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Things To Learn From Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman is an author of short fictions and novels who started as a journalist. His career itself is evident that if you keep brushing up your skills, over the period of time you will be conquering your goals one by one .

He was invited to deliver a commencement speech to the students of Arts faculty so many of his points are in the same context. But the guidelines are applicable to all the aspects of the life. Actually almost all the aspects of the world and the life are connected at some points.

We are glad that the commencement speech is made available in the public domain of YouTube, so it can reach globally. Here is our personal assessment of the same.

Public Video on YouTube

Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.

Rather than planning (too much), prepare a list of things you want to do (by considering your abilities, skills and expertise) and just following one by one items from it.

If you don’t know it’s impossible it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that again, yet.

It is good that you don’t know what you are doing (in context of art students) because when you know what you are doing; you know the rules. You even know what are the possibilities and limitations. While not know will make you go for something not accomplished before.

If you have an idea you wanted to implement, just go for it. It may be much harder than you thought or may be easier.

Secondly, If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

Neil said that, he chose to became a journalist because they are allowed to question. They are expected to explore how things works. In order to become a journalist he needed to write and more you write, better your writing skills become. And yes, journalists need to provide their (written) stuffs on deadlines, making the job more challenging.

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

This is very important factor to understand. Because we often find advises on “following your dreams“. It is definitely a fantastic and satisfying thing. However we cannot ignore to have a “reality check” here. When we move forward in any direction, we have to make sure to have enough financial backing till the new venture takes off. So balancing is very important task here.

Thirdly, When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive.

We heard the saying “experience is the best teacher” and we all firmly believe in that. However we must learn that we cannot be successful every time. I remember in one of his speech Arnold Schwarzenegger said something like “my story is not about all my successes, its about my failures too”. Which is quite correct. There are always two sides of a coin and one need to accept it. And accepting a failure and rather than just pushing it just because you are emotionally attached with the venture, is quite foolish. You need to have guts to get out from it (or shut down it) on the right time.

There is a book released later last year named “Mrs. Funnybones“, written by Twinkle Khanna. In that book she also advised something like this, of course, in different words and different context. But the moral is same.

And yes, it is tough to stand against your enemies but tougher to stand against your loved ones (remember, similar quote from Harry Potter book series!?) and probably toughest to stand against your own perceptions (based on a reality check).

The problems of failure are hard.
The problems of success can be harder, because nobody warns you about them.

It is said that it is tough to face the lose, which is true of course. However digesting success is much harder than that. Actually, success is an achievement making you feel that you did the right thing (which is correct). Which sometimes make you believe that every thing you do is right! Now that is very wrong perception. And when you are on the top, no one can stop you from doing what you are (especially in terms of mindset). And when there is no one who can show mirror to you or show the pros and cons of your possible decisions in terms of reality or warn you about the possible negative consequences, the chances of doing wrong things are higher.

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.

There is a difference between doing wrong things and making a mistake. A mistake is possibly when your analysis failed on performance. Or probably you were not able to consider some effective factors. Or sometimes the things just didn’t went as expected.

Mistakes are proofs that you tried. However learning from a mistake and not repeating it, is even more important.

Fifthly, while you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

Here Neil suggests to make your unique mark. There must be something that has the unique impression of your skills. In the context of arts, let us take an example of famous painters. The experts can tell by seeing the picture that so and so painter used so and so style here. And it is possible because of the unique signature style the artist have developed. Same happens for a sportsman or a movie actor also. And it can be extended to every profession. So yes, making something which stands you out of the crowd (only in positive aspects) is definitely what your require.

Sixthly. …
People get hired because, somehow, they get hired.
You get work however you get work.

Based on my personal experience and belief, I can say, if you have skills but you don’t get an opportunity to get them demonstrated or implemented, there is no use of it. If you are a good swimmer but never get a chance to participate in a competition (for example) how will you show your skills? If you are a good actor/author/orator/… but you didn’t get a platform, its useless.

Ancient Indian scholars where quite clear on that. That’s why they gave the saying “सा विद्या या विमुक्तये”. I even extend it in modern scenario and says that, if your skills doesn’t convert into money for you, it is quite useless.

So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.

Being clever and skillful is important. But using your knowledge and skills at right place, right time and for the right reason, requires wisdom. That’s why we love the tales of PanchTantra (and other such wisdom tales), which makes us wiser.

If you are interested in reading the full transcript of this speech it is available at:

If you like to follow Neil, here are some quick links:

Official Twitter Handle: https://twitter.com/neilhimself
Wikipedia Article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Gaiman
Official Website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/

We found him being very frank and realistic in the speech.

You may got to learn something more from it which we might have missed. Don’t forget to share your thoughts with us in any case.

You may also like to read our summarized views regarding some other commencement speeches, which we found interesting, inspirational, motivational and got a chance to write about. What you think about this commencement speech? Do share your reviews and views via comments below. And yes, do not forget to share this article with your friends over various social networks via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and others. And yes, you may like to subscribe to our RSS feeds and follow us on various Social networks to get latest updates for the site to land right in your mail box.

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