Class of 2016: Your value defines you

The wheel always turns, the young always fly the nest, learning never ends. What advice, what one piece of wisdom would you want to pass on to the class of 2016 as they venture out into the world?

Superheroes walk among us. I can now confirm this to be true.

Gentle reader: When was the last time you met someone who exceeded every expectation?

I’ve known Laurie Ruettimann via social media for a good six or seven years now. Fearless, wise, witty and a relentless innovator, I’ve always – silly as it might sound – seen her as something of a superhero in our midst.

I finally got to meet Laurie in person earlier this month. I’m delighted to report that this happened through a chance moment of social media serendipity. I’m delighted to report that she exceeded all my expectations.

Good morning, London

I happened to see Laurie tweet a quite beautiful airliner view of a cloudscape, with the words “Good morning, London.” On the off chance that she was indeed in town, I DM’d her a quick invite to an evening of beverages that I was attending in London the next night.


I got to the pub in question the next day, and there she was (along with her companion for this trip, the excellent Jennifer McClure). Laurie absolutely radiated energy and positivity. This despite being extremely tired from flying in the day before, compounded by an early start to fulfil the purpose of her trip: delivering a speech to the 2016 graduating class at her alma mater, Regent’s University, London. She wasn’t able to stay for long, but it was an honour to meet her at last. I was right all along: Laurie is a superhero.

A few days later, I was again delighted, this time to find that Laurie had shared the text of her Regent’s University speech via her blog. If you know anything about Laurie, you’ll know that her speech was as far from bland be-all-that-you-can-be sentiments as can be. Her central message?

“My entire life has been marked by one thing: I don’t do what adults tell me to do.”

Here are two more choice quotations from this excellent speech:

  • “Your value defines you.” (This puts me in mind of Paolo Coelho’s wonderful post Who still wants this bill?)
  • “Sit with being uncomfortable.” (By sheer serendipitous coincidence, Claire LeGrice – who was also at the London pub that night – has just written a piece advising us to “cultivate deliberate discomfort” to create and enable change and growth. Wise words.)

Laurie Ruettimann is a superhero. She made me want to be better and to do better.

Three superheroes


I was so taken with Laurie’s generous sharing of her wisdom that I thought I’d use this post to keep this particular wheel turning. I asked three of the wisest and most eloquent people I know – Sarah Miller, Simon Heath and Heather Bussing – to share a few words of advice for the class of 2016, or for any young people making their way out into the world. But their words might resonate no matter what stage you are at in life, no matter where the turning of the wheel finds you now. Here’s what they had to say.

Sarah Miller:

Play equally as hard. Try to eat less junk. Value everyone’s experience. Take compliments graciously, give compliments earnestly and frequently. Build your wealth in friends. Choose happiness. Remember why you started. Live by something better than Instagram quotes.

Heather Bussing:

Here’s the thing I wish I had known much earlier.

It’s probably not about you. There is a 2.7 second rule that goes: no matter how scared you are about screwing up or having said or done the wrong thing, other people will think about you for 2.7 seconds before going back to thinking about themselves. This is also why other people seem uncaring, insensitive, and unkind. They are worried about their own stuff and it has nothing to do with you. So don’t ever take things personally unless there is no other interpretation. It’s not easy being so busy, important, and caught up in ourselves.

And here is something from a graduation speech I gave at the law school a few years ago. It’s directed at law students, but I think it works for a broader audience too:

“I’d like to teach you the three most important words a lawyer, and maybe anyone, can understand how to use. They are as big as ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘Thank you.’

“The three words are: ‘I don’t know.’

“Nice alternatives are: I haven’t got a clue. Great question, I have no idea. And, beats the heck out me.

“When should you use ‘I don’t know?’ A lot at the beginning. As you gain wisdom and experience, you will need them MORE.

“If you are in court, they should be followed by, ‘May I brief that, Your Honor?’ If you are talking to your boss or a client, say ‘Let me find out.’

“Then be willing to live with the fact that there might not be an easy answer or that it’s not clear.

“One of my favorite quotes is by Isaac Asimov who said: ‘The phrase that heralds new discoveries is not Eureka (I found it), it’s “that’s funny… ‘

“From that place of insecurity and uncertainty, lawyers do their finest work.

“Uncertainty is where justice and fairness reside.”

Simon Heath:

I’ve often found that advice to young people polarises along the lines of either ‘Follow your dreams’ or ‘Take this exam to get this sort of job.’ I don’t think we talk enough about self-care. It’s a huge world of opportunity out there. But it’s also a world full of uncertainty. You will face false starts and disappointments. There will be obstacles to be overcome. In the face of all of this it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Life moves fast. But I’d urge you to take your time. Don’t be rushed down a path that suits someone else’s agenda. Do your research thoroughly. Compromise only with your eyes wide open and have an escape plan. Avoid debt wherever you can. Don’t do something you don’t enjoy any longer than you can bear it. Friends you disagree with are just as valuable as friends who share your point of view. Live as much of your life outdoors as you can. Think critically and challenge considerately. And be kind. Always.

Inconstancy is my very essence

My own advice? The beauty of life is that it is wildly unpredictable. It is always changing. Boethius put this better than I could ever dream of doing:

“It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconstancy is my very essence,’ says the wheel. ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you’re cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.’”

I first came across these words in the most unpredictable of places – a tiny scene in the Manchester music scene chronicle 24 Hour Party People*:

You will always find life’s truest lessons in the most unexpected places. The wheel always turns, the young always fly the nest, learning never ends. Superheroes walk among us. You are quite capable of being one, too.


* This is the answer to the prizeless virtual competition from my recent post Why does my heart feel so bad? The great Matthew Stollak (aka @akabruno) stepped up with the correct answer. Well done, sir!

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