David McCullough Jr.’s commencement address at Wellesley High School on June 1 has sent reverberations throughout the World Wide Web. Popular on YouTube (with more than 1 million views) because of its’ “you are not special” tilt, but it should be more popular for the more encouraging message somewhat hidden underneath. Watch the video here. McCullough’s speech was meant to be motivational. When thinking about the reason behind specific decisions the graduates were to make from June 1 moving forward, he was simply advocating that the students take action for the sake of achievement over potential accolades.
Achievement over accolades.
One must remember that if you are one in a million, that is wonderful, but the world has over seven billion people on it. That means there are 7,000 people just like you.
So how do you distinguish yourself?
1. Be Selfless – Selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. In a society where people are moving from personal and professional success to one of seeking societal significance, you must change your paradigm to focus less on profit to one that focuses on the triple bottom line. An inward focus purely for the development of wealth may not yield the highest dividends for others and for the environment. However, a focus on the intertwinement of people, planet and profit will surely yield an increase in betterness for all parties involved.
2. W.I.I.F.T. – Ask yourself, “What is in it for them?” and focus on how your actions impact and do good for others. Some may call it the Platinum Rule. Similar to being selfless, but different in that you’re seeking your own meaningful ends through helping others achieve their goals. When confronted with choices, choose the path less traveled. You will achieve your goals by selling your services in a way that best positions the other party for success.
3. Character Ethic – Stephen R. Covey was one of the first to make the distinction to focus on the character ethic and not the personality ethic. Instead of worrying about how others perceive you, focus on integrity, trustworthiness, honesty and taking action because it is the ethical thing to do. Don’t take action because it will get your name in the newspaper, take action because it (altruistically) provides for the betterment of self and for those in your world.
4. A Bias for Action – Its not where you’ve been, its what you’re doing. The pursuit of happiness requires you to take action, so step away from your iStuff and get busy. A distinctive life is driven by the inherent value of meaningful relationships and working hard to advance society. Being afraid to make a specific move only prolongs the agony you may feel over a decision. Making mistakes is okay, in fact I encourage it, so take action and openly share your learnings.
5. Fear Mediocrity – Education is not for material advantage over the perceived competition. The act of learning is a means in and of itself. Be worthy of the advantages you’ve been given in life and do something special with your inherent talents. You can be one in a million, but those other 7,000 people just like you are working just as hard (if not harder) as you. Distinguish yourself by having a healthy contempt for “average” by using your innate gifts to make a positive impact on the world.
Remember, as McCullough said, you are not special.
However, you can become special if you take action because achieving your goals intrinsically means more than the accolades extrinsically.
That is how you become significant.