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Ditching My Closing Speech 15 Minutes Before The Speech

On role models, meeting Chris Guillebeau, and remembering why I love my job

Three days ago on Friday, I was sitting at the Sacramento Airport eating a falafel burrito, waiting for my ride to come pick me up, and I look over and see a familiar looking face walking by. With a mouthful of falafel, I dropped my burrito to run over and say “Are you Chris Guillebeau?” His response was yes, and with tons of excitement I said, “It’s really nice to meet you! I’m a huge fan, I’ve followed your blog for years and read all your books, and I just wanted to say thank you for doing great work! What are you doing in Sacramento?” Turns out that despite all the traveling he’s done (he visited all 193 countries by his 30th birthday), he had never been to Sacramento Airport. He asked what I was doing in Sacramento and I told him that I was about to go run a training for 60 college students on the topic of entrepreneurship. After 30 more seconds of chit chat, he heads over to his gate and I head back to my half eaten burrito, and that was that. If you’ve read other posts on this blog, you’ll know that I’ve mentioned Guillebeau more than a dozen times, and it was pretty cool meeting the guy in person.

Fast forward to Saturday evening, I’m prepping for my closing speech at the training I’m running. It’s about 15 minutes before I’m about to go on, and I’m reviewing my slides, which are the same slides I used to close a similar training the weekend before. The talk starts off by asking the college students in my audience to complete this phrase: “Millennials are the E________ Generation.” Like planned, they answer “The Entitled Generation” and I get them to discuss why they think that is. Then, I turn the corner and tell them that if I was to complete that phrase, not based on most millennials, but based on my friends, and the students that I have mentored before them, and individuals I hope that they become, it would read “The Entrepreneur Generation.” I follow that up with a couple articles from Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes, and the New York Times, making the case for Millennials as the Entrepreneur Generation, and my goal for the rest of the talk is to inspire and encourage them to develop entrepreneurial characteristics as opposed to characteristics of entitlement.

But something came over me about 15 minutes before delivery. I didn’t want to give the same speech I gave the weekend before, because what’s the fun in that? I usually don’t give the same speech more than once, and although I was ready to give what I thought was a pretty good speech, I needed to keep things fresh. And plus, I really wanted to work my run in with Guillebeau into the mix. Last minute and on the fly, I came up with something completely new.

The first part of my new talk hit on the importance of role models and looking up to people  who have the characteristics that you want to emulate. I asked the crowd who some of their role models were and why, and I got answers ranging from “my former self” to Kobe Bryant. Then I shared a story of growing up as a young baseball player, really looking up to Cal Ripken Jr.  When I was young and in Little League, I liked him because we played shortstop. I had his baseball cards, knew his stats, and admired him for multiple Gold Glove awards as well as batting titles. And then on September 6, 1995, when I was 9 years old, I saw Ripken break Lou Gehrig’s 56-year seemingly unbreakable record by playing in his 2,131 consecutive game. He didn’t miss a game for over 16 years! Ripken, now known as the Iron Man, really made an impression on me, for his consistency, his perseverance, his work ethic, and ability to show up and do his job everyday, for 20 years and over 2632 consecutive games. In the past 8 years working for my company, I’ve taken ZERO sick days. Whenever I’m not feeling it, and remember Ripken and his streak, and I remember the importance of showing up and doing your job no matter what.

It’s been over a decade since I played in my last competitive baseball game, and Ripken has long since retired. Now, my role models include mostly entrepreneurs, which comes to no big surprise considering I run a company. I really look up to Yvon Chouniard, the founder of Patagonia, for his “let my people go surfing” approach to business, as well as many other philosophies that make him a very unique and successful entrepreneur. I look up to Tim Ferriss for his work in entrepreneurship, lifestyle design, and meta-learning, and I get almost every book recommendation from him or the guests on his podcast. Coming back to my speech… Knowing that my students were about to embark on their first adventure in starting a business, I also encouraged them to find role models based on the characteristics that they wanted to emulate. And then I decided to tell them a quick little story about how I met one of my role models the day before at the airport. I told them how excited I was that I got to meet Chris Guillebeau, and how I told him I was in Sacramento to run a training on entrepreneurship. He wished me luck in my training, and about 15 minutes ago I decided to give them a little bit more than some Guillebeau luck. I had learned so much from Chris as a role model, I decided to end my speech giving the students some Guillebeau wisdom.

Guillebeau’s first book was The Art of Non-Conformity, based on his blog by the same title. My first piece of advice, from that book, was this:

His second book was The $100 Start-Up, in which he gives many examples of entrepreneurs who were successful NOT because they had large start-up funds or MBAs, but because they found something they were passionate about, developed the right skills, learned on the fly, and worked extremely hard.

And his most recent book of his that I’ve read, The Happiness of Pursuit, is all about how long-term quests are tied to long-term happiness. I talked about the difference between enjoyment (sitting in your sweatpants watching Netflix) and fulfillment (accomplishing a worthwhile goal) and encouraged them to take their new business quest one day and one step at a time.

The final message was this:

Through the challenge of starting their own businesses this year, I hoped that they developed the character traits of the people they look up to and aspire to be like, and they find new role models who inspire them to be better. Quoting Thoreau, “What you get by achieving your goal is not as important as who you become by achieving your goal.”

In 15 minutes, before giving my closing speech, I decided to toss my old speech, throw some slides together, and wing it. It was the most fun I’ve had running a training like that in a really long time. It reminded me why I love my job. It reminded me why I love coaching college kids, to inspire and encourage them to be more entrepreneurial and become better versions of themselves.

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