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.