Leavers’ Day

Today I had the honour and privilege of addressing the Year 6 class of Emmanuel Church of England primary school.

I met these wonderful students earlier this year when I was on book tour for MetaWars.  I was thrilled to be invited to speak at their Leavers’ Service.  It was a real pleasure to address the students, who are about to embark on the choppy waters of secondary school.

I met a few parents afterwards who’d missed my remarks, and so I thought I’d share them here…

(please forgive grammar as I constructed this speech in bullet-point format, not prose)


Father Jonathan, Head Teacher Fitzsimmons, Teachers, Parents,and Students…to whom I’ll address my remarks.

Firstly, thank you. It’s an honour & privilege to be asked to speak with you today.

You’re at the end of something today, but also, at the beginning.

You have the rare opportunity to look back with hindsight and forward with anticipation.

And for many of you, that anticipation is probably focused on summer holidays.

But after that, secondary school…

I remember this time in my life as both exciting and a bit scary. And I thought I’d share with you today, three things that nobody told me.

These are three things that nobody told me, but I wish they had. I’ve had to learn them, so I’m telling you now, in case your parents don’t tell you:

First, there’s a difference between things you love to do, and things you have to do.

You are going to be asked to study subjects you don’t really want to do pursue. I’m going to tell you a secret. The actual lessons, the subject matter, doesn’t actually matter.

It’ll be different for everyone, but you’ll soon find yourself in some lessons asking yourself, ““when am I ever going to use this?”

Probably never. So why bother?

Chances are, unless you’re really keen on a subject, you’re going to forget most of it anyway.

But what are you really doing in school?

You’re practicing. You’re training your brain. You’re building neural connections, pathways in your brain to use later.

In sports, you do lots of training you don’t actually use on the field, but it strengths you and makes you a better player.

And if you keep your focus narrow, you’ll stay narrow – you won’t develop.

So build connections. Many many many connections. These connections will pay off later in thinking skills, reasoning, making sense of complex situations.

And the world you’ll graduate into is very complex.

On the other side, use this time to start to explore what you’re great at. What you love.

And chances are, you’re going to love to do what you’re great at, and vice versa. And it may not be a subject area; it may be a feeling or a type of situation: Like changing someone’s stubborn mind. Or leading a group to do something they’ve never done before. Or solving a really tricky problem, school or social. What ever that thing is, nurture it. Get good at it

Be exceptional at it.

It’s a great feeling to be exceptional at something – it gives you a quiet confidence; confidence to walk into any situation knowing you can handle yourself.

Find a way to train at it: learn from experts, take courses, learn from like minded friends, and most importantly, fail at it…

Second, since the world is getting more complex, get comfortable with failure.

In 2002, when most of you were being born, the world was a very different place:

I had just bought a 1st generation iPod: “1000 songs in your pocket” – that was the offer. iTunes was brand new. No iPhone or Ipad. No facebook, instragram, twitter, or whatsapp.

How did we ever survive in those stone ages?

China had just joined the WTO, which is like a club that governs how counties will and will not do business with one another. Since then, China has not only become the factory floor for the world, but also fast becoming the number one consumer market for many categories.

It’s a different world now.

And in about ~10 years from now, when most of you will be looking to enter the ‘real world’ it’ll be very different again.

Chances are the job you’ll end up doing in the future doesn’t even exist yet.

So between now and then, what are you to do?

Practice at things you love to do and train your brain via the things you have to do.

And, fail.

A lot.

But fail fast, fail smart. Figure out what’s not working, make a change, try again. It’s the scientific method of observation and experimentation.

Just last week my four year old demanded to have his bike stabilizers taken off. So now, the training wheels are off. And he’s fallen over, scraped every part of his body, cried a few times, but kept getting back on the bike and now, just a few days later, there is no stopping him.

If he tried to look good while learning, he’d never have learned so fast.

Don’t try to look cool. If you try too hard to look good doing something, you’re probably not pushing yourself.

I’m a huge fan of the Pixar films and especialy the Pixar process of cretiavity. And Pixar’s president, Ed Catmull, has a great saying that sums up how important failure is to success:

Failure is the necessary consequence of doing something new.

It’s true in sports, science, dance. Anything new, or even just brand new new to you.

But, don’t just fail. Do it again. And again. And Again. Build up your resilience now, and always get back on that bike.

Third, be yourself. Now, people probably do say that to you. But what nobody ever told me was to be the best version of yourself.

Secondary School can be a big place, a bit rough and to make matters worse, you’re going to go through a whole bunch of changes as your body grows up.

When I was your age, I was quite a reluctant reader, what helped me was as series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. They were ‘game books’ where you have a choice in your own adventure.

Secondary school is a choose your own adventure.

Everything is.

Understand that you have a choice in what you do, how you carry yourself:

Choose kindness over coolness. Why? It always feels better. Also, it pays off because people will be find to you.

Choose curiosity over cynicism. Back to building neural pathways: you make connections in your brain and social connections.

Choose to be a risk taker not a critic. Helping someone achieve better with constructive critique is great; powerful, and useful. Telling someone that their idea is stupid doesn’t help anyone.

Remember: You always have a choice.

Choose not to be the cynic.

It’s easy to be a cynic and it’s harder to be hopeful. And usually, the cool kids are cynical because it’s low risk, you can always make fun of people making an effort.

Make an effort, in everything you do. Make it count.

There’s a quote from Teddy Roosevelt (the American president – fun fact: the Teddy Bear was named after him), that I heard right around the time that you guys were born, when I was in grad school:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

There is no effort without error.

Get into the arena – that’s where the action is – because you don’t want to be a cold and timid soul.

I met you all personally earlier this year and think you’re all extraordinary. You should think that too and go into this summer and secondary school proud, excited, and eager to learn… expecting to fail, determined to improve, and being the very best versions of your selves.

In summary, three things nobody told me:

1)   Recognize there are things you have to do, and things you love to do.

2)   Get comfortable with failing;

3)   Be the best version of yourself.

The last thing I would say; is good luck and have fun!

Thank you.

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