Dear Graduate: Success Is Your Duty

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Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.

Benjamin Disraeli

Can you remember your graduation? High school? Undergraduate? Graduate? To graduate is to complete a course of training. The experience is a gateway to the future. An inflection point marking a moment when everything changed.

Remember the wonder? The possibility? For those experiencing graduation in this season, everything lies before them. A moment of pomp and circumstance marks the shift from what was to the new life ahead. Speeches marking these moments issue calls to dream big, make your bed, and change the world. The band plays, the words are said, and then it’s time to get down to the business of the future.

May is a great time for us to reflect on the words being shared with our graduates and consider what they mean for us in whatever stage of life they find us. Consider this post a commencement speech for each of us persisting through that course of training called “Life.”

New grad or experienced traveler, you really have just one duty; one responsibility from which flows everything else in your life. Your mission is to go into the world and be the absolute best version of yourself in whatever stage of life you are in. From there, everything else flows. Any goal you set, any effort you exert, any mark you leave needs to reflect your mission. Success is striving for your potential. Success is getting better every day. Success is making the world better because you did your best. Success is showing up each day and giving it all that you have. Success is knowing you left it all on the field.

The really powerful thing about this definition of success is that you determine the best version of yourself. The really challenging thing about this call to success is that it is your moral obligation. You have accountability to this end whether you want it, realize it, or spend any time working on it. The quality of your life is dictated by how much you own this responsibility. The impact you make on the world reflects your ability to embrace and actualize your mission.

Here are 10 rules to help you on your own mission of success:

  1. Make success real by defining it. Where do you want to be? What difference do you want to make in the world or for those you love? Who is depending on you? Of what are you capable? Your best will vary in different stages of your life – success will also vary. Define it for this stage and for future stages as you envision them.
  2. Dream big. Set big goals for now and for the future. Then, aim higher. Most of us tend to aim too low. Push yourself. What if you set unreasonable goals? What if you achieved them? Don’t see them through the lens of normal or average, reach for the exceptional.
  3. Stay away from the small. Small thinking. Pettiness. Don’t define yourself in small terms or small possibilities. Don’t surround yourself with small people. Don’t limit yourself with small goals.
  4. Take ownership. Of everything in your life. Your career. Your relationships. Your mistakes. Your opportunities. Your attitude. Your effort. Your problems. Your successes. Own them. When you take ownership, you’re making yourself accountable and with accountability comes the power of self-determination.
  5. Go confidently. Remind yourself constantly of who you are, all that you bring, of all that you are capable. Keep track. Keep score. Cast your confidence in the light of those around you. Want a job? List all that you will bring to your potential employer. Want a raise? Give value first. Want recognition? Do something worth recognizing. Want respect? Earn it. Want promoted? Make a difference. The common theme? What you get reflects what you give. Go confidently knowing that your actions drive the result you want and that you control those actions. Afraid that you’ll lose your ability to be humble? Don’t worry about humility, the world will help keep you there.
  6. Keep learning Want wisdom? Seek it. Want knowledge? Seek it. Want new ideas? Seek them. You don’t need a counselor, you need a model for success – the success you seek. Go find it and take the time to understand. Don’t follow a lesser model. Don’t take lesser advice. Read, listen, watch meaningful content. Travel and see the world. Seek experience: work, geography, culture, food, entertainment, art. Wisdom, knowledge, and ideas can come from many, many sources. Different industries. Different philosophies. Different political parties. Different cultures. Different personalities. Expose yourself.
  7. Be a possibility thinker. Consider what might be. Surround yourself with other possibility thinkers. Don’t let the limits of others constrain you. Attach yourself to something bigger. Bigger than the world in which you grew up. Bigger than what is expected. Bigger than what most think is realistic.
  8. Don’t wait to be picked. So often, we wait for someone else to tell us we have value. Like kids on the playground, we wait to be picked for the team, the opportunity, or the success we see waiting over the horizon. Don’t wait, pick yourself. Take the actions that put you where you want to be. Make the decision to be who you want to be, to go where you want to go, and to live in the fullness most only dream of.
  9. Show up, every day. For yourself, for your employer, for your family, for your friends, for the world. Be present. Be your best. Show up in every moment and own it. Show up every day and take the action necessary to be the best you can be.
  10. Passing is not enough. Doing the minimum to get-by is a losing mentality. For those who want to thrive, to be the best version of themselves, “just enough” is the kiss of death. When we live in the world of “getting by” we are cheating those who count on us and depriving the world of the difference our talents were meant to bring.

What happens if you refuse your duty to be your best? That’s ok, the world will move on and not count on you. It will relieve you of your responsibility to be your best. It will lower its expectations of you and relegate you to a place in which you will be dependent on the best of others. It will limit your options and your sense of control, leaving you with the feeling of helplessness that comes with perpetually reacting to things beyond you or your control. It will leave you feeling a victim to the randomness of life.

New grad or experienced student of life, the message is the same: you have a moral obligation to be successful – to be your best. You have a duty to give the world the best version of yourself. Others are counting on you and depending on your success. The world needs the best you and you are the only one who can make that happen.


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