A few years ago I attended my sister’s commencement ceremony at Chapman
University. I had low expectations for the commencement speech. Many of these
speeches are forgettable at best. The speakers are certainly distinguished
individuals, but the content of their speech is not relatable enough to be
memorable. How many of you think about the content of your commencement
speech on a regular basis? Do you remember who delivered yours?
During the exercises, comedian Larry Wilmore took the stage. I had never
heard of him before. As one might expect from his line of work, he delivered
an entertaining address. The speech was not only entertaining, but
tremendously applicable in everyday life. As I looked around at all the
fresh college graduates laughing and applauding his speech, I could not help
but wonder if they could see the wisdom between his words.
Larry’s message was simple. One can overcome any obstacle in life by following
three simple principles.
It is what it is
For many of life’s situations, “it is what it is”. In other words, get over it.
Move on. Shit happens. Unfortunately there are a large number of things in life
that are annoying or outside of our control, and it is silly to waste time
thinking about them.
As an example, I frequently spill beverages. I am a clutz. It is not always
because I am drunk, although sometimes that is the case. Nothing seems to ruin
my day more spilling coffee on my wool sweater and nice khaki jeans before 10
a.m. What if I had an important meeting, or a social event after work?
It is what it is. I choose to not let it bother me. It already happened, and
it is history now.
Do what you gotta do
There are a lot of things that are not going to change no matter how hard
you try. I am never going to be taller than six feet, my family members are
kind of nuts (but in a good way), and eating potatoes makes me sick.
Unfortunately you cannot change many aspects of your life, so accept those
and focus on thinking about the things that are in your control. Some life
situations can be partially remedied by taking a subsequent action. This is
where you have to “do what you gotta do.”
Let’s go back to the spilling example. Obviously I cannot change the fact
that I spilled coffee over my wool shirt this morning. But, I could visit
the restroom and clean off as much as I can. Better yet, I am fortunate
enough to have a flexible schedule. I could run home quickly and change into
a different outfit if I really needed to. If that is not possible, I could
simply hope that no one notices for the rest of the day, and if they do make
up a funny story about how it happened.
These are all actionable items to resolve a very simple problem. Instead of
wasting time thinking about how I was inconvenienced by the problem, I
focused my energy on the minimum set of steps I could take to make myself
I strongly believe in self improvement, and to do that one must strive to
develop new skills or habits that brings them to the next level. In other
words, if after taking quick actions to remedy a situation that was out
of your control you still are not satisfied, then consider “playing better”.
Playing better is difficult. It can only be done sparingly throughout
your life because it often takes a long time to master the skills necessary
to improve oneself. Thus, be wise about choosing the things in your life
that are worth accepting (it is what it is) and which ones can be overcome
Back to the coffee example one more time. Even though I walked around with
a brown stain on my shirt all day, I do not have to let myself ever make this
mistake again. I could take deliberate effort every time I pick up my mug
to say I will not spill, I will not spill until it becomes habit. I could
bring extra shirts to work in the future just in case I need to make a quick
change. I could carry around Tide-to-go pens in my non-existent purse.
Focus on the habits that you want to ingrain into your every day life. Make
them a priority so that eventually your entire quality of life improves in
the long run.
One thing I want to address is the simplicity of the coffee spilling example.
Some of you may be reading that say “well duh” that is what any normal
individual would do in that situation. Exactly! That is the point. These
three principles are so powerful that you already agree that they work. I
bet that there are more opaque scenarios in your own life where
these principles also apply but you are not taking advantage of them…yet.
I know that was certainly the case for me. At the stage in my life that I was
listening to this speech, I was personally undergoing some very challenging
times regarding all aspects of my health and well being. That is a story
for another time, but I can confirm that overcoming those challenges would
have been much faster had I been carrying these principles on my tool belt.
That is why I think about these three principles all the time. I would not
say that I did not know how to apply these principles before the speech, but
the speech certainly changed how I looked at my life going forward. I
encourage you to try adopting these principles into your everyday routine. You
might be pleasantly surprised by your results.
One last thing that Larry said in his speech was to “make a contribution in
everything that you do” and to “pour your passion, love, desires, integrity,
intelligence, generosity, and spirit into a world that desperately needs it.” I
hope that this blog is at least a partial contribution of my passions and
interests, and that some reader out there benefits from it in some way.
Welcome to “Play Better”, enjoy!