaking at 7:40)

Winston Churchill @ Harrow

Neil Gaiman @ University of the Arts

This is one of the best motivational speeches I’ve ever listened to. The “You should enjoy it” piece @15:09 is a real hair-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment.

It’s such an entertaining speech and Gaiman’s use of humour to emphasise his points is excellent. My favourite part of his speech is @13:00 where he explains how he bluffed his way into a job by stating how he had worked for various media outlets. When he was established, he insisted on going back and actually writing an article for each of the magazines. He didn’t lie, he was just chronologically challenged!  This concept of “future truths” is something which you hear various successful people bring up often. It’s an alternative and really instructive way of looking at the world and then finding a path to realise your vision of the future.

@14:00 , the “two out of three will do” concept of doing great work, being easy to get along with and getting the work done on time definitely holds up in the real world!

There are also so many excellent quotes in this speech but here are two which I particularly like:
  • “The things I’ve done the best are the things I was least certain about.” This is a powerful statement. Too often, we come up with reasons why things will fail rather than reasons why they will succeed.
  • “Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is and behave like they would.” Similar to the above “future truths” reference, sometimes you need to fake it until you make it.

Steve Jobs @ Stanford

Jobs describes how he dropped out of college, followed his curiosities  by dropping into various classes which he would otherwise not have been exposed to. He goes on to describe various parts of his life and offers many takeaways.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards… Trust in your gut believing that the dots will connect in the future giving you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path. That will make all the difference.”

When describing his departure from Apple, he explains how he turned a negative into a positive and how having something and someone he loved allowed him to get past this difficult event. “Do what you believe is great work. The only way to do that is to do what you love. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. And don’t settle.”

“If you live every day like it’s your last, then someone you’re going to be right”. Jobs explains how he looks in the mirror every morning and asks himself “If today was going to be my last day, would I want to do what I am going to do today?” When the answer is no for too many days in a row, he knows he must change something. “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered in life.”

@19:30, he offers some brilliant life advice:
  • “Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.”
  • “Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking”
  • “Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice”
  • “Have the courage to follow your heart and inituition , they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Finally he closes with what he considers his personal maxim:
  • “Stay hungary. Stay foolish.”

Winston Churchill @ Harrow

I really love the sound of Churchill’s voice. He could read the phonebook and I’d listen to it. While this is a relatively short audio clip, it clearly captures his mastery as a speaker and his use of various oratorical devices. I like his emphasis on the use of particular words and the meaning they convey. Where the song he refers to uses “dark”, he prefers “stern”. This is a subtle but significant change of emphasis. Dark sounds like there is no way out of it. Stern sounds like “It’s shit but we’ll get through it. This speech was made in 1941 when World War II was not halfway to completion. This alternate choice of word gives an insight into his mindset and is testament to his unerring belief.

@2:02, this clip contains one of his most famous quotes: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never. In nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” A powerful statement of belief which captures the essence of the man.

Show Me The Money

Reading Time: 4 mins

“Losers have goals. Winners have systems.”

– Scott Adams

 The inspiration for this post came from having a conversation about personal finance and savings with one of my close friends. I outlined what I was doing for the last few years and how I had increased my savings amount in step with my income. He said he left the money he hasn’t spent at the end of the month in his current account. I asked him how much he had saved? He answered that he hadn’t saved a whole pile. I asked him how much he expected to save in the next 12 months. He didn’t know.

I then described the simple steps that I thought he should follow and the rationale behind them. While I know at the time he thought I was being a bit over the top, he thanked me for my advice and said he’d think about what I’d said.

I didn’t think any more of it and I was taken aback when some months later, he brought up the conversation we had again. He had fully implemented what I had outlined and he reaffirmed my belief in what I had said. This is what I told him:

The basic premise of the below process is that there is some amount of your net income which you can set aside. I believe that nearly everyone should be at least be able to put something away, no matter how small. Obviously for various reasons including but not limited to: education, debt, dependents and unemployment; the below steps are not applicable.

I would recommend targeting 25% – 30% of your net income but start with whatever works for you. The fundamental point here is to establish a habit. The amplitude of your savings amount can be altered as a secondary activity. Even if you are only saving 5% – 10%, that is enough to start with.

To be precise, net income here is gross income less taxes, I’m estimating that 75% of net income is sufficient for food, rent/mortgage, bills and other discretionary expenditure. The only callout I would make is that if you have some debt then paying it off should be your priority. Short term debt such as car finance, credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans are typically offered at juicy interest rates so fully paying this kind of debt off first is prudent.

Enjoy life but be disciplined and realistic. Achieving a savings target should not be at the cost to your lifestyle, is missing that gig or not going on that random session with friends worth hitting 30% every month? No it’s not. Like everything, it’s about achieving a balance between short term pleasure and long term satisfaction.

If you have to physically transfer money to a different account every month, you will find an excuse not to. Set up a standing order or direct debit. You might think, I’ll do it next month. You won’t. Do it now. In three months time, you will be grateful.

If you have ticked the box on the above steps, congratulations! This is the primary and probably the most challenging step. Now that you have established a savings habit, you should try and scale it up. So maybe you are saving 15% of your net income, can you try and get this to 20%?  The trick here is build a system which you can scale as your income grows.

Let’s say you get a raise, what’s the most likely thing you do? Spend it. Or maybe you have got that new job you have been working towards and have a few more shekels making their way to your account at the end of the month? Do you really need to spend that money? Can you divert it straight to your savings account?

In summary, the baseline target here should be that if you receive an increment of 10% then you should be aiming to increase your monthly savings amount by at least 10%. Otherwise you are effectively reducing your monthly savings percentage.

At the end of the day, it’s fine to splurge some of your hard earned savings. It’s your money! The point of this post is to help you build a war chest not dictate what that “war” should be.

In closing, frugality is the best defense against uncertainty and this system encourages you to adopt frugality.

In a worst case scenario, if you lose your  job or have your income reduced, it provides a platform which you can pivot from.  The variables in the equation are how much you can put in and how soon you can start. Time is a constant. It will not wait. Get it done.