My name is Susan Hyatt and I couldn’t wait to get out of high school.
See, we already share something in common.
I’m quite a bit older than you, at this point. I have two teenage kids of my own.
But I remember what it felt like to be seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old.
I remember feeling so lost and frustrated because I couldn’t figure out a clear path for my grown up life, after high school. At least, not at first.
I didn’t have a burning desire to become a doctor or an astronaut or a veterinarian.
I didn’t have any “obvious” superpowers, like being the fastest track athlete on the team.
Nothing was burning clear and bright.
I didn’t have a specific “direction” or a “plan,” like all of the guidance counselors told me I was supposed to have.
I remember thinking, “I am sorta good at lots of things, but there isn’t ONE thing that I am really amazing at. So basically, I’m boring and I suck and I don’t really have anything to offer.”
Looking back, now, I realize that the reason I couldn’t see what made me unique and valuable is because the qualities that make me unique and valuable are the EXACT SAME QUALITIES that grown ups told me were wrong and terrible.
Here’s just one example:
As a teenager, I was loud and outspoken. I was constantly asking questions in class. I talked ALL the time. Teachers called me “sassy” and said that I was disruptive. I was told, in no uncertain terms, to shut up and stop asking so many questions because otherwise, my grades would suffer.
Today? The fact that I am loud, outspoken, and unafraid to speak my mind is what has made me a successful entrepreneur, online personality, writer, and speaker. If I was timid and never spoke up, I don’t think I would have gotten a chance to appear in national magazines and TV, speak onstage in five different countries and get a personal invitation to meet the president of Aruba, or get sponsorship deals with companies like IKEA and Seattle’s Best Coffee.
They told Teenage Me that being outspoken and inquisitive was “wrong.”
In fact, turns out? What was supposedly “wrong” with me is actually one of the best things about me.
That, more than anything else, is the message that I want to deliver to every young person graduating from high school and college, today:
What’s “wrong” with you is actually the very same thing that makes you amazing.
So, if you are wondering, “What do I have to offer the world?” don’t necessarily look at what you are praised for. Don’t necessarily look at your report card or your trophies or all those times when you got a pat on the back for being “good.”
If you are wondering, “What do I have to offer the world?” and “What makes me unique and valuable?” … you might want to start by looking at the things that you have been shamed for, scolded for, told to stop doing. Those might be your real clues.
Maybe you are a very introverted and quiet person. The opposite of me. Ha! Maybe your whole life, people have told you, “Speak up! Stop being so shy.” But guess what? What’s wrong with you is what’s right with you. If you own your quietness and celebrate it, who knows? You might become a kick-ass meditation instructor, someday, helping people to quiet down their anxious minds.
Or maybe you enjoy being on the track team, but you’re not actually the top member of the team. Maybe people are always telling you, “You could be SO GREAT if you would just train harder.” But maybe ‘winning’ isn’t what track is all about, for you. Maybe you really enjoy how running makes you feel, the endorphin high that you get, and the personal pride that you feel after surpassing a personal record, even if you are a lot slower than other people. Maybe you like taking a more chilled out, moderate approach, even though everybody else is constantly riding you to try harder and go faster.
Someday, you might write a book or deliver a TED talk or start a business where you inspire exhausted overachievers and burnt out athletes to relax and reconnect with the simple joy of running, for no reason other than that… it feels good.
What is supposedly “wrong” with you is actually the very thing that makes you amazing.
It’s the source of your power.
And, quite possibly, a big clue about why you were born and what you are meant to offer the world.
Right now, I want you to turn to the classmate next to you and share one thing that is “wrong” with you. Something you have been shamed for, scolded for, told to stop doing, told that you need to change or fix or you will never be a success. Turn to the person next to you and share one thing. Then swap. Take turns.
Grown-ups in the audience, you too. Oh, I know there’s plenty “wrong” with you, too! 🙂
OK. Now? I want you to turn to that same person and tell them why whatever is “wrong” with you is actually a powerful quality.
___________ is actually good thing because it means that I ___________.
Remember what you just said to your seatmate, especially in moments where you feel lost and adrift or confused about your life purpose. There may be lots of those moments like those in the years ahead.
Remember that what is “wrong” with you is what makes you amazing.
That is the big message I wanted to deliver.
But before I leave the stage, I have a few more quick points to hit.
I said I was talkative, right? 🙂
I will be brief.
Here we go:
5 more things that I really want you to know:
1. Most of the stuff that seems to matter SO MUCH right now will not matter at all in just a few years. When you are over 25, almost NOBODY will ever discuss or even ASK about what your GPA or test scores were… so try your best, but please remember that all of this is temporary and most of it won’t really matter.
2. Some things will matter, though. Resourcefulness will matter. Resilience will matter. Creativity will matter. Vulnerability will matter. Humor and fun will matter. Self-love will really matter. Class ranking? Eh.
3. College might not be the right choice for you. Getting a 9-to-5 job might not be right for you. Passion PLUS hard work IS the right choice for you. For everyone.
4. Fly your freak flag — even if it really upsets certain people. Be proud of who you are. Be rock-solid about your beliefs. Sometimes it may seem like if one person doesn’t like you, then the whole world is going to come crashing down, your career will end, and you’ll be destitute and alone, sobbing into a bag of Fritos. Not true. You will survive life even if some people don’t like you.
5. Pay attention to your cravings. Feed your cravings. All kinds of cravings. The craving for a new career, the craving for freedom, travel, adventure, new friendships, more time alone, a pina colada, a personal trainer, a chance to work at the White House. Whatever you crave, don’t ignore it or pretend those cravings don’t exist. Neglecting your cravings leads to a dry, unsatisfying life.
If you want something, if you crave it… then you can create it.
Craving MORE out of life doesn’t make you a selfish, greedy person.
It’s not wrong to want more.
It means you are a beautiful human being who wants to grow.
Allow me to repeat, one last time:
Everything that’s “wrong” with you is also what makes you amazing.
Everything that’s “wrong” with you is also what makes you valuable.
Everything that’s “wrong” with you is also what makes you… you.
Congratulations to the class of 2017.
Have a delicious summer vacation, make good choices, make a few bad choices, don’t spend your whole life on Facebook, love yourself and be good to one another.
Thank you for listening.