“One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life — is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not to the outcome.”
It’s that time of year when we celebrate our graduates and look with them to all the possibilities that lie ahead. Perhaps some of you are preparing for a commencement. You may be getting ready for a graduation ceremony for a child or grandchild or perhaps you are preparing for a different kind of commencement. Perhaps you have completed a great task of your own and are preparing to move on and begin something new.
I always enjoy hearing of the unveiling of a new book based on a commencement address. Last year I learned of Charles Wheelan’s book, 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. It was based on his commencement address to Dartmouth College graduates in 2011. Number 10 1/2 in the book was “Don’t Try to be Great.” It was based on an experience he had while being interviewed for the news show, Chicago Tonight, with Phil Ponce. The show is filmed live so it can be a high pressure situation if you’re not used to that sort of thing. Wheelen says before going on air he was feeling nervous and hoping to impress. With just a few seconds before going live, the journalist, Phil Ponce, leaned over to Charles and said, “Don’t try to be great. Just be solid.” Wheelen said, “That simple advice had a profound effect because I knew I could be solid. That was within my control. I could just talk about what I know…Phil’s advice was liberating because it removed the pressure to deliver what I wasn’t certain I could deliver and it made me better at doing what I knew I could.”
Interestingly, Joyce DiDonato offers similar advice in her 2014 Commencement address at The Juilliard School. DiDonato is a mezzo soprano. The New Yorker notes the she is “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation.” In her speech she shares four things she’s discovered along the way. The first is “ You will never make it”. DiDonato says, “I don’t believe there is actually an 'it’. ‘It’ doesn’t exist…one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself…is to decide, without apology, to commit to the journey, and not the outcome.The outcome will almost always fall short of your expectations, and if you’re chasing that elusive, often deceptive goal, you’re likely in for a very tough road,” As Wheelan said, “Don’t try to be great. Just be solid.”
We are all in transition in one way or another. We are always learning something new or facing new challenges. Maybe one of the best things we can do is give ourselves and those around us some grace. We don’t have to be great. Let’s do what we can and commit to the journey. As Joyce DiDonato says, “One never, ever, knows where their journey will lead them. But yours has led you here.”