I had a lovely thing happen to me today on my weekly sojourn to the Farmer's Market. It's a crowded, bustling place most Saturdays - more so at holiday time - with lots of people I don't get to see very often and lots of people to meet.
As I was going into the market, a fellow stopped me and introduced himself. He said, "I've wanted to tell you for a long time about how something you said had an impact on me. It was a few years ago - 1999 to be exact. You were speaking to the graduating class at my son's school - your daughter was also graduating. And when i saw your name on the program I thought 'Well, this will be funny.' But instead, you were serious."
"I've remembered that speech, and brought it up to my kids, dozens of times since then. And I just wanted to say "Thank you."
Now - isn't that a wonderful way to start a day?
And I've been thinking "Yeah - maybe there's something in those long-ago words that is worth repeating as an end-of-year thought."
They were honest words, as honest now as they were then. And I still consider it some of my best thinking. So, to end the year, some wisdom from a guy who - lest we forget - is missing part of his thumb.
(In 1999, I was asked to give the commencement address for my daughter Erin’s graduating class. It was an honour and a joy … but it was also terrifying. What could I say to my daughter and her friends that they might remember and draw from in years to come? In the end, it became clear to me that there is only one thing worth knowing.)
Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of ’99 … I don’t suppose it would do any good to tell you to wear sunscreen ...
I’m delighted to be invited to address you here tonight. I consider it an honour to be asked to confer upon you the accumulated wisdom drawn from my rich and varied experiences … in a nutshell, to pass on to you all the important things I have learned as I have lurched along the rocky road of life over the course of my many years on this Earth.
I was told this should take no longer than about five to seven minutes.
Go ahead, laugh … meanwhile, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with the extra three minutes.
No, really, it’s true. I’m forty-five years old, and frankly, I’ve only learned one important thing – one thing worth sharing with you - in all that time. Sad, isn’t it? But what the heck, I’m up here, and how many chances like this do you get in a lifetime? So here goes:
There is, in each of us, one single force that rises above everything else human beings can conceive. It is irresistible. It is the only path to happiness. No great achievement ever came about in its absence. And when you discover it within yourself, you open up limitless vistas, infinite possibilities.
It will sustain you through difficult times, comfort you in sadness, make every success sweeter and every failure seem like nothing more than a hiccup.
It is not just magic – it is the source of all magic. If you find it, nourish it, explore its possibilities, live it … you will be one of the chosen few who are truly happy, whatever happens in your life.
Don’t suppose you’d be interested in hearing what it is, would you?
Passion is the mystical force that drives all human achievement. Find it within yourself, and every dream you have will come true. Fail to find it – or worse yet, find it and allow it to be driven from you – and you are condemned to live in abject misery and to die years before your heart stops beating.
I’m guessing you’re with me in choosing door number one? Good call. But you should know that you now embark on the most difficult and rewarding quest of your lives. Best pack a lunch.
The good news is: we all have a passion within us. The bad news is: it doesn’t always leap out at you, wave its hand, announce itself and say “Follow me”.
And within us as well are false passions, imposters that cheerfully lead you down a long road, promising happiness and fulfillment … then evaporate before your eyes.
Money is the worst of those impostors. Fame is another. Lust, envy, jealousy, the faces are legion but the outcome is always the same. It may take you years – even decades – to find your true passion. Never stop looking.
So how do we find it?
We start by realizing that passion is the vehicle, not the destination. If your passion is music, it is your music that carries you and sustains you through life. You don’t think of it in terms of money or fame or all the things that music can allow you to acquire. The rewards may well come, but for you, they’re a delightful bonus.
Because passion is its own reward. When we discover it and listen to it, it carries us forward, guides us, and nourishes our soul. It becomes who we are, informs our every thought and action. We follow our passion simply because we cannot imagine any other road.
And when that happens, we are finally free to define success in our own very personal terms. If your passion is your children, there is no higher calling than to be there to make lunch for them, walk them to school, play with them … watch, overwhelmed by pride and joy, as they mount this stage to get their diplomas. If your passion is teaching, you share the sense of pride that we all feel tonight, and nothing could tempt you away from the classroom.
Imagine that! A life free from keeping score – how many VCRs do you have? How many TVs? How big is your bank account? None of that will matter if you have found your passion. It’s all so much tinsel. Sure, you’ll accept the rewards … but they do rest so easily on a peaceful soul.
I have told you I have only learned one important thing in my life. And really, that’s all there is. What more could you want? Money, power, fame? Give me one instance – one - where those were achieved without great passion.
Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself the passion in the Sistine Chapel Ceiling … the writing of Jane Austen … the music of Beethoven or Lennon and McCartney or Lauryn Hill. Our culture – our society – is built on passion.
People may tell you that you can’t let your life be ruled by your passions. What they’re really saying is you can’t allow your life to be ruled by your passions.
Because I promise you, your life will be ruled by passions. You cannot escape that. But you get to pick whose.
Choose your own. Follow your passion, and know that as you do there will be people who resent you for it, whose passions conflict with yours or who are overcome by jealousy in the face of someone who is doing something they wish they had the courage to attempt.
Don’t worry about them. If you stay true to your passion, you stay true to yourself. You are bulletproof, invincible. You’re hard to bring down, and you bounce back in a heartbeat.
When you live a life of great passion, you cannot help being a better, happier, and more complete person.
(Directly to Erin:) Speaking for myself … that’s all I ever wanted for you.
So, that's my accumulated wisdom. It was originally written for young people - but I don't think passion is just for the young. I think that from time to time we all forget to search for and follow our passion - or we feel that at our age (whatever that age may be), there's no point, that the opportunity has passed us by.
If that's what you believe about yourself, I'm going out of this year encouraging you to think again. It's not too late. It's never too late. Go to your deathbed following your passion.
It will be the one way you can be sure that your life was well lived.
Happy New Year to all of you. I hope 2007 is filled with happiness ... health ... and ... well, you know.