Today’s column is text from my commencement address at Saturday’s University of Texas at Tyler graduation activities.
Hello and thank you for the privilege of visiting with you today. When I graduated from this school in 1987 my commencement spea-ker was a prominent young lawyer from New York named Ru-dolph Giuliani.
As you reflect on the disparity from then until now you can at least take comfort in the prudent financial management of the school under Dr. Mabry’s leadership as my fee for being here today is a fraction of what they must have paid Mr. Giuliani. In fact, between us, I am here for free.
Giuliani inspired our audience to commit to a life of service. Other speakers I have heard over the years have offered such sage advice as to invest in a good mattress. The Internet is filled with speeches for the ages from speakers great and relatively unknown.
It is my hope today to share a brief glimpse into what my experience has led me to conclude is part of the secret sauce of a successful life. Plus they’ve only given me 45 minutes so let’s get right to it shall we? Just kidding. Stay with me for another seven minutes and we’ll get on with the program.
We talk from time to time at our newspaper about speaking with simplicity and clarity. In fact some days my question for our journalists is whether they can just give our readers some pinto beans and cornbread. Keeping things simple and comfortable is important rather than pontificating prose or proclaiming some lofty standard to a tiny audience of intellectual elites.
Today is the second time in a month it has been my privilege to speak to a group on this campus. My recent visit with a mass communications class concluded with students asking two relevant questions related to life, learning and perspective.
The first question was “What do you like most about your job?” It was exciting because my answer was easy. At my stage of life, age 49 and 27 years into my career, it is the people that make work meaningful to me.
If my opportunity is to lean in and encourage someone to reach higher or find personal satisfaction in what they are doing it is a lot more rewarding than simply making, accumulating or spending money.
Some days it is the other way around. Those around me push me to be my best with constructive criticism or words of encouragement. People matter and they are worth your time.
The second question was “How do you define success?” Again my answer was easy. For me, it’s about contentment. If you find contentment everything else will take care of itself. There will never be enough money so get over it. Now.
So how do we find and maintain a life of contentment?
Dorothy found it in the Wizard of Oz. There’s no place like home.
George Bailey found it in It’s a Wonderful Life. Measuring ourselves in the eyes of those who see us as we are, not the warped lenses with which we see ourselves.
Something resonates with those stories. They are about what is truly important in this life — people and the relationships we share with them. Yes, some relationships are painful and some are joyful. Some people fill our tanks and others suck the very life out of us.
These stories also remind us the things that matter most are right in front of us. Yes, we should dream big dreams and pursue the highest of ideals. But when your head hits the pillow at night, a contented mind is the one receiving the greatest rest.
How do we find contentment? It is a difficult question. We surely cannot sit in a lotus position and repeat the same word over and over hoping for some cosmic bolt of contentment to hit us out of the blue.
What is the recipe for the secret sauce of success? Here are a few essential ingredients:
Enjoy the journey.
To simplify, let people know who you are not what you know. Give yourself permission to be the best you can be. Be realistic and don’t strive for perfection. Performance is better than perfection.
Enjoying the journey is hard. Society screams at us to focus on what is next. What are your goals? Where are you going? Are you satisfied with where and who you are?
Be present with people.