Graduation Speech: Fear Nothing.
Given on 3/9/2018 for the binding.cry Graduating Class of Flatiron School
Good morning everyone. Hi, I’m Avi, I’m one of the co-founders of Flatiron School, Dean, and Chief Product Officer and it’s my privilege to welcome you all to your graduation.
I haven’t given one of these in a while. Every class at Flatiron is pretty amazing. I tend to think every class we have is the best class we’ve ever had. But I’ve kept on hearing that no, really, this class is the best class ever. I’ve heard it from our instructors, our coaches, and even from some of you graduates. I heard it so often that I thought I’d put on a button down shirt and write you all a speech because apparently, you have been really the best class ever. Congratulations.
Congratulations on your graduating. The Flatiron journey is not an easy one. One of the ironies of the school for me is that there’s a very good chance I’d never get accepted into the school and I’m not sure I’d be able to get where you are today. This is hard program and you all did it, you should feel proud.
One of WeWork’s values is Gratitude. Expressing thankfulness is something we so rarely do and I think it’s such a great habit to integrate integrate into the moments of your life.
I want to say thank you to all the students for being such an amazing part of our community. For trusting us with your education, career, and future. For supporting each other, listening, learning, and loving. For enrolling in the school I totally made up a little over 5 years ago and helping make it what it is today.
I want to say thank you to all your friends, family, and loved ones that have supported you throughout this journey. No one accomplishes a feat like this alone and take a moment and think about those in your life that allowed you to get here. That gave you the space, the support, the freedom, the confidence, the hope that you can and should do this. Thank them from me.
And finally, thank you to our amazing instructors. They are the hardest working teachers I know and they have the hardest job at Flatiron School. Thank you to the operations team that deals with the occasional flood, concert, and everything else that happens at Flatiron. Thank you to all the staff that has helped build the school.
I guess just thank you to everyone, I’m so tremendously grateful to share this experience with you all.
So, as I mentioned, I’ve given a few of these but I decided to write you all a new one. And in the theme of any commencement address, I know I’m suppose to give you some salient advice for your life going forward.
I think a lot about happiness. In the end, more than anything, I want people to be happy. To be truly, deeply, profoundly happy and fulfilled with their life.
I think about what makes people happy and I think about why people aren’t happy.
When I talk to people that aren’t happy, they are always very specific. I hate my job. I hear a lot of that. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. The people in my life aren’t making me happy.
Whether it’s your specific job, your specific confusion about the circumstance of your life, or specific people getting you down, I tend to think that those specifics are symptoms of a larger abstraction preventing us from being happy.
Just last night I was at dinner with my best friend from high school. He’s probably the exact opposite of me. He did very well in high school, had a lot of friends, was class president, went to an Ivy League college, went to a top 3 Law School, took a job at a law firm, met a Dr, got married, and now works at top consulting firm. And he’s not happy. He hates his job. He doesn’t know what to do. I asked him why he doesn’t quit and find something he loves. He said he’d make less money. I asked so? He said, well, he’s got a kid on the way and you know, he wants to support his family. I asked him if he could do that making less money. He said sure, but like, he might not be able to give them everything. And I asked like what, and he said, I don’t know, I might not be able to afford private school. And I said, how do you know that, and how do you know your future kid might not get every opportunity in life just because of the school they might go to that you could afford? He said, well, we might have to move to Queens. Okay, that does sound awful. No, I’m joking I love Queens. But look, here’s the thing about my friend, what’s preventing him from being happy isn’t his job. Well it is, but that’s just a symptom. The actual problem is he is scared. He fears that if he makes a change all these bad things might occur. And in his mind, those bad, unknown, scary things, that may or may not ever happen, would be worse than his current situation. It’s the opposite of Grass is Greener syndrome. Fear is what’s preventing him from being happy and I see that a lot.
We live in a pretty scary time. There’s a lot of fear, uncertainty, and distrust in the world right now. But even in calmer moments, fear will still always hold us back. Fear can be an acute emotion, like right now, but it can also be a subtle and almost imperceivable yet powerful blocker of our happiness and potential.
Fear will drive you to conform. We’re scared to do things others don’t so we all drive toward the middle road thinking it’s the safest. In times of fear, people seek the illusionary safety of the common. And it’s a lie. The middle is not safest, in fact, it’s probably the most dangerous. It’s where you get squeezed by things like “I hate my job” but “I can’t imagine not having it.” Where you find the most competition because it’s what most people do. And it’s a trap.
Fear will hold you back from trying things where you might fail. It will stop you from taking a risk because in your mind, things might not turn out exactly the way you imagine it and you can’t imagine being happy without entirely succeeding down that road.
Fear will divide us. It will tell us that we’re different, that we hate each other, that we’re disconnected, that we’re not all in this together.
Fear will subjugate us, make us stop thinking, squash our individual desires, opinions, and perspectives. Nefarious forces and people will use fear to control you, to force you to hate, to own your mind.
Fear is the mind killer. Always be mindful of what you are scared of, look deep inside you to see that fear is why you aren’t taking the actions you know will make you happy and give you the life you want, because it’s subtle, it’s buried deep down, it’s the things we’d never admit to ourselves, talk about, and say out loud.
I promised you some salient advice. Here’s the first bit, give voice to your fears. The first step in not allowing your fear to define your life and existence is to admit them, no matter how selfish, petty, ridicules, giant, profound, or difficult they might be.
I’ve found in my life a few ways to deal with fear. They work in different times and sometimes they don’t work at all.
When they don’t work, the thing I try to do with my anxiety is just accept it. I try to surrender. It’s okay to be scared. You can dwell in it. It’s crazy uncomfortable, but you can do it. Embrace it, let it flow through you, don’t fight it, acknowledge it, know it’s going to suck, and do the thing anyway. If you’re willing to fully feel fear it won’t stop you anymore. That’s powerful, but it’s difficult. And the more you do it, the more you expose yourself to your insecurities and keep going, the somewhat easier it gets.
The other thing I try to do is to rationalize my fears. I remind myself that the things we’re scared of generally never ever happen, they simply just don’t materialize, and even if they do, they are not that bad. I’ve had brain surgery after getting stomped on at a concert when I was 14 and almost died. I’ve been hit by a bus. I’ve been kicked out of schools. I’ve been unemployed. I’ve been a college dropout. I’ve failed classes. I’ve alienated people in my life. I’ve lost friends. I’ve had companies go bankrupt. I’ve had products I spent years building go nowhere. It’s just never as bad as you’d think. We make so many assumptions about how things will play out and in the end we actually have no idea where we are or where we’re going and what will happen if we change, if we try something different, if we follow our hearts, but we know for sure that if we stay where we are nothing is going to change. You’ll find that in your failures you are resilient. You are so much stronger than you know. You can heal. You can be redeemed. And as long as you can fail at doing something you don’t care about or hate, you might as well fail at doing something you love.
If surrendering and accepting your fear doesn’t work and you’re still paralyzed, if rationalizing your fears doesn’t work and you’re still inert, the last thing you can do with fear is adopt a cosmic perspective. You can meditate on where you are in the moment. Let’s talk about that for a second, really thinking about where you are. Let’s see how much we actually don’t know about our current situation and realize that there’s nothing to be scared of because we don’t know much anyway.
You are on earth.
To begin with, Earth is rotating on its axis at the familiar rate of one revolution per day, almost a thousand miles an hour. But Earth also orbits the Sun at a speed of 67,000 mph, or 18.5 miles a second. So wherever you think you are, in that moment, you’re probably at least18.5 miles away actually. But it’s worse.
Hold onto your butts if you can. The Sun, Earth, and the entire solar system also are in motion, orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a blazing 140 miles a second. Even at this great speed, though, our planetary neighborhood still takes about 200 million years to make one complete orbit — a testament to the vast size of our home galaxy.
If all this isn’t enough to make you feel you deserve an intergalactic speeding ticket, consider that we, along with our cousins in the Local Group, are hurtling at a truly astonishing 375 miles a second toward the Virgo Cluster, an enormous collection of galaxies some 45 million light-years away.
So you are on earth and it’s basically a spaceship flying through the infinite vastness of space at such speeds you can’t actually ever be sure where you are.
And what’s you? Well, you are just atoms. And the atoms in your left hand and the atoms in your right hand were born in the furnace of different exploding stars. You are, on a physical level, nothing more than Stardust. You’ve been part of a million things before, from planets, to asteroids, to gases, to stars, to actual energy that once a long long long time ago coalesced into matter. Every seven years, the cells in your body are all replaced. Well all of them except neurons, I’m told.
We’re not sure where we are and we’re not sure what we are. But there’s one thing we can be sure of and paradoxically it’s the thing we understand the least. The material body is occupied by something, your personality, your soul, your consciousness, your spirit. The only thing about you that is actually magic, that is actually unique, that hasn’t been recycled, that should never ever ever ever be denied or ignored. Know yourself, listen to yourself, trust yourself, and you’ll never be scared again.
The reality of your life is that you’re a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust, riding a rock, spinning and hurtling through space.