This time of year, we trot out the favorites of graduation speeches that inspire, make us laugh, and make us think. Whether it’s Steve Jobs at Stanford, Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth, Bill Gates at Harvard, or Stephen Colbert at Knox College, there’s no shortage of awakening moments to be had. Watch them all – they make for a fine evening’s entertainment and probably better than anything on television at the moment.
That said, all of these talks share one thing in common: what your future is about, what life is like after school or what it could be like. None of them teach the lesson that took me decades to learn, one I’ve been working on since I was 16, one that I struggle to still live consistently even though I understand it intellectually.
Learning to control your mind is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Everything else stems from that skill, which we don’t teach at all in almost every school. We treat our minds the same way we treat puppies and kittens. We feed them, we give them lots of treats, we scold them, but in the end we excuse almost any misbehavior because “it’s just the way we are”.
That’s a lie.
“Just the way we are” is a lie we tell ourselves to avoid the simple truth that the way we are is the way we choose to be. Unquestionably, life gives us some ridiculously difficult circumstances to deal with, because the universe is a monstrously unfair place. How our minds are conditioned to deal with the basic nature of reality determines how happy we can be. We have almost no control over the externalities of our lives, but we have complete control over what we think of it, how we feel about it, and what we do in return.
That control, control of our minds (and hearts and spirits) is a lesson I wish were taught vigorously in schools by any reasonable means possible. With control over your mind, the rat race vanishes. With control of your mind, you can be happy in the circumstances you are in. With control of your mind, life can throw punches at you but you can roll with the hits and avoid getting knocked down for very long. With control of your mind, you can take the extra time to engineer situations in which everyone around you wins, and eagerly cheers for your own success.
No school taught these lessons to me. I had to find them through lots of trial and error, through the martial arts and meditation practices, and I’m still working on them quite a bit. Had I spent as much time in school learning how to control my mind as I did learning what to put in it, I’d have a 20 year head start on my current progress. I hope you can find this lesson for yourself and once you do, share with the graduates in your life. Give them the head start on starting with their heads for a happier life, no matter the circumstances.
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