Neil Gaiman Commencement Speech

134th Commencement
May 17, 2012

This is my new favorite commencement address. I’ve been wanting to listen to it for almost two years now. Only 20 minutes in length … Yet, I hadn’t got around to it. You do have to make the time. I can write, “Gaiman delivers.” He always does. Sandman. The Graveyard Book. American Gods. Comparing commencement addresses, it’s better than Jobs. Superior to the Iron Man freshman (Although, technically, it’s a Welcome address, the crowd is all dressed up in cap and gown).

Here are my seven bullets/takeaways:

First: “When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. And this is great.” I love this advice. It’s about breaking rules because you don’t know if such things really exist.

Second: “If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.” Easier said than done, but why not try? Sometimes, we worry too much about what someone tells us what to do. Twain said it best, we worry about most things that don’t really matter.

Thirdly, “When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thick-skinned, to learn that not every project will survive.” Yeah, not every project, story, or job will work out. And that’s ok. Failure works.

Four: “I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful.” Four is somewhat related to three (the difference is subtle but important). But if you’re not making mistakes, well push yourself harder. Sometimes, in corporate America, High School, Junior High School, College, etc., we worry too much about what other people will think instead of high diving into the deep end. Perhaps, later in life, we will mourn what we didn’t attempt verse going along with the status quo. Something to ponder.

Five: “While you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.” This means experiment. Some things work, other things don’t. More importantly, I think it means developing unique skills that are valuable in the marketplace. If only you can do it, I suppose you are that much more valuable.

Six: I will pass on some secret freelancer knowledge. Secret knowledge is always good. I won’t ruin this part of the speech, it makes it worth the watch.

And Seven: Enjoy the ride. Life is short. Act like you know what you’re talking about. And, most importantly, make up your own rules.

I’ve watched this speech twice this week. It really is that good.

Cliff Notes:

  • In case you missed the link above (it’s in the header), here is the link to the speech.
  • If you want a hard copy of the speech, you can get it here. It’s also available on Amazon.
  • Snapped picture is from Barnes and Noble, a few of the author’s popular works.