As commencement approaches for the Class of 2018, I would like to take a moment to offer a few words of advice. This year, I write with a fresh perspective, as I have a graduating senior. My daughter, Grace, will be graduating high school in two short weeks (sigh!). I ask that you consider these words from former President Teddy Roosevelt.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
In today's world, we have far too many critics and not enough doers. It is far too easy to point fingers and find fault with the actions of others, without looking in the mirror. It is too easy to explain what's wrong with the way things are done now, without offering alternative paths forward. Be solution-oriented. You do not have to set out to change the world with one bold leap. Instead, consider how you can make your workplace, community, or home a better place tomorrow, with one small step or two. If we each take those small steps, together we can make a real difference.
How will you make a difference? You do not have to possess formal authority to create positive change. Hone your skills of persuasion and influence. Build coalitions, marshal resources, and connect with others who can help and support you. Demonstrating true leadership often means exercising influence without authority.
Finally, be passionate about your ideas, but never allow yourself to become too rigid. As they say, argue as if you are right, but listen as if you are wrong. The best thinkers and leaders have "strong opinions, loosely held" as Stanford's Bob Sutton has suggested. Do not succumb to confirmation bias. Seek out discordant data and disconfirming evidence. Consider why the opposite might be true. Encourage those around you to speak up, express dissent, and ask provocative questions.
I wish you all the best of luck in future endeavors, with hopes for much personal and professional success. Congratulations, Class of 2018!