Wise Words From 16 Famous People On How To Succeed In Life


We’ve all heard how different real life is than it was at school. New-graduates tend to be disappointed in their first jobs and have a hard time getting used to life outside of a college campus.

In this list, you’ll find very useful tips and inspiring stories from very successful people who’ve been through what we all struggled with at first. Most of them are far from all those clichés you’ve been told about life, and in particular: failure. They don’t even hesitate to speak up about their mistakes, which made them all modest and conscious about how they succeeded in life.

So here are some excellent remarks from 16 of the best commencement speeches ever given...

1. Barack Obama - “Don’t lose hope if sometimes you hit a roadblock.”


Obama gave a commencement speech at Rutgers University in 2016 and his remarks were quite encouraging:

“You will deal occasionally with foolish people.  You will be frustrated.  You’ll have a boss that's not great.  You won’t always get everything you want -- at least not as fast as you want it.  So you have to stick with it.  You have to be persistent.  And success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success. “

2. Sheryl Sandberg underlines that opportunities can be hard to notice sometimes.


Facebook COO Sandberg told a personal story about her job search when she was a new graduate in her commencement speech at Harvard Business School in 2012.

“I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows.  One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first Business Unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money.
So I sat down with Eric Schmidt, who had just become the CEO, and I showed him the spreadsheet and I said, this job meets none of my criteria.  He put his hand on my spreadsheet and he looked at me and said, “Don’t be an idiot…. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”

3. Salman Khan - "Live your life like it’s your second chance."


The founder of the Khan Academy addresses MIT 2012 graduates:

“Imagine yourself in 50 years...

Just as you’re thinking this, a genie appears from nowhere and says, “I have been eavesdropping on your regrets. They are valid ones. I can tell you are a good person so I am willing to give you a second chance if you really want one.” You say “Sure” and the genie snaps his fingers.

All of a sudden you find yourself right where you are sitting today…. You really do have the chance to do it over again... You can be the source of positivity that you wished you had been the first time around.”

4. Shonda Rhimes - "Be a doer, not a dreamer."


Rhimes, one of the most successful TV producers ever, gave a commencement speech at Darthmouth in 2014:

“Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you're paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn't matter. You don't have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn't have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. “

5. Jeff Bezos underlines the importance of your choices in life


In his commencement speech at Princeton University in 2012, the founder of the Amazon says:

“Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy -- they're given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you're not careful, and if you do, it'll probably be to the detriment of your choices.

When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices. Build yourself a great story.”

6. Jennifer Lee - "Don't doubt yourself"


The director of the movie “Frozen” spoke at the graduation ceremony at New Hampshire University in 2014.

“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope is today that we can all collectively agree to ban it.  

And now think to the moments in your life when you forgot to doubt yourself. When you were so inspired that you were just living and creating, and working. Pay attention to those moments, they’re trying to Reach you through those lenses of doubt and trying to show you your potential.”

7. Michael Lewis - "If you have had success, you have also had luck."


The famous writer tells Princeton 2012 graduates that:

People really don’t like to hear success explained away as luck — especially successful people. As they age, and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable. They don't want to acknowledge the role played by accident in their lives. There is a reason for this: the world does not want to acknowledge it either.
Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with  luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.

8. Stephen Spielberg - "Build your own world."


At Harvard University in 2016, Spielberg said:

“Love, support, courage, intuition. All of these things are in your hero’s quiver, but still, a hero needs one more thing: A hero needs a villain to vanquish. And you’re all in luck. This world is full of monsters. And there’s racism, homophobia, ethnic hatred, class hatred, there’s political hatred, and there’s religious hatred.

"The burning question must be: How do all of us together find the ‘we?’ How do we do that? There’s still so much work to be done, and sometimes I feel the work hasn’t even begun.”

9. Conan O'Brien - "Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo."


As a graduate of Harvard University, famous comedian O’Brian addressed the new graduates in 2000:

“I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve had a lot of failure. I’ve looked good. I’ve looked bad. I’ve been praised. And I’ve been criticized. But my mistakes have been necessary. I’ve dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed, your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve.

Success is a lot like a bright white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you’re desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it.”

10. Oprah Winfrey tells that you should depend on the GPS in you


Oprah Winfrey gave a speech at Stanford University in 2008 and told the new graduates to depend on their instincts.  

“How do you know when you're doing something right? How do you know that? It feels so. What I know now is that feelings are really your GPS system for life. When you're supposed to do something or not supposed to do something, your emotional guidance system lets you know. The trick is to learn to check your ego at the door and start checking your gut instead. Every right decision I've made—every right decision I've ever made—has come from my gut. And every wrong decision I've ever made was a result of me not listening to the greater voice of myself.”

11. Robert Krulwich advises you to be active rather than sending resumes and just hoping for the best.


Journalist Krulwich addressed the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2011.

"Some people when they look for a job in journalism ask themselves, What do I like to do and Who can take me there? Who can get me to a war zone? To a ballpark? To Wall Street? To politicians, to movie stars? Who’s got the vehicle? And you send them your resume and you say, “I want a seat in your car.” … And you wait.

"But there are some people, who don’t wait.

"... think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepeneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know."

12. Steve Jobs - "You have to trust that the dots (of the past) will somehow connect in your future."


One of the most inspirational commencement speeches of the last decade was given by Steve Jobs at Stanford University.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.[…] It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.

13. Bono - "Future is a lot easier to shape than most of us think it is."


According to Bono, changing the world is not just a dream. He gave a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004:

“You know I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves out or gets chased out.

But it's not. The future is not fixed, it's fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo..”

14. J.K. Rowling - "Failure gave me an inner security."


At Harvard University in 2008, Rowling shared her personal experiences with the new graduates:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure. But the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. Failure means a stripping away of the inessential.
I stopped pretending to myself to be anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believe I truly belonged.

"Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. "

15. Ellen DeGeneres - "Your idea of success will be different in the future."


DeGeneres gave a speech at Tulane University in 2009.

When I was younger I thought success was something different. I thought when I grow up, I want to be famous. I want to be a star. I want to be in movies. When I grow up I want to see the world, drive nice cars, I want to have groupies. ..

But my idea of success is different today. And as you grow, you’ll realize the definition of success changes. For many of you, today, success is being able to hold down 20 shots of tequila. For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity and not to give into peer pressure to try to be something that you’re not, to live your life as an honest and compassionate person, to contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion, follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path…”

16. Winston Churchill - "Never give in."


A quote from Churchill’s commencement speech at Harrow School in 1941:

“Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination...

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…”

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