"Be worthy of your advantages ... Dream big. Work hard. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency ...” -David Mccullough Jr
Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal are two of my favorite movies of all time. Both are definitely in the top 20 list. I vaguely remember reading the book Hannibal, written by Thomas Harris, when I was younger, but I think because I loved the movie so much, the book was a bit of a let-down. But there was one thing I remembered. Hannibal Lector had stashed large sums of money around the world knowing that if he ever had to go on the run (like what happened at the end of Silence of the Lambs), he’d just retrieve the money and be okay, wherever he was. I am OBVIOUSLY NOT ADVOCATING that anyone become a cannibal or commit crimes but the idea that even Hannibal Lector was aware of how financial independence can get you out of a sticky jam.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of commencement speeches. I guess it’s that time of year again. Everyone always talks about how you shouldn’t be afraid to fail but no one ever talks about the importance of saving and investing, about how that will help cushion the fall and help you get back up.
If I were ever asked to give a commencement speech, I would spend the entire 20 minutes talking about saving and investing your money. But I’d make it really fun. I’d tell a lot of jokes, jump around the stage, wave my arms around, do a song and dance number directed by Baz Luhrmann himself, all the while wearing a tophat, a long silver cape, and ruby-encrusted disco shoes. I just really want students to know that they should start investing their money NOW, that time is on their side.
But these commencement speeches are still pretty good. Below are some of my favorites:
1) Conan O’Brien 2000 Harvard Class Day Speech
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cFY0-IFcwc
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErZVczhKIss
I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of the Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet every failure was freeing, and today I’m as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good. So that’s what I wish for all of you—the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. Know that your mistakes are your own unique way of getting to where you need to be. And remember that the story is never over.
If you’ll indulge me for just a second, I’d like to read a little something from just this year. “Somehow, Conan O’Brien has transformed himself into the brightest star in the late-night firmament. His comedy is the gold standard, and Conan himself is not only the quickest and most inventive wit of his generation, but quite possibly the greatest host ever.” Ladies and gentlemen, class of 2000, I wrote that this morning. As proof that when all else fails, you always have delusion.
2) Conan O’Brien 2011 Dartmouth Commencement Address
There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized. I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One's dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course.
3) Conan O'Brien's Speech 2006 Stuyvesant High School Graduation Speech
I don’t want to freak you guys out, but twenty five years ago, I could have been any one of you. I went to a public high school, and I was a bright, ambitious, hard working kid who wanted more than anything to go to a good college. The only problem is, I was much more interested in succeeding than in really learning. When you’re a smart kid in a competitive school, it’s an easy trap to fall into. So I did a lot of things in high school not because I enjoyed them but because I thought they look good on an application. I think you know what I’m talking about. I was on a debate team — hated it. I ran track — I was terrible, I got so bored running the two mile that I tried to talk with my opponents during the race. “what are you gonna do later, I mean you gonna be doing something later?” I joined school government — hated it. Of course, like many of you I worried obsessively about my GPA and my SAT scores. And of course, it worked. I got into the college of my choice and to this day I’m proud of the work I did in high school.
But old habits die hard. Once I got into college, I had every intention of joylessly grinding away again. I was gonna turn college into just another step on the road to being successful, whatever that meant. I told people my plan was to go to graduate school in law or government, just because I thought that’s what smart people were supposed to do. And then something really weird happened. My roommate — by the way, he was the weird roommate — my roommate was going to an orientation meeting at the Harvard Lampoon, the school humor magazine, and I decided for some reason to tag along. I wrote one piece, then I wrote another piece, then another. Before long, I was running the place. The only difference was, I was joyously happy. I was succeeding at something because I loved the process, not because I was trying to get anywhere. I had found the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I honestly didn’t care where it took me or what it paid.
So when I graduated form college in 1985 I told my parents “thanks for the amazing Ivy League education, now I want to be a comedian.” Later, in the emergency room after they woke up, they said they were fine with my decision, and I was on my way. I’ve had a lot of highs, I’ve had my share of lows, but if I hadn’t allowed myself to experiment and risk doing something without a clear career payoff, I might have missed out on so much.
4) David Mccullough Jr 2012 Wellesley High School Graduation Speech
Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principal, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer...
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that fell into your lap because you’re a nice person or Mommy ordered it from the caterer.
5) Drew Houston MIT 2013 Commencement Speech
They say that you're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Think about that for a minute: who would be in your circle of 5? ... One thing I've learned is surrounding yourself with inspiring people is now just as important as being talented or working hard. Can you imagine if Michael Jordan hadn’t been in the NBA, if his circle of 5 had been a bunch of guys in Italy? Your circle pushes you to be better.
I used to worry about all kinds of things, but I can remember the moment when I calmed down. I had just moved to San Francisco, and one night I couldn't sleep so I was on my laptop. I read something online that said "There are 30,000 days in your life." At first I didn't think much of it, but on a whim I tabbed over to the calculator. I type in 24 times 365 and — oh my God, I'm almost 9,000 days down. What the hell have I been doing? … So that’s how 30,000 ended up on the cheat sheet. That night, I realized there are no warmups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day we're writing a few more words of a story. And when you die, it's not like "here lies Drew, he came in 174th place." So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure — and that's made all the difference.
6) JK Rowling Harvard 2008 Commencement Speech:
I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
7) Phil Knight 2012 Stanford Business School Graduation Speech
Two "nines" working together will beat two "tens" working for their own careers, every time. Ability and desire almost always trump money and power. If you can't get financing, don't be afraid to go 7,000 miles from home. Government is part of business, any business. There is such a thing as managing creativity. And dare to take chances, lest you leave your talent buried in the ground. And where there is no struggle, there can be no art.
And finally, there is this thought. Ten years from now, the first of you will be asked to give the commencement speech to what will then be the finest class in the school's history. You'll be a bit torn. You are multi-tasked to the max. Two kids. One has an ear infection and needs to get to the doctor right away. Your husband is more needy than usual. And he has a flight in the morning to Europe for 10 days. Your company is at a critical point in its strategic planning and everybody looks to you for what the answers will be. Plus, the company has a PR crisis. And you have TV appearances scheduled for five days straight. And that golden lab that you've had for all of two years has all of a sudden decided he's not housebroken.
There is no time. There is no time. And then you'll accept -- because of the honor, because it's a chance to have some influence on the most able, best-prepared young people on the planet. And you'll accept, though it's hard to see now, because there is a part of you that longs to go back to a place and a time and a self, forever gone. And in looking for things to say, include in your consideration moments from the school's history. You might even look back to that time in the deep past, that moment over six decades before, when Frank Shallenberger, the professor of entrepreneurship, said the words that meant so much to me, the words that became the mantra for his class, the words that said, "The only time you must not fail, is the last time you try."
8) Sherry Lansing 2008 Penn State Graduation Speech
Please don’t be afraid to fail. Fear of failure leads to mediocrity. I’ve often thought that people who have the greatest success can also tell you a story about their great failures, but instead of being defeated by their failures, they learned from their mistakes. They paid attention to their mistakes. You know, they often say that good judgment comes from experience, and of course experience comes from bad judgment. Mistakes are going to happen. They have to. If they don’t, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re just playing it safe, you’re being complacent. But the important thing is a mistake should not be a permanent setback. Instead, you should use it, you should use it to learn from and to grow from. I failed as much as I succeeded.
9) Stephen Colbert 2011 Northwestern Commencement Speech
You have been told to follow your dreams but .... what if it’s a stupid dream?
For instance Stephen Colbert of 25 years ago lived at 2015 North Ridge with two men and three women in what I now know was a brothel. He dreamed of living alone. Well, alone with his beard in a large barren loft apartment, with lots of blonde wood, wearing a kimono, with a futon on the floor and a Samovar of tea constantly bubbling in the background, doing Shakespeare in the street for homeless people. Today, I am a beardless suburban dad who lives in a house, wears no-iron khakis and makes Anthony Wiener jokes for a living and I love it! Because thankfully, dreams can change. If we’d all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses. So whatever your dream is right now, if you don’t achieve it you haven’t failed and you’re not some loser. But just as importantly, and this is the part I may not get right and you may not listen to, if you do get your dream, you are not a winner.
10) Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech
Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
11) Will Ferrell 2017 USC Commencement Speech
By the spring of 1995 producers from Saturday Night Live had come to see the current show at the Groundlings. After two harrowing auditions and two meetings with executive producer Lorne Michaels, which all took place over the course of six weeks, I got the word I was hired to the cast of Saturday Night Live for the ‘95-‘96 season.
I couldn’t believe it. And even though I went on to enjoy seven seasons on the show, it was rocky beginning for me. After my first show, one reviewer referred to me as ‘the most annoying newcomer of the new cast.’ Someone showed this to me and I promptly put it up on the wall in my office, reminding myself that to some people I will be annoying. Some people will not think I’m funny, and that that’s okay.
The venerable television critic for the Washington Post Tom Shales came up to me during my last season of the show. He told me congratulations on my time at the show and then he apologized for things he had written about me in some of his early reviews of my work. I paused for a second before I spoke, and then I said, ‘How dare you, you son of a bitch?’ I could tell this startled him, and then I told him I was kidding, and that I’d never read any of his reviews. It was true, I hadn’t read his reviews. In fact I didn’t read any reviews because once again, I was too busy throwing darts at the dartboard, all the while facing my fears.
10) And lastly, this following speech by Jodie Foster isn't a graduation one but it's still a very lovely speech she gave while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 2013 Golden Globes.
Favorite Quote: Love people, and stay beside them.
What is the meaning of life?
And that, my friends, is the $1,394,476,285.89 question. Everyone has asked this. Poets, scholars, people high on LSD.
Lucky for all of you, I’ve figured it out. The answer is below. There will be a test on this later, so read carefully. (But don’t worry, it’s multiple choice).
The meaning of life can be bucketed into three key groups - love, taking leaps of faith, and happiness.
Let’s start with love.
First, find and cultivate relationships with friends that you trust and love and try your absolute damn hardest to keep them in your life. Think you’re too busy to keep in touch? You’re not. You know who’s busy? Elon Musk is busy. You know who else is busy? An emergency medical responder is busy. You know who else is busy? A working parent is busy. You are not busy. Sure, there will be moments when you’re super busy, but trust me, you’re not busy enough to not keep in touch with your best friends.
So what constitutes a best friend? Someone who inspires and teaches you new things, someone who gives good no-bullshit advice, someone who pushes you off your high horse when you get too full of yourself, someone who makes you fall over laughing. Someone who has your best interests at heart, someone you would call to get bailed out of jail, someone who is there for you when things get tough, someone who likes you for you. When you find one, latch on to them like a hangry killer shark. They are rare, and trust me, there will only be a few (very, very few) that also feel the same way about you. Remember, this is a two way street.
Second, don’t be afraid to fall in love. Love is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Love is also quite possibly the most rare thing you will ever encounter because again, just like your best friends, love is also a two way street. Both of you have to want to sign up for the same dance at the same time. If you are lucky enough to find the Mulder to your Scully, the Diane to your Jack, the Harry to your Sally, hold on for the ride, and don’t let go.
Be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking that you can constantly upgrade, or that something better will always come along. (Trust me, that doesn’t happen in real life). Relationships take work so don’t be so quick to dismiss someone. Remember, this goes both ways. For every person you dismiss, someone will probably dismiss you.
Oh and by the way, you’ll probably fall in love multiple times in your life. We’re all going to live for a very long time. You will change quite a bit as you get older. You will meet different people throughout your life. So just keep that in mind.
Next, let’s talk about taking leaps of faith.
I have a best friend who is one of the most prominent and successful people in his industry. But he came from practically nothing and was on his own at a very young age. He said he always approached everything with a “I have nothing to lose attitude,” and that is ultimately what made the difference. When you’ve spent your whole life doing the right thing (going to the right schools, working at the right jobs), failure sounds absolutely terrifying (“jump under the bedcovers and cower” terrifying) and thus keeps you from trying new things.
I believe very strongly that in order to live a full life, you have to take those leaps of faith. They can be anything - getting a new job in a more interesting but challenging field, starting your own business, asking someone out, doing something that your intuitive gut and rational brain disagree on.
Unfortunately, most leaps of faith probably won’t work out. You’ll fall on your ass, get your heart broken, get punched in the face, or a combination of all three. But you know what? When things do work out (and yes, this is WHEN and not IF), you’ll be so much happier than you would have been than if you had never tried at all. If you’re ever going to regret anything, regret what you did, not what you didn’t do. Think about how awesome it will be when you’re on your deathbed and think, “Holy cow, I have had the most amazing life! I really lived.”
Lastly, let’s talk about happiness.
Happiness is different for everyone. We all want different things and it’s important to respect that. But I promise you that if you have these three things, you’ll be happy no matter what.
1) Feeling fulfilled - No matter what you’re doing with your life (working at a corporate job, traveling the world, staying at home with children, whatever), try your absolute hardest to find meaning in what you’re doing everyday. If you are not happy with the day to day goings-on, you won’t be very happy with many other things.
2) Being financially independent - If you are ever lucky enough to become financially independent (through an inheritance or good old fashioned saving and investing), think carefully about what you want to do with your life. It’s totally fine to stay at your job. But think about what else you might want to do. Start a business. Invest in other startup ideas. Hang out more with your family and best friends. Spend money on your family and best friends. Buy 80 gold chains and go ignant. Whatever you want. Just remember that you can’t take the money with you when you die so spend it loud and spend it proud.
3) Understanding and accepting the fact that luck has a large part in everything you do. Stupid, dumb, blind, random, uncontrollable luck. Some people are lucky enough to be born into rich families and never have to worry about money, some people are lucky enough to be born incredibly good-looking, some people are lucky to have been early investors in Amazon, some people are lucky enough to be genuinely happy all the time. Luck will always be a critical component in whatever you do so just accept that, and you’ll feel much more at peace.
All this, dear reader, is the meaning of life. Don’t overthink it. Have a good attitude, be open-minded, and keep in mind that the story is never really over (just like the killer is never really dead in the movies). Onward!
There is a massive glut of business books / self-improvement books out there today. I've read several and I have to say, they're all pretty much the same.
A more interesting one that caught my attention in the recent years was Sophia Amoruso's "Girlboss."
Now, I don't go around hashtagging "Girlboss" and I don't refer to myself in such a manner. I even tried watching the show on Netflix but couldn't get into it. But the book and Sophia herself has stayed in my mind because I think she has a very interesting story.
Sophia was a community college dropout, she shoplifted in her youth, she dumpster-dived for food, she worked at blue collar jobs. No one, including Sophia, could have predicted that she would create Nastygal and the whole "Girlboss" phenomenon.
There has, of course, been a dichotomy between the story we hear and what actually happened (Sophia raised a ton of venture capital to grow Nastygal but it went bankrupt, Sophia is trying to position herself as a feminist powerhouse even though Nastygal didn't have a reputation for treating its female employees in the best manner, etc), but in a weird way, that's life. Human beings behave in ways that don't fit with the ideal narrative that others have constructed.
Despite all that has happened to Sophia and Nastygal, you really have to give her credit for creating a successful, multi-million dollar business (in the early years) and for having the naivete (some mistake it for fearlessness) to go through with something big.
I believe that is why Sophia has resonated with so many people. She didn't have the standard, conventional upbringing. She doesn't have any fancy school degrees. But she had grit. She had enough business and marketing savvy to grow Nastygal into a successful brand. And that is something that very few people have.
Sophia did a very interesting interview with Tim Ferriss on his podcast. One of the questions he asked her was, "What would you tell your 30 year old self?" And Sophia's response was, "It doesn't get easier." Taking on millions in venture funding doesn't suddenly mean business success. Seeing explosive revenue growth in the earlier years doesn't automatically mean that this rocket ship trend will continue. Getting married doesn't mean that you're suddenly "done" on the relationship front. (Nastygal went bankrupt the same time that Sophia's one year marriage ended. If that doesn't make you want to hide under the bedcovers and cry for about a week straight, I don't know what will).
I love her answer because it is so true. (It's probably not the most popular answer but it's the most honest answer). If you are constantly challenging yourself to grow, if you're trying new things that scare you, it doesn't get easier. You will start to feel more secure in your own skin over time but things don't get easier. New complications crop up all the time. Things are never "done" - there is always the next thing to worry about.
I'm not advocating this as the right way to live life (because it sounds stressful), but it's perhaps a way to ensure that when you're on your deathbed, you'll look back and realize that you lived a full and meaningful life.
For those of you who don't know me, I am quite obsessed with Sherry Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures, the first woman to ever head a Hollywood movie studio (when she became president of production at 20th Century Fox), and a highly successful independent film producer (where she was responsible for such hits as Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, and more).
I already wrote an entry about Sherry and her thoughts about money. Basically, she is a super conservative investor as her theory is - "I've worked hard for my money. I'm not going to gamble it away."
Sherry was right to be conservative. The movie industry is a tough place to work, and you are only as good as your last hit. You have too many financial flops, and you're out.
Sherry also subscribes to the "money is freedom" theory. "From the time I started making money at Fox -- I was 35 - I always wanted to save to have enough so that I didn't have to worry," Ms. Lansing said. "If you ever need a job, you will always do the safe thing because you will be scared. The only way you can perform in a job is if you don't need it. Then you can make pure decisions that are not based on fear."
James Cameron, the movie director, has some different ideas about money. He subscribes to the theory of "I'll always be able to make money no matter what happens" and is willing to take more gambles. As Vanity Fair said, he really is a man of extremes. What else could you expect from a truck driver / school janitor who decided one day that he wanted to be a film director and then ultimately ends up making movies like Terminator, Titanic, and Avatar?
This particular story illustrates Cameron's attitude toward money.
When Cameron was making Titanic, the budget was initially set at ~$110 M and was funded by 20th Century Fox. The budget proceeded to skyrocket while in production, with ~$3-$4 M being spent every week, and ultimately, the budget ended up at ~$230 M. Paramount Pictures stepped in and offered $65 M in funding, with the stipulation that any profits be split 50/50.
It was an extremely difficult production and at one point, Cameron offered to give up his directing fee and potential profit points, which meant that he would give up any profits he would make if Titanic became a hit. 20th Century Fox never took him up on the offer because they were convinced that Titanic would be a flop (perhaps at best, it would break even) and in doing so, Cameron walked away with upwards of $100 M when Titanic did turn out to be a smash hit.
Now think about this - Cameron had worked on Titanic for three solid years, 7 days a week (he took a day off to get married to his 4th wife, Linda Hamilton). By giving up his directing fee and potential profit points, he basically would have worked for free all those years. Cameron certainly wasn't poor - he had made some money off Terminator 2 and True Lies. But in his mind, he thought that maintaining his integrity and good relationship with 20th Century Fox was much more important than the money he would have made, especially considering how out of control the production budget got.
Cameron is someone who truly loves making movies and I believe that while the buckets of money he made was a generous byproduct of his work, money was never his primary motivator - making a great movie was.
I believe that after Sherry achieved F*** You money as well (she made this after Fatal Attraction became a monster hit), she still kept working because she loved making movies too.
So here's my main takeaway from these two very interesting people:
1) Find an industry to work in that genuinely interests you
2) Make sure you are paid decent money
3) Save and invest as aggressively as you can
4) Think about the life choices you make and how those choices can affect when you become financially independent (when you have enough money that you don't ever have to work again and can pretty much spend your days doing whatever you want)
5) Operate your life without fear
"It’s weird the satisfaction you get when you help [famous people] get financially secure ... Most of them are surrounded by yes people who tell them they can do no wrong so it takes a strong person to come through all that." -Anonymous accountant
I'm a big Jodie Foster fan and in several interviews that she's done, she talked about how when she was younger and working as a child actress, people would say to her, "Jodie, you'll be completely washed out by the time you're 40 and you won't ever work again after that."
Well, Jodie did keep working after age 40, but she was smart and did the following: she started to produce and direct movies, and she was smart about saving and investing her money early on!! She DIVERSIFIED her life portfolio.
I just read this absolutely fascinating NYMag post where an anonymous entertainment accountant talks about her super famous clients and how surprisingly clueless they are about money.
Lesson of the post: As an entertainer, you might hit it big, but it won't last forever. Stock away your money because the hits will stop one day. And when they do, you won't be struggling because you were smart early on and have enough money to live on for the rest of your life!
"My clients are actors, musicians, writers, newscasters, directors, models, and producers, many of them Grammy and Academy Award winners ... It’s insane, because they don’t live in the real world. They don’t understand anything about how normal, everyday stuff works.
Why do you not understand that because you made 1 million, 5 million, 10 million this year doesn’t mean you’re going to make it next year, and the year after! For god’s sake! You can enjoy yourself, but take a percentage of it and put a little bit of money away! And if you have a mortgage, pay down the principal. Try to build up some actual equity in your home. If you have children, create a small trust fund for them.
I think in all these years, I’ve had a total of two clients who have retirement funds. Only two. Some of them have investment accounts, but they’ll set them up in the “up” years, then, as soon as the bookings drop or they don’t work or the show they’re on is cancelled, they go through that money like water because they refuse to scale back their life style.
We will say, “Guys! You need to cut back.” “Oh, I can’t cut back.” Yes, you can. “You want me to stay at Motel 6 and shop at Target?” No. But real people live on the amount of money they have coming in. They live within their means. I’m sorry, but I think most people could live comfortably on a million dollars! But for some reason, they can’t. They think they’re going to be famous and rich forever.
You try help them onto the right path. It’s a weird the satisfaction you get when you can help someone else get financially set up and secure for life. Most of them are surrounded by people who tell them they can do no wrong so it takes a strong person to come through all that and be levelheaded and down-to-earth."
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.