Talking with Graduates About the Future: Developing Grit

I just returned from my youngest daughter’s college graduation at the University of Michigan. Forever Go Blue!

5 more graduations on my schedule this Spring.

Continuing from last week, here is an excerpt of an 8th grade graduation speech I gave a few years ago:

Developing Grit

The second tool to carry with you throughout life is GRIT. When you reach high, you will undoubtedly encounter obstacles. No matter how much of a star you are, the road will have bumps in it. You WILL experience some occasional failures.

How many of you know the life story of Steve Jobs? You probably know he is considered to be one of the greatest innovators of all time. He transformed one industry after another – computers, music, telephone, movies – let’s translate that into names we are all familiar with: Macbooks, the movie “Toy Story”, Ipods, Iphones, These are part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. (Judging from the behavior of my own kids, young people would not know what to do without them.) In any event, they would not exist without Steve Jobs.

But did you know this? Steve was born to an unwed mother and was given up for adoption at birth. His adoptive father never went to college and the family had very little money.

At the age of 16, Steve joined up with a friend to found what became the Apple computer company. Like Oprah (her story is discussed in last Sunday’s blog post), Steve had a vision of what he wanted to do – interestingly, although his fascination was with technology, it came out of his relationship to the spiritual. The spark about technology for Steve was – as he put it – “that there was something beyond what you see every day.”

And he reached high. The Apple computer company became wildly successful. But as often happens, Success brought in a lot of new people who thought they knew what was best for the company. And Steve did not always agree with them. There were bitter arguments and in the end Steve was fired from his own company.

This would be enough to sink many people. But though Steve had lost his company, he still had his goal. Here’s his take on it: “Being fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. “ Instead of giving up, he went on to start a new computer company and developed innovative new technology. Eventually – ironically — Apple rehired Steve to lead the company and brought the technology he had developed back to Apple and used it to create the ipod, itunes and the iphone.

Looking back, Steve said “I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was pretty awful- tasting medicine but I guess the patient needed it.”

Know that life hands all of us some failures. You may blow a test; not make the varsity team; or, like Steve Jobs, lose a job somewhere along the way. These things don’t feel good. But what’s important is how you respond — pick yourself up, remember your goals, and go back at it. Use your experience with failure to propel you to something even better; maybe even something that changes the world.

Share your stories about graduating

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