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January 12, 2006

Hindsights

Harker Commencement 6-02
Harker School Commencement

I've been blogging for a whole ten days now, and all my topics have been business stuff: venture capital, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, evangelism, etc. Now I want to throw you a total curve ball.

About fourteen years ago my wife and I separated for a time. As part of my search for what the hell was going on in our lives, I looked for a book about people's hindsights in life--what they did right, what they did wrong, and what their advice would be.

To my surprise, I could find no such book. So, like a fool, I decided to write the book. After all, how hard could it be to turn on a record their hindsights ala Studs Terkel?

Let me tell you, it was hard. Very hard. Every step of the process was hard: figuring out who to interview, getting the interviews, doing the interviews, and editing the interviews. It was much harder than writing a book where you just sit there and make things up. :-)

I also wrote a speech based on the book, and I have given it six times at commencements, graduations and baccalaureates: Palo Alto High (three times), DeAnza College, High Tech High, and Harker School. Giving these speeches brought me some of the greatest moments of joy in my life. And, unlike the Kurt Vonnegut hoax, these were for real.

Yesterday at Macworld Expo someone came up to me and told me how much the speech meant to his family. Memories of these speeches and the book came flooding back, so today's blog is the full text of my Hindsights speech.

Nota bene: read and forward this at your own risk because hindsight #10 has cost parents thousands of dollars!

Hindsights

Speaking to you today marks a milestone in my life. I am fifty years old. Thirty-two or years ago, when I was in your seat, I never, ever thought I would be fifty years old.

The implications of being your speaker frightens me. For one thing, when a fifty year old geezer spoke at my baccalaureate ceremony, he was about the last person I'd believe. I have no intention of giving you the boring speech that you are dreading. This speech will be short, sweet, and not boring.

I am going to talk about hindsights today. Hindsights that I've accumulated in the thirty-two years from where you are to where I am. Don't blindly believe me. Don't take what I say as “truth.” Just listen. Perhaps my experience can help you out a tiny bit.

I will present them ala David Letterman. Yes, fifty year old people can still stay up past 11:00 pm.

#10: Live off your parents as long as possible.

I was a diligent Oriental in high school and college. I took college-level classes and earned college-level credits. I rushed through college in 3 1/2 years. I never traveled or took time off because I thought it wouldn't prepare me for work and it would delay my graduation.

Frankly, I blew it.

You are going to work the rest of your lives, so don't be in a rush to start. Stretch out your college education. Now is the time to suck life into your lungs-before you have a mortgage, kids, and car payments.

Take whole semesters off to travel overseas. Take jobs and internships that pay less money or no money. Investigate your passions on your parent's nickel. Or dime. Or quarter. Or dollar. Your goal should be to extend college to at least six years.

Delay, as long as possible, the inevitable entry into the workplace and a lifetime of servitude to bozos who know less than you do, but who make more money. Your parents and grand parents worked very hard to get you and your family to this point. Do not deprive them of the pleasure of supporting you.

#9 Pursue joy, not happiness.

This is probably the hardest lesson of all to learn. It probably seems to you that the goal in life is to be “happy.” Oh, you maybe have to sacrifice and study and work hard, but, by and large, happiness should be predictable.

Nice house. Nice car. Nice material things.

Take my word for it, happiness is temporary and fleeting. Joy, by contrast, is unpredictable. It comes from pursuing interests and passions that do not obviously result in happiness.

Pursuing joy, not happiness will translate into one thing over the next few years for you: Study what you love. This may also not be popular with parents. When I went to college, I was “marketing driven.” It's also an Oriental thing.

I looked at what fields had the greatest job opportunities and prepared myself for them. This was stupid. There are so many ways to make a living in the world, it doesn't matter that you've taken all the “right” courses. I don't think one person on the original Macintosh team had a classic “computer science” degree.

You parents have a responsibility in this area. Don't force your kids to follow in your footsteps or to live your dreams. My father was a senator in Hawaii. His dream was to be a lawyer, but he only had a high school education. He wanted me to be a lawyer.

For him, I went to law school. For me, I quit after two weeks. I view this a terrific validation of my inherent intelligence. And when I quit, neither of my parents were angry. They loved me all just the same.

#8: Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is to accept the known and resist the unknown. You should, in fact, do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown.

Let me tell you a short story about ice. In the late 1800s there was a thriving ice industry in the Northeast. Companies would cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds and sell them around the world. The largest single shipment was 200 tons that was shipped to India. 100 tons got there unmelted, but this was enough to make a profit.

These ice harvesters, however, were put out of business by companies that invented mechanical ice makers. It was no longer necessary to cut and ship ice because companies could make it in any city during any season.

These ice makers, however, were put out of business by refrigerator companies. If it was convenient to make ice at a manufacturing plant, imagine how much better it was to make ice and create cold storage in everyone's home.

You would think that the ice harvesters would see the advantages of ice making and adopt this technology. However, all they could think about was the known: better saws, better storage, better transportation.

Then you would think that the ice makers would see the advantages of refrigerators and adopt this technology. The truth is that the ice harvesters couldn't embrace the unknown and jump their curve to the next curve.

Challenge the known and embrace the unknown, or you'll be like the ice harvester and ice makers.

#7: Learn to speak a foreign language, play a musical instrument, and play non-contact sports.

Learn a foreign language. I studied Latin in high school because I thought it would help me increase my vocabulary. It did, but trust me when I tell you it's very difficult to have a conversation in Latin today other than at the Vatican. And despite all my efforts, the Pope has yet to call for my advice. Latin has proven to be very valuable, but a “live” language would be nice too.

Learn to play a musical instrument. My only connection to music today is that I was named after Guy Lombardo. Trust me: it's better than being named after Guy's brother, Carmen. Playing a musical instrument could be with me now and stay with me forever. Instead, I have to buy CDs at Tower.

I played football. I loved football. Football is macho. I was a middle linebacker--arguably, one of the most macho position in a macho game. But you should also learn to play a sport like hockey, basketball, or tennis. That is, a sport you can play when you're over the hill.

It will be as difficult when you're 50 to get twenty-two guys together in a stadium to play football as it is to have a conversation in Latin, but all the people who wore cute, white tennis outfits can still play tennis. And all the macho football players are sitting around watching television and drinking beer.

#6: Continue to learn.

Learning is a process not an event. I thought learning would be over when I got my degree. It's not true. You should never stop learning. Indeed, it gets easier to learn once you're out of school because it's easier to see the relevance of why you need to learn.

You're learning in a structured, dedicated environment right now. On your parents' nickel. But don't confuse school and learning. You can go to school and not learn a thing. You can also learn a tremendous amount without school.

#5: Learn to like yourself or change yourself until you can like yourself.

I know a forty year old woman who was a drug addict. She is a mother of three. She traced the start of her drug addiction to smoking dope in high school.

I'm not going to lecture you about not taking drugs. Hey, I smoked dope in high school. Unlike Bill Clinton, I inhaled. Also unlike Bill Clinton, I exhaled.

This woman told me that she started taking drugs because she hated herself when she was sober. She did not like drugs so much as much as she hated herself. Drugs were not the cause though she thought they were the solution.

She turned her life around only after she realized that she was in a downward spiral. Fix your problem. Fix your life. Then you won't need to take drugs. Drugs are neither the solution nor the problem.

Frankly, smoking, drugs, alcohol--and using an IBM PC--are signs of stupidity. End of discussion.

#4: Don't get married too soon.

I got married when I was thirty two. That's about the right age. Until you're about that age, you may not know who you are. You also may not know who you're marrying.

I don't know one person who got married too late. I know many people who got married too young. If you do decide to get married, just keep in mind that you need to accept the person for what he or she is right now.

#3: Play to win and win to play.

Playing to win is one of the finest things you can do. It enables you to fulfill your potential. It enables you to improve the world and, conveniently, develop high expectations for everyone else too.

And what if you lose? Just make sure you lose while trying something grand. Avinash Dixit, an economics professor at Princeton, and Barry Nalebuff, an economics and management professor at the Yale School of Organization and Management, say it this way:

“If you are going to fail, you might as well fail at a difficult task. Failure causes others to downgrade their expectations of you in the future. The seriousness of this problem depends on what you attempt.”

In its purest form, winning becomes a means, not an end, to improve yourself and your competition.

Winning is also a means to play again. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the unlived life is not worth examining. The rewards of winning--money, power, satisfaction, and self-confidence--should not be squandered.

Thus, in addition to playing to win, you have a second, more important obligation: To compete again to the depth and breadth and height that your soul can reach. Ultimately, your greatest competition is yourself.

#2: Obey the absolutes.

Playing to win, however, does not mean playing dirty. As you grow older and older, you will find that things change from absolute to relative. When you were very young, it was absolutely wrong to lie, cheat, or steal. As you get older, and particularly when you enter the workforce, you will be tempted by the “system” to think in relative terms. “I made more money.” “I have a nicer car.” “I went on a better vacation.”

Worse, “I didn't cheat as much on my taxes as my partner.” “I just have a few drinks. I don't take cocaine.” “I don't pad my expense reports as much as others.”

This is completely wrong. Preserve and obey the absolutes as much as you can. If you never lie, cheat, or steal, you will never have to remember who you lied to, how you cheated, and what you stole.

There absolutely are absolute rights and wrongs.

#1: Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone.

This is the most important hindsight. It doesn't need much explanation. I'll just repeat it: Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone. Nothing-not money, power, or fame-can replace your family and friends or bring them back once they are gone. Our greatest joy has been our baby, and I predict that children will bring you the greatest joy in your lives--especially if they graduate from college in four years.

And now, I'm going to give you one extra hindsight because I've probably cost your parents thousands of dollars today. It's something that I hate to admit too.

By and large, the older you get, the more you're going to realize that your parents were right. More and more-until finally, you become your parents. I know you're all saying, “Yeah, right.” Mark my words.

Remember these ten things: if just one of them helps you helps just one of you, this speech will have been a success:

#10: Live off your parents as long as possible.
#9: Pursue joy, not happiness.
#8: Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.
#7: Learn to speak a foreign language, play a musical instrument, and play non-contact sports.
#6: Continue to learn.
#5: Learn to like yourself or change yourself until you can like yourself. #4: Don't get married too soon.
#3: Play to win and win to play.
#2: Obey the absolutes.
#1: Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone.

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Comments

Except for those of us who had the temerity to be born into lower-class homes (or worse) and didn't have the luxury of "living off our parents" even up until we graduated highschool.

Other than that, the list is so-so.

My daughter was graduating so I wanted so real cute, but inexpensive, photo graduation announcements, and I found several good sites, Graduation Cards Shop, Cards Shoppe and Announcements-Shoppe. They all have real unique graduation invitations, and you can use my own wordings with lots of sample graduation sayings for me to use. I ordered from Graduation Cards Shop, and the graduation cards were beautiful. I got lots of compliments.

Some fantastic insight there, Guy. What ever happened to the book, by the way? Still keen to write it? You should go for it, man.
I understand you went through a divorce and all that, but you didn't really touch on the marriage topic too much. I don't think the problem is getting married too young – I think the problem is getting married when you're not mature enough for it. And, as we all know, age does not necessarily mean there is maturity. There are plenty of young mature people.
We have to teach each other that marriage is very different to what we expect, and that it is a partnership, and that it requires leadership and a whole lot of things I don't have the space to write here. But, something important (I think) is we have to learn that what the movies tell us to look for in a partner (good looks, good talents etc.) are not necessarily what we should be looking for in a partner. We have been lied to by the media here... but anyway, that requires a whole book of it's own.
Great post, thanks. Pursue joy! Not happiness! Good – however, let us find out where true joy is (and that's something that requires honest seeking) rather than fickle things (Dare I say, even some of our passions are actually fickle.)

With all the good posts and comments, I want to tell you all about a couple of excellent websites and places I found for for graduation invitations announcements cards,

http://www.cardsshoppe.com/productlist.asp?catid=10 and
http://www.graduationcardsshop.com/

I ordered from both these sites and was very pleased with the variety and prices. The thing I really liked was their same day shipping. Just thought you might be interested.

Sarah Porter

Guy, you speech inspired me since I read it for the first time almost 6 months ago. Today we celebrated end of school (Abitur) of my son Paul. I printed your remarks for those teachers and friends that I liked most. On that ocasion i also translated it into German as I did not find it translated somewhere else. If you want to make use of it look at my blog at :http://www.blog.lotharevers.com.
Thanks again!!
Lothar

Pretty useful tips. Usually, these tips are hard to realize and even harder to implement in life.

I would like to read more information about stated above.At us such in the country is not present.I've been blogging for a whole ten days now, and all my topics have been business stuff: venture capital, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, evangelism, etc. Now I want to throw you a total curve ball.

!!!!I would like to read more information about stated above.At us such in the country is not present.Wonderful article, thank you!!!!!

Guy Kawasaki
Wonderful article, thank you!
My blog - http://www.ecoref.ru/

I think your 10 hindsights along with those by advocated by Baz Luhrmann in his '(Everybody's Free To Wear) Sunscreen' can make life simply beautiful. Cheers' !

Great stuff, I thought I would cheekily plug mine:

http://www.liferules.frih.net/

Hello, i am new with internet and i am tring to make a blog but its very hard. If anyone knows where to get information about this i would really apritiate it.

I know this isn't your most current post (by any stretch), but it is certainly poignant. I am a student at De Anza College, and I wish I could have heard this at graduation. Keep up the good work!

Hi! Just by looking at your website, I saw that you went to university/college I can't really tell and I would like to ask you, is it hard? Do you get a lot of homework? Exams, are they hard?

What exactly do you do?

To me of 50 years, and I recollect that time when to me there were 18 years, and it is a pity to me a little, that I liked to have a rest.

Excellent pointers, thanks for sharing :)

I see many people arguing with your spech...and also see many that totally agree or at least feel touched by it.
I get mad to some of your statements.....but after finished, sayd....hey that is a American man (I´m from South America) telling me what to do!??? What he knows about how we live here? that´s symply don´t apply in me.
And then.. looked back and found one of the first words of your speech.
"Don't blindly believe me. Don't take what I say as “truth.” Just listen. Perhaps my experience can help you out a tiny bit."

That is what I found when somebody tells what believe. I tryed to say them in a relative way "rembember it´s my point of view", but can´t. You must put in abosolute position becouse that is your view....and nobody have the same view of the world as you...

So that is TRUTH for you, and nobody haves your experiences... perceptions tricks hehe...
I will take your point of view, I will remember them, And use it as a reminder to move a bit the look I have of the world.
I agree and disagree with many of your points, and have no clue about some others. HEY!!!! THAT´S ENJOYMENT!

As well as reading Guy's excellent speech, see also the _Storms of Perfection_ series, by Andy Andrews. "Available at Amazon and other fine book sellers." ;)

great blog...a must to read for everybody, young and old..it's what life is all about.

Goddamn! WOW. You made me cry and laugh at the same time.

I can definitely relate to number 4. I married last year being 32 years old and I really don't get it what's the rush to get married early. I hope this post is still around when my kid turns 18 (I a man optimist).

You said, "I don't know one person who got married too late. I know many people who got married too young."

However, I also know a fair number of people who waited too long and never got married at all, or got married too late to have the kids they wanted.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience and showing that you are still a human being and vulnerable.
Two quick comments.

#6: Continue to learn.
Right on. When I took my last exam to get a bachelors degree at the university, I said to myself, oof, at last. Guess what, since then,
I pursued two other degrees and I am preparing for a 3rd one
(that got me to your blog).

#4: Don't get married too soon.
...Unless if your joy (as opposed to happiness) is to have kids.
Then, it's another ballgame.
Someone said "have kids while you can play with them".
And that's very true.

The "absolutes' remind me of the zen aphorism: how you do anything is how you do everything. If one focuses on right choices in an every day sense - the big moral and ethical challenges are faced from firmer ground.

Good work, Guy. Keep it up.

Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.
I agree with all the points except that one. It is illogical. If something is known, it does not need to be challenged. If something is unknown, the very last thing one should do is embrace it.
Better is to say, "Challenge the questionable and learn as much as possible about what you want to embrace, before you embrace it."
This still gives one the chance for adventure, new technology, and a sense of wonder in the world.
But maybe there will be less repetition of past mistakes.

The story of the ice harvesters does not support Kawasaki's point. The failure of the ice harvesters is economical and not philosophical. It is the failure to look realistically at the future that drove the ice harvesters out of business, not failure to embrace the unknown. They DID embrace the unknown and continued to pursue a business that, because of known technologies, making ice, became obsolete. They failed to embrace the known. That is, the making of ice via machines.

The rest of the points are fine and I have sponged off my parents for almost 50 years. Maybe you can be a long-term dead-beat like me, if you follow Kawasaki's advice! Good Luck!
Rhinontheloose

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