You look behind you as a child and you see that shadow — that hand waving behind you that person there for you. Your family. As an adult the only shadow behind you is your own.
When I was asked to do this speech it was to be about my path of discovery as a Flinn.
I remember the first time I looked back down my path. I don’t want to go, I am afraid, the building is too big, they will make fun of me And on and on. The fear, anxiety — it is always there.
The hand that had just held me was gently waving, behind it was the person that gave me my life rhythm, the one that was telling me in French go, it is ok, it is safe in there, go make friends, – go play, go find your path. I was five, scared, I had only been surrounded for all my life by my seven siblings, living in the mountains in a small trailer, where we hauled water in a big tank and the out house was always rather cold at night. I had no concept of what was ahead. But I turned to look ahead — to find my rhythm.
When John (Murphy) asked me — that is too kind — when John told me I had to give a speech here at this dinner — I was like — John how did he do that to me? A speech in front of a group of some of the most amazing young people, their parents and other incredible persons. Yes — here I was a politician and lawyer reluctant to talk — goodness were the planets misaligned or something.
So like any good Flinn scholar – I asked — what do you want me to talk about — the answer — something about your discovery process as a Flinn Scholar? My discovery process as a Flinn — again finding my rhythm. The rhythm of discovery — have you felt it?
There is that moment when everything clicks — when you are taking a test and you know the answers, playing that instrument and it is your soul coming out of the end rather than notes, or when you run, ride and your body just feels in sync.
You are on the path of the Flinn discovery — the rhythm of your journey will be what you make it as Flinn shows you the door, and tells you make the path, pave it with stones, flowers, friends, and look around while you are on it.
Did you ever read that book by Lance Armstrong — well it was not about the bike for him and it is not about accomplishments or achievements for me.
You see, it is about the list.
So let me first tell you about the background rhythm of my life, why for me it about THE LIST and then I plan to steal some thoughts from minds wiser than me to give you some advice for making your rhythm.
Here is my rhythm:
1, 2, 3, 4 — anything good has its own beat. This song is what I was listening to when I crossed the finish line at my first half-Ironman triathlon — that is after swimming over a mile, riding my bike 56 miles and running 13 miles. I didn’t care what place I finished — I was just going to finish. It was that eye of the tiger. When I was training hours every day for it — everyone would ask — why are you doing this — simple. I did that triathlon for one reason only — it was on my list of things I intended to do. And because I could. You see there will come a time when you assess your path and you weigh it and you may find it wanting. My path — really started on my own when I was five – I started school, when I was 18 – I became a Flinn, when I was 29 I was given a new direction — when I was 50 well Hmmmm that is the discovery process and maybe we will talk about it when I get there.
So at 29 my path had a bump. I was at the top of my game in fencing — I had just finished third at nationals and I was looking to the Olympics. I was a successful attorney, I thought I was happy and content — sort of like that fat cat sitting in the sun. Little did I know — I got a wake-up call — I got a chance to really live — cancer made me realize what I wanted. Within weeks of my surgery and treatment — I was competing in the North American Championships — and I was hurting — my body hurt, my mind hurt, but that eye of the tiger says don’t lay down, fight, so I fought. Between bouts, my coach told me don’t sit, stay loose, good advice — but later others would tell me it was because he thought if I sat I would not be able to get back up — he was right. I won that day and I kept winning. I went on to represent our country at the World Championships — and the most common question I heard was — when you going to the Olympics – and then I walked away from fencing for awhile.
You see that day after I won — I went home and I evaluated my path and found it wanting. I was ranked number #1 in the country in a sport I loved, I had just become the county attorney as one of the youngest persons ever and the first woman in my county, and when I looked back down my path I found it wanting.
Winning is not the key — living for others or wearing the proper colors or staying within the lines — or being reserved or holding back — that does not make the path worthy. For me it became about my list. I do many things that at first people would ask why are you doing that — why are you training for that marathon, why are you going to that museum, why are you going skydiving, why are you rafting that river, why are you hiking that mountain, why are you biking across Europe My answer was — well it is on the list and because I can.
Funny how you can impact those around you. And Flinn scholars you will impact those around you — you will be the leaders of tomorrow, the one that kids will look up to and follow your example, the family member others will depend on. So find that path well. For me my list is part of my rhythm so much so that now people ask – what is next on your list — and my co-workers, family and friends — I see that list getting worked on in their minds. And others are joining me in my list. Okay enough for me.
So Flinn Class of 2005 — you may or may not have heard what was wrongly attributed as Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement address to MIT — well it was not written by Kurt but as often with some great words of wisdom — it does not matter who says them or how often you hear them or if you borrow or steal them — they are still just great words of wisdom. Great words of wisdom can come from Bart Simpson, Neo, George Bush, Sam Gangee, Frodo Baggins, your mother, your father, or yourself. So here are few I want to share:
Class of 2005
Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.
Don’t draw within the lines — make mistakes.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine. You choose to look fabulous.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. You as a Flinn may be able to do that — and as a Flinn the future is bright. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday. Take those unexpected troubles and conquer them.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy.
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself. That shadow behind you is only your own.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements. And for you Flinns throw away those old tests.
Frame your achievements.
Paint pictures of your family.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 18 or 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll celebrate your 75th wedding anniversary in Tibet. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest and truly the only instrument you’ll ever really own.
Dance – even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if, like most men, you don’t follow them.
Build something at least once with your hands.
Cry when you need to.
Laugh out loud in a theater.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Wear comfortable shoes.
Challenge your mind every day.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.
Cook something exotic.
Drink lots of water.
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Embrace the heat of Arizona but experience sub-zero degree temperature once.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Entertain other’s thoughts but don’t always accept them.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
BE A FLINN — know that the Flinn may pay for your way but they leave it to you to decorate, pave and ponder you path. So take the path less traveled.
BE A FLINN — educate your mind and soul.
BE A FLINN — embrace your fellow Flinns as they will be the comrades in shaping your future.
BE A FLINN — make yourself a comrade of the world.
BE A FLINN — better others before yourself.
Gift the world with the music of your mind.
But if you hear nothing else, trust me on the sunscreen.
Pick your own music — find your own rhythm. Find that good beat that makes you move in this world.
And as any good speech should end in this world — there is that one moment when you climb to the top of any edifice, stairs, building, pyramid — where when you reach the top and you should spread your arms wide, take a deep breath and announce your presence for you have arrived. It is that Rocky moment — so find that eye of the tiger every day in your world.