Graduation season is a time for optimism. Graduates and their families celebrate achievements and look ahead to the world of possibilities. And famous, iconic speakers take to the podium, bestowing wisdom on graduates before sending them out into the real world.
And what better way to get some inspiration for your own career than by hearing leaders who have been through good times and bad, and are willing to tell their stories? Whether you’re graduating this year, you will next year, or you did 10 years ago, we can all take some important wisdom from those speeches—from this year and years past.
1. Sheryl Sandberg
Harvard Business School, 2012
Sheryl Sandberg, a 1995 graduate of Harvard Business School, launched into her tale of success by explaining that, when offered her first job at Google, she thought it didn’t meet any of her career criteria. But, she got some important advice from Google’s CEO, who told her, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”
Sandberg is living proof that taking chances can pay off. Even if that job doesn’t have all the trimmings you want, if it’s the right opportunity in other ways, maybe you just need to go for it.
2. Condoleezza Rice
Southern Methodist University, 2012
A former diplomat and policy maker, Condoleezza Rice admonished her audience that, while it’s important to have passionate opinions, those opinions should be tempered with input from someone who has a different point of view. “When you’re absolutely sure that you’re right,” she said, “talk with someone who disagrees.”
Keep this in mind when you’re sure your next idea just can’t fail, or you want to bypass market research. Get a second, third, or fourth opinion—preferably from someone with no stake in your success. Learn how to take feedback, work with it, and use it to make your idea better.
3. Conan O’Brien
Dartmouth College, 2011
Conan used to be on top of the world, but then, he went through what he calls “a profound and very public disappointment.” But he didn’t let that keep him down for long, and soon made his own version of success. He tried new things, and it liberated him. As he said in his commencement speech last year, “It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can be a profound catalyst for reinvention.”
Things won’t turn out the way you want every time—that’s part of life. But a bad turn of events can teach you resilience, and can propel you forward.
4. Steve Jobs
Stanford University, 2005
The late Steve Jobs discussed mortality openly at Stanford’s commencement six years before he succumbed to cancer. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life… Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
A successful career is about big dreams and goals. But more importantly, it’s about your own dreams and goals, not anyone else’s. Jobs didn’t listen to conventional wisdom, and that’s why he is considered a visionary.
Whether you’re commencing a whole new life or simply shifting your perspective, these speeches can inspire you to take a chance (and maybe fail) or think differently (but get feedback). The future’s arms are wide open. Now go out and enjoy the journey.