Conan O’ Brien gave the commencement address at Dartmouth college, and it is longer than usual, but stick with it for the sheer entertainment value. At about the 18 minute mark, O’Brien gets serious and personal, and the speech goes from enjoyable to sublime. Discussing his professional journey and its disappointments, he says: “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”
You can tell he means it; between quips, he speaks passionately and with conviction and with the sort of reassurance that is born of experience and loss. He has always been funnier and smarter than Letterman, and he proves it when he says:
“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention. . .no specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you . . . Whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity; with clarity comes conviction and true originality. . .whatever you think your dream is now, it will change, and that’s okay.”
I really appreciated him saying it because, in America, especially, we focus so much of our energy and invest so much of our identity into what we “do” that we forget that the true challenge of life is all about — our being.
Doing can be difficult. But to do is not less of a challenging than to be. I think that’s what O’Brien has figured out.
It’s one of those lessons you can tell but not teach. It can only be learned individually, often in the throes of spiritual and emotional tumult — that’s where wisdom imprints itself on the heart, by the flutterings of our fears and the heavy beats of our grief.
A really great speech. Enjoy.