A few years ago, I was chuffed to be asked to deliver a graduation speech. I recently stumbled upon it hidden in an old file and thought, hey, that still resonates with me, perhaps it will with others?

I’ve changed my career many times since then so at least I’ve lived my own message…

Here’s an abridged version. I hope you enjoy it.

Graduation speech 2007 – as I stood on the podium, I began…”Initially, I felt proud to be asked but that quickly wore off when I realized I was expected to say something meaningful and memorable. Then panic set in!

So, I did what most people would do, I immediately went to Google and searched for inspirational graduation speeches.

Did you know there are ten top themes for speeches (can’t go wrong with that I thought) and an enormous number of inspirational quotes?

For $8.95 US you can get your very own graduation speech custom-built and emailed to you almost instantly. “Ah” – I breathed a sigh of relief – things are looking better. I had resources, or in other words, I could cheat!

Then the guilt set in, so I decided to write my own, which had to be good and preferably original.

The pressure was on!

Incidentally, if you’re contemplating your own speech please note, you should have a theme or one key message, and you should refer to it regularly. This way, people are more likely to remember the point you’re making.

It got me thinking about what I could offer which might be most helpful to you today as you head off into your career and life.

I only remember one thing from my own graduation, and that was the speaker (a doctor) telling me now I was a Registered Nurse, I could finally begin to learn.

I remember thinking he was a complete idiot because I already knew everything! After all, I’d just graduated following 3 years of hard work.

A few years – and a bit of growing up later – it dawned on me that he wasn’t such an idiot after all.

Perhaps I didn’t know quite as much as I thought. And while it occurred to me that I didn’t know everything about nursing, perhaps even worse, I realized I didn’t know myself very well either, who I was, or what I really wanted.

Now in those days – and I can only speak for nursing education – who you were, was considered completely irrelevant and you were also instructed to leave who you were at home when you put on our uniform. Relationships were not developed with your patients. To do so was considered ‘unprofessional’.

But today we realize who you are as a person has a profound impact on your patients.

We ask students to examine their attitudes, cultural backgrounds, values, beliefs, and ways of ‘being’ in the world.

We ask them to reflect on their practice. We ask them to make sense of their world and who they are within it.

We make the point that as educated people, knowing who we are (self-knowledge), is just as important as, or perhaps even more important than particular subject expertise.

Of course, both are vital.

So, the point I would like to make today is to spend time getting to know yourself. There is no more important work to do in life, and nothing takes more hard work. Knowing yourself will facilitate a smoother life path.

And I’d like to offer a few suggestions which may assist you with this life-long process on the path to knowing yourself. This education never ends.

Point 1 Know yourself

What I’m saying to you right now isn’t anywhere near as important as what you’re saying, right now, to yourself.

Knowing yourself involves balancing the monologue that goes on in your head (which is often negative and destructive) and the inner voice people often refer to as gut feeling, instinct, or intuition, which will guide you only toward what is truly good for you and others.

It’s easy to get them confused.

The voice in your head is probably the single most destructive conversation any of us ever has, and it can be constant. Instead of floating through our days congratulating ourselves on how marvellous we are, we often barrage ourselves with negative thoughts telling us we are never quite good enough.

Point 2 Trust yourself

The truly educated person (I have read) is one who manages their mind by choosing what to pay attention to.

This is real freedom and a sign of a conscious person. To do so it is imperative that you learn to trust yourself – that part of you that rarely guides you in the wrong direction – your intuition.

Your intuition uses feelings, rather than thoughts, so you best learn how to let go of the voice in your head long enough to listen to it!

Each of us has our own wise internal voice. Don’t feel you must seek out other people’s ideas or advice, because they’re better looking, smarter, more experienced, or talented than you.

Try to stay out of your head as much as you can and go more with your feelings.

This can be particularly hard for the truly analytical person, but it’s worth working on. How often have you said, ‘if only I’d trusted my gut feeling’? Or I knew what to do – I just sensed it! It felt right!’?

Incidentally, when I’m stuck and don’t know what to do, I toss a coin and feel my response to what shows up. If what I loaded on heads or tails comes up and gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach – I know not to go there!

However, learning to trust yourself is closely linked with loving yourself.

Point 3 Love yourself

This has got to be the most difficult thing in life.

According to Marc S Lewis “The person who you’re with most in life is yourself, and if you don’t like yourself, you’re always with somebody you don’t like.”

I don’t believe there is anyone on earth who finds loving themselves easy. So, if love sounds too hard, then work on liking yourself first.

Often, we look at others and think ‘if only!’ If only I were that ‘smart, tall, good-looking, thin, articulate, famous, wealthy, educated’ – you fill in the blank – then it would be easy. But it isn’t! Not for anyone. Give it up!

The way to be happy is to like yourself. And one sure-fire way to like/love yourself is by doing things that make you proud of yourself. What others think of you is secondary.

Point 4 Get over yourself!

When you have knowing, trusting, and loving yourself down pat, you had better learn to get over yourself!

Lighten up.

When things go belly-up in my life my ego is usually to blame. And I’ve noticed that other people’s egos often get in the way of my ego needs getting met.

It’s hard for some of us to really see that we are not the centre of the universe. That our opinion is not necessarily the right or correct one, and that other people may actually have a point.

So, get over yourself – or perhaps to put it a little more nicely – get out of your own way.

Some people listening to (or now reading) this speech may think I’m a bit of an idiot. Some may hang on to my every word. Others will not be listening at all. They’re probably thinking about something far more important, like where to go for drinks afterwards.

Get over yourself! Do the best you can do with what you’ve got and get on with it.

I procrastinated for weeks about this speech, worrying myself into a state of ‘speech’ paralysis. I didn’t want to look foolish. I wanted to make an impact and more than anything, I wanted this speech to have a message that might be useful to you for future reference.

It was only when I got over myself, worried less about how I’d look and focused more on what today is really about, did I find I was guided in the direction.

Life’s like that!

Point 5 Know what you love

According to Steve Jobs “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

But how do you know what you love?

Many of us do what we do to please others, for the money, or because our kids rely on us. I found this paragraph by David L. Calhoun and felt it to be entirely relevant today as you embark on careers in your chosen field.

“You may find someday 3 or 4 years from now that you simply don’t like engineering, or teaching, or architecture, or government, or the company you started with. You have little in common with the people you work with, and relative to your peers, you find your interest waning. At that point, you have to muster whatever self-confidence you have, and every bit of your courage, and make the decision to do something else with your life. It is always better sooner than later, to make that call.”

It may be difficult to follow your own path, especially if you’re not entirely sure what it is. But whatever it is, only you will know. In my experience, it rarely feels like ‘work’; like something you have to do! It adds to your sense of fulfilment.

Your intuition will guide you in recognizing what ‘it’ is if you let it.

Point 6 Believe you can have it

“Believe that the sort of life you wish to live is, at this very moment, just waiting for you to summon it up. And when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.” Suzan-Lori Parks

When you know what you love, go for it! Believe that you can achieve it and you will. Feel it.

Feel what it is like to live the life you want and keep working toward it and you will attract it into your life. It’s that simple.

So, to finish and reiterate the key message, spend a good deal of your life getting to know yourself, because who you are will impact everything you do. This is not easy, sometimes it’s quite painful, but ultimately, it’s very rewarding.

When you know yourself, trust yourself and manage to like – and hopefully love yourself – you will know what it is that you love doing because it feels effortless!

And when you know what it is that you love doing, act on it!

Allow yourself to wish, dream and feel it into your life. Don’t spend a lifetime doing what someone else wants you to do. Spend it doing something you feel passionately about.

Take the time to work out what that is. It may be nursing, it may be social work, it may be sport and recreation, conservation or environmental management, science, or massage, or it may be something else entirely.

Education is never wasted. It’s simply something we do as we work on the real education of who we are as individuals within our workplaces, whanau (families), and communities.

No reira huri huri noa tēna koutou katoa (So in completion this is a final farewell to all who are gathered here).”