A little less preachy and a little more practical

Our guest speaker at the 2013 ChanSea Hall Dinner was Kenrese Young, motivational speaker and health and lifestyle coach. She spent her allotted time preaching to our young, impressionable minds about the importance of dreaming big and not letting anyone tell you “You can’t”.

Her most shining example of reaching for the stars despite the odds was her personal story of quitting her comfy job at a communications company (after years of making money) to become a motivational speaker. She extolled the virtues of doing what you love.

All of which rubbed me the wrong way.

I think it’s wholly impractical to be telling a roomful of university students to switch majors just so they can do what they love. This economic climate and this job market are too unstable to be telling anyone to dream big and ignore reality. Because she never once mentioned any kind of practical advice about getting a job after university, even though more than 75% of our graduates will remain unemployed after they graduate with a “sensible” degree. Even medical interns – a post that used to be guaranteed once you left university – are having a hard time finding jobs.

Her speech was full of catchy phrases like “Dream big!”, “Don’t let anyone bring you down!” and “Work hard!” but I think in the midst of all the hype, she failed to bring across just how hard you have to work. And that sometimes hard work alone will still not cut it. There is luck and knowing the right people and getting the right opportunity – which, statistically speaking, everyone will not get.

She didn’t tell them that the world is unfair.

Telling lies to the young is wrong
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Her own story isn’t an ideal example either. We don’t all come from the same background or get the same chances. She had built herself a stable, practical career out of university degrees that she probably didn’t love studying for in the first place. But they made her financially secure enough to be able to quit her job and jump into a profession that is iffy at best. Could she have done that – would she have wanted to do that as a fledgling university graduate with loans to pay off and rent overdue? I doubt it.

She was a complete one-eighty from our guest speaker last year who had told us straight up about the raw deal we’d be facing as university graduates in a global society where graduates are a dime a dozen. He told us to be trailblazers, yes, but when he told us how hard blazing the trail would be he didn’t pull any punches. He didn’t sugar-coat our future because the future shouldn’t be sugar-coated, or viewed through rose-coloured lenses. Times is hard and they’re only getting harder. How many of our young people are unemployed? Across the world? How many businesses have failed in the last few years?

It is not from lack of passion that these pursuits have withered. What our young people lack is direction, not drive. We are so eager to make our mark on the world but no one’s there to help us navigate the treacherous waters. And today’s world is a much harsher one than the world of generations past. Prices are going up, including the price of mistakes, and we are struggling to find our feet in an ever-shifting economy, an ever-changing society. The kind of advice we need is not going to be found in fortune cookie fold-outs, can’t be given in clichés or anecdotes about one-in-a-million chances.

Be careful with whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is like a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it, like fishing the past out of the garbage disposal and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Mary Schmich/Baz Luhrmann

But it is too easy to talk about what we don’t need. We know the wrong way all too well. The hard part is figuring out what we do need, and which way is the right way, and we should be busy trying to work on that. So far all we’ve got is trial and error and we don’t know the answers to any of the questions.

If anyone does, please write.


As far as commencement speeches go The Sunscreen Song is still my favourite, but This is Water runs a pretty close second.

3 thoughts on “A little less preachy and a little more practical

  1. Dear Robyn,
    Thanks for taking the time out to say how you feel about my speech.
    First let me say as a speaker, I know will not always reach everyone, nor will they agree with my philosophies or view points. That’s what makes life so beautiful and interesting, our uniqueness.

    I am happy the speaker last year told you of the tough “stuff”. I am happy he or she was able to do it from an intellectual place that resonated with you. I always encourage people to treat life like a buffet, if you don’t like it don’t eat it.

    I am optimist, who chooses to look at the things that work for me and share the best with others. Some people try to motivate from telling of doom and gloom, I like to do it from joy, and abundance.

    Now, I have gotten the privilege to coach persons who are graduates of Ivy league programs, who holds Masters, Doctorates, etc. They are CEOs, CFOs, Attorneys, Musicians, Medical professionals, Uneducated, Unemployed, Abused, Happy, sad people. I am so honoured and grateful to work with these people not just in Jamaica but China, Japan, USA, Israel, just to name a few places.

    The more I have been allowed to meet with, interact with and hear people’s stories, the more I am convinced of certain life principles. I believe that reality is (what we choose it to be), I know it goes against traditionalists views.

    Robyn you said:
    “I think it’s wholly impractical to be telling a roomful of university students to switch majors just so they can do what they love. This economic climate and this job market are too unstable to be telling anyone to dream big and ignore reality. Because she never once mentioned any kind of practical advice about getting a job after university, even though more than 75% of our graduates will remain unemployed after they graduate with a “sensible” degree. Even medical interns – a post that used to be guaranteed once you left university – are having a hard time finding jobs.”

    My response
    First let me say I was not asked to give job advice. My speech briefing didn’t ask me to encourage the students to think bigger and not just focus on getting a degree. Sounds to me though that you came with an expectation to hear how to get a job. I can’t say I am qualified to give people advice on how to land a job as it’s not my area of expertise. What I am qualified to do is to help people to put themselves in the best possible to position to get whatever they are desiring.

    I think it’s a waste of time to do something that you are not passionate about or don’t even like. You will not be able to convince an employer to invest in you if you appear uncommitted. There is a cost to hiring, training and to pay a salary as you can well imagine, employers what to get what they pay for. This is a part of the reason why many graduates are unemployed (the unspoken reason).

    Nothing is ever wasted, all the education and skills you gain will at some point be clear as to why you had to attain that skill. I am sure I made it clear that I was not saying everyone was to get up and quit but I encouraged an entrepreneurial thinking. I told people that there is so much more than just attaining the degree. That persons sitting in the room had other skills which could shine through.

    Don’t just think about finding a job but creating one. I am sure I also said there were many brilliant minds in the room, future prime ministers, senior executives, inventors, scientists….( I am looking at the transcript :-))
    I also expounded on the issue that many university students are told to study hard, then you will get a great paying job, but this may not be the case for everyone. I also said find the extra fire as many of you may get weary throughout the school year and end up just wanting to pass. I encouraged everyone to reach for the best and highest grades possible. I also said the long hours of studying can be frustrating but hang in there. I also suggested the frustration may even come from not doing what you are truly passionate about, but because of family traditions you are in the course of study, but it doesn’t mean you can’t dream big. This is where I encouraged people to be honest, with parents or guardians. If it means re-examining your course of study.

    I went onto say it doesn’t cost to dream, no one can go into your heads in the quiet of the night and say stop thinking of better for yourself. I said if you are sitting there and you are not doing your best, and you are just getting by, now would be a great time to shift that. What was so unrealistic in encouraging students to do their best? Dream big?
    I think you took a small part of what i said completely out of context. At no point did I tell everyone to change their majors.

    In coaching, I often ask ” Is it working for you?” If the answer is yes, then I say do more of it. I have often lived by sharing the positives. I believe that the more positive we are, whatever we are focused on we will indeed get more of it. I have seen this not only for myself but many persons who have climbed the ranks. When you listen to the story of a Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Portia (our own prime minister), Bob Marley, countless of others, despite adversity they remained positive and kept focus on their dreams (http://madamenoire.com/190971/theyve-got-a-story-to-tell-celebs-who-went-from-top-ramen-to-top-dollar/4/). In many cases they were told to quit, give up, or face reality (whose reality?). If you want to be successful, look at someone who is and find out what they are doing. I shared some of USAIN BOLT’s setbacks, when he was ridiculed and could’ve quit running. Again concrete examples of someone from humble beginnings who stayed the course.

    Despite the tough economic conditions, there are many people who thriving, You have multiple options, you can be mad at the system, or you can seek to understand how to use it to your advantage. I apologize for being long past the place of telling of hardship stories. I was aware that my audience already was knowledgeable of on the state of Jamaica’s economic crises. Instead, I wanted to challenge their thinking, and way of being.

    You do get to choose Robyn. I faced the same challenges like any university graduate. When I graduated, I printed more than 100 resumes and hand delivered them, I was bold and fearless, I knew I wanted a job and indeed because of my tenacity it worked. I got promotions after promotions because I did the worked. I worked hard in some cases but most times smart. I did not have it handed to me, I worked for it.

    I do apologize if my optimistic view point and encouraging you to “Dream Big”, as you put it rubbed you the wrong way.
    Contrary to what you believe and said in your reflection, it’s actually not impractical to tell students to do what they love. In fact, in our economic climate it is absolutely critical to do just that. Having 2 degrees from the same University at which I spoke, and other certifications (Entrepreneurship, project management), It took long hours of study, many objections, heartaches to get to where I am. In fact I speak from a place of experience and observation of many others.

    Do not limit yourself to finding a job. In fact I would strongly encourage you to think creatively and allow your gifts to make room for you. What are your gifts Robyn?

    I didn’t have student loans because I worked all through my degrees and paid my way. I also got scholarships because at the time my grades were sufficient to cop one. As to my corporate job, I had to deal with all manner of challenges to get a good salary (too much to explain here). For me there me, it was no coincidence that I could quit my corporate job, it was well researched, orchestrated and planned. I chose what made me happy.

    To get where I am today, I started to read books outside of the typical intellectual discourse that showed me other ways that are not taught in classrooms. I surrounded myself with positive people. I worked daily on self improvement. I spent time observing, asking questions, truly trying to understand life beyond “intellectual discourse”.

    Robyn, the awesome thing is you get to choose and anyone reading this response. You can choose to focus on the fact that I didn’t tell you how hard life would be or you can choose to be inspired to do something extraordinary.
    You Robyn can be whatever you choose. “So a man thinketh so his he”.

    Again thank you for your feedback. I did receive back from many others who had a completely opposite experience, again that’s awesome, contrast is what life is about.

    p.s I would like to offer you a free coaching session. email: info@mylivinghealthy.com

    Suggested Reading:
    Think and grow rich (youtube audio version)

    Warmest Regards,
    Rese Young Msc. BA (hons), AADP CHC
    Certified Health & Lifestyle Coach
    Inspirational Writer
    “a woman on a mission to open the minds and hearts of millions globally”

    Follow me on instagram: reseyoung1


    1. Ms. Young, thank you for your feedback! I must say how surprised and delighted I am that you took the time out to reply to my thoughts.

      You’re absolutely right when you say that contrast is what life is all about. We receive everything from the world around us through the filter of our own experiences. I can’t deny that a lot of that post reflected my own bitterness at being “stuck” on a career path I am not passionate about (a bitterness I am working to overcome) and I was frankly fed up with being told that I should do what I want when I’m really not in a position to do so. Not yet, at least.

      I honestly felt that your speech was excellently delivered and wonderfully motivating. But as I noted in my post, I feel like our young people have enough motivation; they just don’t know how to use it. And this lack of direction makes us very frustrated.

      Looking back, I can admit that your purpose was not just to inspire a driving force in us but also to direct us along the path of passion. Recently another speaker at an event I attended told us that if we follow our passions, we find our purpose. This is turning out to be a common theme among happy successful women.

      I’m still growing, so a lot of my opinions will change with new experiences. I still think that our young adults need more than generalized directions to navigate the waters of life, but I am now reminded that there are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes we can only get a nudge in the right direction (which I think is what you are doing with your work) and have to figure out the rest as we go along.

      Thank you again for the response (and I will take you up on the offer of a free coaching session – I need more of those in my life).


      1. Apologies for the errors ;-), I am very happy that you responded Robyn.

        I do appreciate wanting to know how to do something that seems fleeting. I promise you that it will all come together.

        Some of these things can only be done on a one on one basis. The setting that night was not a teaching setting, but there are practical ways to get there.

        Looking forward to connecting. Please email me at Info@mylivinghealthy.com and we can set up a session for you.

        Rese Young


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