Oswald Letter

Conclusion of college commences life of learning

by Dan Oswald

My oldest graduated from college this weekend. In addition to reminding me that I am, indeed, getting older, it caused me to consider what sage career and life advice I might have for him. My first thought was that I had the order of those two things reversed—that I should be providing him advice on life first and career second.

The most precious things in life aren’t “things” at all—they’re people. Be a good friend, brother, son, husband, father. Be a good person who makes a positive impact on the world. Advice on how my son might do that comes miles before career advice, just as being those things comes before being a great worker or employee. What’s the old saying? “No one on their deathbed ever says they wish they had spent more time at work.” I’m sure that’s because when the time is really near, what is really important in life becomes crystal clear.

Commencement addresses are full of advice from people much wiser than I, as they convey to graduating collegians what they must do to achieve their dreams. I thought I might borrow from a few to come up with a message for my son.

Live YOUR life

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. 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. . . . Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Steve Jobs

Listen

“Listen once in a while. . . . Or sometime when you’re talking up a storm so brilliant, so charming that you can hardly believe how wonderful you are, pause just a moment and listen to yourself. It’s good for the soul to hear yourself as others hear you, and next time maybe, just maybe, you will not talk so much, so loudly, so brilliantly, so charmingly, so utterly shamelessly foolishly.” Russell Baker

Have a plan

“It is very common . . . to tell graduates: dream and dream big. I say do more than that. When you dream, you are in an unconscious state. It ends. You wake up. It’s not real. You need to create a vision. This takes determination and a plan that takes your dream to a destination.” Roger Goodell

Be bold

“Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold, and I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try.” Sheryl Sandberg

Take action

“Every story you’ve ever connected with, every leader you’ve ever admired, every puny little thing that you’ve ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble.” Bradley Whitford

It’s OK to fail

“So that’s what I wish for all of you—the bad as well as the good. Fall down. Make a mess. Break something occasionally. . . . And remember that the story is never over.” Conan O’Brien

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

Never quit

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Winston Churchill

There you have it! Great advice on life from some very accomplished people that would serve any graduate—or person, for that matter—very well to consider. And maybe because it’s coming from them instead of Dad, it will carry more weight. My single addition to all of this is that I hope and pray my son finds something he is truly passionate about and can spend his life pursuing that passion. Life’s way too short to spend your days doing something you don’t love.