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What I Would Say to My 17-year-old Self? (February 8, 2017)

I spent most of January wrapping up 2016 so I feel like my 2017 really began on February 1! During January I received a call from the Superintendent of the Marine Military Academy (MMA) where I spent six years. He asked me if I would deliver the commencement address at this year’s graduation. I was (and am) deeply honored. Also, a little intimidated as to what to say that would be meaningful. I thought back to when I sat where the graduating cadets will be sitting that day. Then it came to me. What would I tell my 17-year-old self?

My actual talk will center on the MMA experience. These main points are actually part of that experience. And I will be addressing a group of men so that is why I use the masculine form (this is stated to save me from phone calls from my sisters!).

Be open to what life offers you. Just because you major in finance doesn’t mean it will be your life long calling. The most popular course at Stanford is Designing Your Life (there is also a book by that title which is very good). The professors/authors recommend prototyping different interests and not to assume you have one single passion. For example, if you want to be a writer talk to other writers and try doing what they do daily for a month. Hemingway wrote 500 words every day no matter what.

Appreciate what you have. Life is magical but we miss so much by thinking way too much about what we don’t have. Step outside every morning, take a deep breath and look to find something marvelous around you. Work hard to maintain a sense of wonder and awe and you will be a sought-after friend.

You have one life and it is wild and precious. You should ask yourself every morning what do I want this day to mean to me. Write this question down on a post-it and put it where you will see it first thing every day. After a month or so it will become a valued habit.

Say please and thank you. Manners never go out of style and expressions of gratitude are even more timeless. In fact, saying ’Thank you. I really am grateful for what you did for me.’ is even more powerful than a simple ’Thanks’.

Show up on time. When you are late you are actually stealing time from someone. If you are 10 minutes late for a meeting with four people you have stolen 40 minutes of time that could have been used for some other purpose. And time taken cannot be returned.

Do what you say you are going to do. If you promise to send someone something DO IT! If you promise to deliver something on a certain date, DO IT or explain, in advance, why you need more time. You may believe no one notices small ‘failures to execute’ but trust me, they do.

Protect your personal honor. Acting honorably will serve you at every point in life. Honor is about what you do when no one is looking. It is leaving a note on a car you scratched even though no one saw you do it. Every situation, no matter how difficult, has an honorable way to handle it. You need only look at it carefully. Being known as a man of honor is one of the highest compliments you can receive.

Look for a career path based on a life of service. Most of the successful people I have studied built their lives being in some form of service to their fellow human beings. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, to name a few, built companies that are of service to their fellow men while being highly successful. If you can’t identify how a career path is of service in some way, try to avoid it.

So, what advice would you give your 17-year-old self? Think about it!

Thank you for reading,



What I Would Say to My 17-year-old Self? (February 8, 2017)