Commencement Speeches: A Time for Inspiration


It’s that time of year to celebrate our youth as they graduate from high schools, colleges and universities.  We congratulate them and send them off into the “real” world, confident that they have the right tools and skills they’ll need to survive and thrive on their own. But do they?

According to a recent study by the consulting firm, Accenture, a new poll showed more than half (57%) of 2011/2012 college grads said finding a job was difficult, but 39% had jobs by the time they graduated and another 42% were employed within six months of graduation. The new poll also showed that 44% currently live at home, 13% have student loan debts of $30K to $50K, and 32% of the college grads who are employed report their current annual salary is $25K or less, which is in sharp contrast to the expectations of the 2014 graduating seniors that also participated in the poll, according to Susan Adams (Forbes Magazine).

Despite all of the disappointing economic and educational statistics, high-profile colleges and universities continue to attract top name celebrities (Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert, Sean “Diddy” Combs, The Dalai Lama) and politicians (President Obama, NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg and Newark Mayor, Cory Booker) to deliver commencement speeches, which Today Show and legal analyst Lisa Bloom likes to refer to as disconnected greeting-card messages from successful, middle-aged adults who often tell young graduates who are insecure about their future employment options and pending debt concerns that “the world is their oyster” and “all they have to do is imagine”.

Pepperdine EDOL 3A year ago, I graduated from Pepperdine University’s School of Education and Psychology’s Organizational Leadership Doctoral Program. Like most graduates, I had to endure a procession of graduating rituals, which included both a commencement and keynote speech. Ideally, like most of my fellow graduates, I was hoping to hear words of inspiration and motivation from the speakers including some empowering anecdotes or wisdom intended to incite some type of awakening or higher purpose gleaned from the painstaking lessons learned and presented by the most anticipated commencement speakers of 2014.

Jackie Burrell ( published excerpts from her favorite 2012 graduation speeches that I also liked, which are as follows:

Neil Gaiman (award winning author and screenwriter) instructed graduates at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia not to fear mistakes, as making mistakes means you are getting out of there and trying new things. Gaiman said, “Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”

I couldn’t agree more. As I wrote in my blog entitled “This is YOUR Life! Don’t Phone It In,” two of the biggest regrets I hear from a lot of adults today is that they wish they had listened to their own instincts and followed the life path they desired, rather than trying to please others, choose a job, or lead a life driven by fear. It’s okay to be afraid; just allow that fear to motivate you, not stifle you!

Peter Dinklage (Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actor) told graduating students at Bennington College in 2012 that he spent years living in an apartment without heat and working at a data-entry job he hated before finally realizing, at age 29, that he had lost his way and that fear of change had derailed his dream of becoming a working actor. “The world might say you are not allowed to yet. I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. Please don’t even bother asking. Don’t bother telling the world you are ready. Show it. Do it.”

The Pursuit of Happyness author, Christopher Gardner, experienced a pivotal moment one afternoon while heading back to his car in the San Francisco General Hospital parking lot after making a medical equipment sales call. A sharp looking, well-dressed man driving a red Ferrari asked Gardner for his parking spot. After looking at the man’s car, Chris told him he could have the spot, but he had to ask the man two questions:

“What do you do? and how do you do that?”

The Ferrari owner worked as an institutional stockbroker in San Francisco. The first time Gardner walked into a Wall Street trading room, he knew this was the place where he was meant to be.

As I share in my blog, “Demystifying the Obvious,” I have often believed that one’s ability to truly attract and create wealth is by finding a job that truly sparks and inspires one’s passion. Therefore, there should be at least one of the three reasons below why you should even consider pursing a particular job after graduation, as opposed to the 34% of the 2014 college grads that are prepared to accept their first job offer, or the 27% polled that would consider working in a different field other than their college major:

1. Quality of Life – Find a job that allows you to live in a location (community or environment) where you can thrive. Identify a job that lets you live the life you want surrounded by the people who support and admire you.

2. Challenge Yourself – Pursue a job or career where the work will challenge or motivate you, while also allowing you to grow from your experiences, and

3. Financial Reward – I intentionally listed this pursuit last. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for finding a career path that rewards you for all your hard work and efforts, but I just don’t believe that money should be the sole driving force for why you choose to pursue a job or career. Money should be viewed as opportunity, your financial means for continuing to pursue your passions. I honestly believe that if you follow your true passion, the money will follow.

So what final words of wisdom do I believe should be shared and bestowed upon the graduating class of 2014 by the majority of commencement speakers?

To quote from a Fox & Friends interview when he was asked a similar question, motivational speaker Larry Winget said, “What it really takes to be successful in the real world is taking responsibility. Your life, your results, your success, happiness, health and prosperity are up to you. When it turns out well, you get the credit. And when it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, well, you get the blame. It isn’t up to someone else to make sure you are successful; it’s always up to you, so be responsible.”

Furthermore, Chris Gardner’s mom said to him, “You can only depend on yourself. The cavalry ain’t coming.”

Learn to live within your means and become great wealth creators! Teach yourself now, as a young adult, to not only value, but to cultivate an emotional relationship with money. Think of money as an accelerator (gas pedal) in a car; the amount you save and manage is similar to the amount of pressure you can apply to your own financial accelerator. Good money management affects the speed as to how quickly you are able to reach your goals. The more you save and manage, the faster you will get what you want in life. To do this more effectively, one also has to be aware of reckless spending. Like reckless speeding, it could result in serious financial and emotional setbacks. Conversely, like experienced safe drivers, being financially aware of your surroundings (savings and spending habits) and driving within your own life’s speed limit (living within your means) will give you the freedom and opportunity to really enjoy your life’s beautiful scenery (family, friends, career, travel, etc.) without any undue pressure.

So are we sending young graduates off into the “real” world with the right tools and skills they’ll need to survive and thrive on their own, or are we witnessing a graduating class of pioneers that will confirm that the time has finally come for our country to embark on some new educational paradigm?

Right now is about celebrating success – in the form of graduation. After the last speech has been delivered and after the diplomas have been handed out and caps with tassels have been tossed, young graduates will face the world whether they are ready or not.

As I discuss in my new book, Demystifying Success: Success Tools and Secrets They Don’t Teach You in High School, It’s time to reinvent our approach to setting up Young Adults (ages 18-25) for personal and financial success in this new technological and global community after the commencement ceremonies have ended. It’s time for a new educational era of Self-Economics.

Congratulations to all 2014 graduates! Cheers to growing your future success!

It’s Never Too Early to Kickstart your Retirement Plans

Pot of GoldI was having lunch at one of my favorite hideaways, a little diner in downtown Los Angeles. I got into a great discussion with two guys in their late 20s and found out one of them was a fellow Indiana University Hoosier. Our shared Alma Mater made for a smooth transition into deeper conversation.

After we got through the usual niceties: “How did you find this place?”, “How long have you lived in LA?”, “What do you do?”–the usual ice-breaking chit-chat, I realized it was a good opportunity to take advantage of their openness and perspectives as young adults growing up in this new economic era.

Over the past few weeks, there have been several articles written (including my own blog entitledCommencement Speeches: A Time for Inspiration) which discuss important messages of inspiration and real-world experiences that should be imparted unto young college graduates, as they embark on their careers, hoping to have the right tools and skills to survive and thrive in these uncertain times.

Fortunately for the two young gentlemen, they both managed to land jobs in a very competitive industry, but more importantly (and impressively), jobs that actually related to what they studied in college. During lunch they shared their frustrations regarding reduced salaries compared to the salaries earned by their predecessors 10 years ago, the lack of financing to purchase their starter homes, their mistrust for the stock market and investing in general (other than real estate), and the fear that their generation will be the first generation that will be less well-off than their parents.

However, unlike their parents’ generation (when they were that age), twenty-somethings today are very concerned about their retirement options. “My dad would love to retire at 65, but he’s putting it off because of the swings in the aviation business. I’m concerned,” said JoAnne Farell, a 29-year-old web manager at a design firm in San Francisco who was interviewed by Jennifer Leigh Parker for an article called, “Why Even 20-Somethings Are Worried about Retirement.” Parker went on to cite a study by State Street Global Advisors that showed that Generation X (adults in their late 30s and 40s) are not nearly as prepared for retirement as the Baby Boomer Generation.

Unfortunately, concern is not translating into action. According to a CNBC article by Cindy Perman entitled “Gen Y and Retirement: Are Young People Saving?”, Today’s 20-year-olds (the “Millennials” or “Gen Y”) have witnessed and suffered from the unexpected economic and financial changes that have caused many older adults to delay their plans for retirement because they did not start their savings sooner. Yet despite these concerns and the realization that neither Social Security nor their companies will help them retire peacefully like their grandparents or great-grandparents, more than half (55%) of Gen Y-ers have not yet started saving for retirement, and 64% said they don’t even think about it, according to a retirement survey by Scottrade. Perman adds, Carrie Hibbs, a spokesperson for Scottrade exclaimed, “Of all the non-retired generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, Gen Y is the leader in not saving; we call them Generation Procrastination!”

I respectfully disagree. If retirement planning was so easy, then why are so many adults between the ages of 40-60 in such financial turmoil? Many of today’s middle-aged adults lack the knowledge required to impart crucial financial information to young and emerging adults because the majority of their parents and teachers also lacked this same financial knowledge. So it should come as no surprise that like most middle-aged adults today, young and emerging adults who are now graduating college will also find it harder to become financially independent.

The reality is, there has been little effort or action taken by Washington D.C., the Department of Education, or even the State Boards of Education across the country toward effecting change by addressing the way schools should be educating children to properly prepare them for the financial and economic challenges that take place in the real world. Despite all the ongoing research and statistics that have been collected surrounding financial illiteracy among young adults, according to a 2011 survey by the Council for Economic Education, fewer than half of the states make high school students take an economics class, and just 13 states require a personal finance class. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, succinctly summed it up by stating, “We have a long way to go as a country.”

In light of the societal shifts created by rapid technological advances and a constant state of change and urgency, is it any wonder that young and emerging adults are questioning and challenging the unsustainable lifestyles they were raised to believe they’d inherit?

It is time we stop assigning blame and start fixing the problem. 

By implementing the following five basic steps (that I cover in more detail in my upcoming e-book on retirement), young adults will kick start their retirement plans early, and improve their probable outcomes for financial success.

1. Start saving a percentage of your monthly income–preferably 10%–in a savings account.

2. Create and manage a monthly spending budget to learn to live within your means.

3. Contribute to either a company 401(k) matching program, or standard IRA retirement plan, or both as early as possible and manage these accounts on a quarterly basis.

4. Pay off all credit card balances in a timely manner. If you cannot afford to pay off the total balance on the credit cards, do not incur the expense. LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS.

5. Be preventative: eat healthily and exercise regularly so you can avoid any serious costly medical problems that can derail your retirement plans later in life.

If you are a young adult reading this, I encourage you to get going on addressing the above suggestions as soon as you start earning an income–it’s never too early to start. If you think you aren’t earning enough to bother, you are mistaken.

You Don’t Have to Be Great to Start, But You Have to Start to Be Great” – Zig Ziglar

By becoming financially literate and implementing good financial discipline from an early age, you will establish lifelong habits that will enable you to retire confidently and with peace of mind. If you are no longer a young adult, I’ve got good news for you… These rules still apply–it is never too late to start growing your future success!

Navigating Common Pitfalls within the Workplace

Confusion for BlogI just read a great LinkedIn article by Jacki Zehner, CEO of Women Moving Millions, entitled Class of 2013: Be a Superhero! It was an article meant to inspire young and emerging adults to help them navigate common pitfalls that many graduates often ignore upon entering the workplace. After reading the article, I was excited to share Jacki’s story because it reminded me of my own journey that followed my graduation from Indiana University (IU) in 1990. I thought it would be inspiring to adults of all ages as well.

Jacki Zehner became the youngest woman and first female trader to become a partner at Goldman Sachs at the age of 32. During her 14-year career at Goldman, she rose from an analyst (at age 25) to associate, vice president, managing director, and partner, all while working as a trader and desk manager in mortgage-backed securities.

Like Jacki, I began my career with the Universal Music Group (UMG) at age 26. During my own 22-year career with the Universal Music Group, I rose from project coordinator to vice president of administration (MCA Records), and vice president of financial services (North America), all while overseeing recording and marketing administration, travel, and shared services for all North American record labels and UMG operating companies.

Also similar to Jacki, I too began to feel restless in my career, and I was ready to pursue new opportunities.  I did not realize just how restless I had become until I left my job and had the realization that I had overstayed my welcome.

Italicized below are Jacki’s suggestions from the article, followed by my own experiences (that I wished someone had shared with me following my IU graduation) to help you navigate career-sabotaging pitfalls and recognize opportunities within the workplace:

1. Do not be afraid to take a job that you know nothing about. If someone who knows something about it thinks you can do it (and it is of interest to you), go for it. Then learn everything you can about how to do that job well.

When I first began working for MCA Records, I was a musician with a Masters in Music (Percussion Performance/Jazz Studies). I also worked as a professional D.J. and served as the Concert Director for Indiana University’s Student Programming Organization: Union Board. Immediately following my graduation, I accepted a position in the recording administration department at MCA Records despite the fact that I had not yet taken any business courses in either college or graduate school.  As a result, I quickly had to learn the financial aspects of making records. As Jacki suggests, because I had an interest to always learn more, I constantly accepted new responsibilities and learned everything I could by listening and learning from others.

2. It really, really matters whom you work for. It is extremely important, especially early on in your career, to work for someone who is not only good at what they do but is also a good teacher, manager, leader—and well (if you’re really lucky), human being. By following the bad example of someone senior to you, it often gets you into trouble later. While those individuals often had the track record, the talent, and/or the relationships to insulate them, the more junior person did not.

I was very fortunate to work for a young, up-and-coming music executive, Vinnie Freda at MCA Records. Vinnie was a great business mentor who was very patient with me as I learned the responsibilities associated with my position. Vinnie also encouraged me to take on additional responsibilities and often supported me when issues arose. During my first 14 years working under Vinnie, I was promoted nine times. Unfortunately, I was transferred from Vinnie’s department and I began reporting to a new manager who was not as supportive.

3. Just because you see other people do questionable things in the workplace, do not assume you can get away with it too. Be the best you can be all the time. Hold yourself to the highest possible standard. When the bad days started to outnumber the good days, and you have a choice, it is time to leave.

Fortunately, I was never asked to do any questionable things in my position at UMG. However, there is always the possibility that you could be asked to do things that you are not comfortable doing. If you ever get that weird little feeling in the pit of your stomach, don’t ignore it. Trust your instincts! You should never be forced to compromise your integrity at work. Politely confront your supervisor and inform them that you feel uncomfortable with their request. If they do not respect your wishes, I would suggest the following: speak with your company’s Human Resources department, request a transfer to another department, or look for a new job.

As I always like to say, “When a compromise becomes a sacrifice, leave!”

4. Live your values! This also means work in alignment with your values. If you do have options and believe in your talents and ability, do not be afraid to walk away from a job that is not making you happy. In the long term, you will be much happier and fulfilled working with people who share your values, and at a firm that is doing work that you believe in, and in a way that you believe in.

As I mentioned earlier, after 14 years I was transferred from my former boss’ department and I was no longer pursuing my strengths, talents and abilities. My decision to remain at the company for another eight years was a great example of “overstaying my welcome” because I knew that I was going to be embarking on new responsibilities that were no longer in alignment with my initial goals.

To quote Jacki, “I tried very hard to put the needs of others ahead of myself, to hold myself to the highest possible standard, and to fearlessly protect the culture of the firm to the best of my abilities. Was I perfect? Of course not. I look back now and think of all the things I could have done much better. At that point, however, I knew that my life had to be about doing work with people who shared my views and my values.”

5.  If you start having angst about your work, and especially if you have the resources to make a change, don’t wait to ask yourself: “What is my highest and best use on this planet? What is the work that I am meant to do?”

Jacki’s dissatisfaction regarding the impact she was having in her role at Goldman Sachs resulted in her departure from the firm, which led her to her current role as CEO of Women Moving Millions– a position she claims she was destined to be in.

Since my departure from UMG, I have been motivated to educate and inspire young and emerging adults to set and follow their own goals. My mission is to provide young adults (ages 16 to 25) with the needed educational concepts and tools to be successful in all areas of their lives – a dream job that has led me to write my first upcoming book, Growing Success: A Young Adult’s Guide to Achieving Personal and Financial Success.

As Jacki recommended in her article, the true secret to attaining one’s dream job and ultimate job satisfaction is aligning one’s unique talents alongside what gives one joy (e.g. meaningful work). Whatever you choose to do, if the opportunity presents itself, go for it. Be aware of your own values, goals, strengths, and abilities, and only work for others who are committed to your future development as you grow your success.