Ira Glass’s Commencement Speech at the Columbia Journalism School

Ira Glass's Commencement Speech at the Columbia Journalism School Graduation - This American Life (This American Life)
The Columbia University School of Journalism asked Ira Glass to speak at their commencement and gave him an award for “singular journalistic performance.”
I love commencement speeches as a genre. I wasn’t remotely inspired by the one at my own college graduation and when I watch or read others, I like to pretend they’re for me  Because isn’t every day the commencement of something?

I read Ira Glass’s rather than listening to it, and found myself highlighting a lot  so I thought I’d share my favorite bits here.

You just have to get in there and make stuff and try things and push yourself hard and that’s the only way to find your way.

Glass is talking here about what to do when you’re lost and can’t figure out what you want to be doing. Multipotentialites can get paralyzed by possibilities. Perfectionists sometimes think they have to fully learn to do a thing before they can actually do it. But Glass has words that multipotentialite perfectionists (have you figured out yet that I am one?) need to hear: you learn the thing by doing it, and to find out if the thing is in fact one of your things, you have to pick it and try it.

It can take a long time to be as good as you want to be. And be kind to yourself, during that period. And work hard.

I ran into this a lot in improv, but I think it happens everywhere: you see the work of experts and are frustrated that your novice work isn’t good enough. I would watch people who had been improvising for 10, 11, 12, more years, and they would do what looked like magic, and I would think, “Why can’t I do that?” I started thinking this way when I had only been doing it for a year and a half. (Ira Glass has a great quote that expands on this idea.)

…the more idealistic your mission, the more cunning you have to employ to get people to engage with what you have to say.

This resonated with me immensely.

Everything will be better if you’re out for your own pleasure. Noticing what you’re actually truly interested in … and curious about … and making your work about that.

One of my core beliefs is that people do their best work when they care. Work you don’t care about won’t be good, no matter how important or meaningful it might be more generally. Find what lights you up right now (because it might change over time) and use that to change the world. And when it stops lighting you up, move on to the next thing.

Don’t wait. Make the stuff you want to make now. No excuses. Don’t wait for the perfect job or whatever. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. Don’t wait… Don’t wait. You have everything you need. Don’t wait.

Don’t wait.

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