What Will Ferrell Can Teach Us About Life.

I have something I want to tell you. A habit of mine that you might find a little weird. But considering all the other weird things I’ve told you, this is nothing.

So, here goes.

I LOVE watching commencement speeches.

I’m serious.

I literally get excited when I see that a new one has come out on YouTube so that I can watch, absorb, pause, go back and take notes. It’s like I don’t want to miss a single kernel of the guidance and wisdom these people share with the thousands of graduating students sitting before them.

While I love watching ALL of them, sometimes from people I otherwise wouldn’t have known, my favourite ones are delivered by people whose names have become part of our dinner table conversations.

People like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Obama, Natalie Portman, Barack Obama, Jim Carrey, Steve Jobs, Matt Damon, J.K. Rowling, Will Farrell and many others. A simple search of “commencement speeches” takes me to a magical place where I get to hear real, funny and moving stories, in their own words and with their own voices, about the lives of people I respect and admire for the work they do in the world.

These celebrities have achieved a level of success–often without ever setting foot on a college campus–or else leaving before graduating–and an ability to engage an audience in a way that both entertains and inspires me.

What I am always secretly hoping for (and very often receive) in these speeches, is a common underlying emotion; these people’s sense of humility.

When I watch them standing at the podium, looking out into the sea of eager faces and then admit that they wonder how on earth they got to be standing in front of these thousands of new graduates, sending them off into the world inspired, enlightened and, perhaps, a little bit changed, I get a thrill.

Their modesty endears me to them because it feels good to know that no matter the level of success these people have achieved in their careers, the real change-makers; the real inspirations; the “real deals” of the world are able to still see themselves for the fallible human beings they are–capable of falling and failing and making mistakes. 

But these people–the ones I look up to and want to learn from most–have gotten back up, worked tirelessly to hone their craft, and have pushed themselves way beyond their comfortable boundaries on countless occasions.

I am inspired by them.

It’s like I get a taste of the “real” them; I get to hear their real thoughts and beliefs in a way where they are the teacher and I am the student.

Because I love authenticity.

I love to be taught.

I love to learn.

And what I have found is that a few common themes tend to run through many of their words of wisdom.

Of course the idea for students to believe in themselves and never give up is strong in these speeches. As is the theme of these people having that one person in their life that believed in them and encouraged them to go after their dreams. So is the importance of hard work and dedication in order to achieve their goals.

But this year, in his 2017 address to the graduating class at USC, Will Farrell (who received an honorary doctorate degree) shared about fear. And if you’ve been following me for a while, you know how I feel about fear.

I hope you watch the whole thing. It is 25 minutes long and Will is at once funny and serious, lighthearted and profound, and I think you will get a lot out of it.

But if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, and for the sake of me sharing more about what I love about his speech, please allow me to provide some highlights.

*********Spoiler alert!**********

At 11:25, he shares that USC was a “testing ground” for his comedy. Through the encouragement of a close friend along with the surprising approval of an esteemed professor, Will was able to dip his toe into the comedic pond and began to test the waters of his craft. “Moments like these encouraged me to think that maybe I was funny to whole groups of people who didn’t know me.” At 13:43, Will acknowledges Professor Gottesman as someone whose encouragement was enough to give Will “permission to be silly and weird.”

Sometimes, we just need that one person to believe in us. Never, ever underestimate the power that your support and encouragement can mean for someone. You might say only a few words, but the effect can be lasting and have a tremendous impact on the trajectory of that person’s life.

I love the analogy he shares at 16:17, where he reminds us that by throwing enough darts at the dartboard, eventually one will stick.

The point is that success doesn’t come easily. And we don’t always know the path to take to get us where we want to go–hell, we often don’t even know where we are going–but we can’t stop trying just because we don’t always have it all figured out. Working hard and believing in ourselves takes guts. It takes grit. And it turns regular people into the kind of people who maybe, by some act of incredible good fortune, will end up standing in front of thousands of new graduates, teaching them how to take life by the reins.

He continues by saying that he was never confident he would be successful.

“I can always be a substitute school teacher…” and then, at 16:50, he shares one of my favourite lines of his entire speech in his own, true voice, “You’re never not afraid. I am still afraid.”

Ahhhhh….you KNOW how much I loved hearing that. Because fear is just another part of life. And trying to avoid it at all costs means we aren’t really living. Everything amazing in our lives is on the other side of fear. And the most successful people just get that. They use fear as fuel.

At 17:45, he tells a story of a critic early on in his SNL career calling him ‘the most annoying newcomer of the new cast’, to which he tells the crowd, “To some people I will be annoying. Some people will not think I’m funny. And that’s ok.”

And that IS ok!!

As I continue on my road to improve my life and carve out a niche for myself, I have people who think I am a total joke! People who think my writing stinks! People who think that without being a dietitian or nutritionist, how dare I write a book or have a course helping people live healthier lifestyles!? People who find me too much or not enough and you know what? So much of my own personal work has been spent on not caring so much what others think. Because what  other people think of me is none of my business, as they say.

Easy to say; harder to do. But fundamentally important if I ever plan to achieve greater success in my career and enjoy more peace in my life.

At 19:05, he shares a story about a TV critic approaching him to apologize for the negative reviews he wrote. Will reminds us not to listen to our critics. Why? Because, as he explains to the critic, he was too busy throwing darts at the dartboard–and facing his fears–to have time to listen to the noise.

At 21:07, Will shares HIS definition of success and then finishes the point with, “You will never truly be successful until you learn to give beyond yourself. Empathy and kindness are the true signs of emotional intelligence.”

I love that. I want to be the kind of person who lifts others up; encourages people to go after their dreams; helps others live to their potential; and shares a little wisdom from the lessons I’ve learned–even if by simply offering something that someone else taught me.

And that is why I am sharing Will’s lessons with you. Because I want your life to be improved, even in some tiny way, each time you read something I write, or try something I suggest, or heed a warning to not do whatever stupid thing I have done…and while I know this won’t always be possible, this is my intention.

To show that while I don’t have everything figured out (far from it), I have experienced some things in my life that seem wasted somehow if they aren’t shared. So, instead, I choose to share…with you.

So I leave you with Will’s lessons. Here they are, and you can hear them at 22:42. Feel free to apply them to your own life, even if you are not a new grad.

“To those graduates sitting out there who have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with your life; congratulations. For many of you, who maybe don’t have it all figured out, it’s ok. That’s the same chair that I sat in. Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the result.

Trust your gut.

Keep throwing darts at the dart board.

Don’t listen to the critics.

And you will figure it out.”

So listen to that still, small voice that knows who you really are and how you best serve this world. Don’t allow fear or insecurity to hold you back from trying new things. Stop listening to the people who tell you your ideas are crazy and your dreams are unattainable–most importantly, ignore the critic inside your head–and trust that if you keep making steps forward, that the path will appear.

Don’t let fear hold you back from living the life you were meant to live.

Because if not you, then who?

Because if not now, then when?

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

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