Today I’m sharing the speech I gave to the Cal Poly MBA graduating class of 2007. I was honored my class invited me to speak so it was a special moment in my life. Reading this speech brought back some memories, both good and bad.
Within the week of my graduation, I lost my mother to cancer and my son was born a few days later. It was a very emotional time in my life. Maybe I will share more about those experiences later, but for now, here is my speech:
Have you ever had a dream, but you were afraid to go after it? Have you ever passed up an opportunity because you were afraid to fail?.….… I have.
In the summer of 1993, just after high school, I was accepted to Cal Poly’s undergraduate program, but I never enrolled. At the time, I was working full-time at a machine shop and stocking shelves at a grocery store at night. I had just moved out of the government housing projects that I spent my entire childhood in, so I was struggling financially to make it on my own.
So in 1993, when I received my acceptance letter from Cal Poly, I had no idea how I would be able to continue working full time and to go to school. I never responded to that acceptance letter. Instead I just kept working at my dead end jobs. I was afraid to take a chance. I was afraid to fail.
A few years later, I decided I wanted to become a police officer. The police academy was full time, for six months, so I would have to quit my job. I had a little money, but not enough to live on for six months. My only option was to live on a credit card until I finished the academy.
I told a police officer friend about my idea. He warned me that only half those who start the academy actually finish it, and only half of the graduates, ever get jobs. My other friends said I was crazy and warned me not to quit my job. I struggled with this decision because I realized that I never went to Cal Poly for the same reasons. I was afraid to take a chance. I was afraid to fail.
Obviously, from my introduction you know the choice I made. I went to the police academy and actually finished valedictorian of my class. I learned a valuable life lesson from this. We all have dreams, and often the only thing between us and our dreams, is the fear of failure.
As my law enforcement career progressed, I got involved in training police officers in SWAT tactics. I was training officers to do what you see in the movies when cops are dressed like ninjas and run around with guns.
My supervisor approached me because he wanted a partner to start a business that would provide this training. In order to open the business we would need to invest $10,000 apiece. This was a huge risk, but I had already learned that rewards only come from taking chances.
About a year later, we did what every excited entrepreneur does; we printed business cards, made fliers, and we even made a web site. After that first year, you would not believe how much money we made; nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. We sold one t‑shirt.
This is not my rags to riches story, but it was one of the most educational experiences of my life. I learned more from this $10,000 lesson than I could have ever have learned from a book or a class. My business venture was one of the driving forces that brought me here to the Orfela College of Business.
During this MBA program, I read a quote by Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM. He said if you want to succeed, you have to double your failure rate. There is so much truth in that quote because we learn from our mistakes not our successes. If we don’t take chances, we will never have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
Last summer we took a class with Dr. Steve Whitaker. How many of you remember when he said “get off the treadmill, don’t worry about grades.” That was easy for him to say because he wasn’t getting a grade, but his message had nothing to do with grades. He was encouraging us take a chance and work together, rather than compete with one another.
That message set the tone for the rest of the program and I believe everyone graduating here today took that message to heart. During this graduate program, we learned more from each other than we ever could have learned in the classroom alone. We pushed each other to take chances and we all grew in the process.
I have never met a group more willing to share knowledge than those graduating here today. I would not have been able to graduate today without the help of many of you, nor would I have had such a wonderful experience.
All of you graduating today will probably agree it was the friendships we made that will be the most memorable part of our degree. After we leave today, remember to keep in touch. When you are considering a new opportunity, call someone who will push you to take a chance. Call someone who will remind you that you will not fail.
I will leave you with this: the only way you will ever fail, is if you let fear stop you from pursuing your dreams.”
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