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Occasional Address

by Tim 25th Sep 2013 | 199 comments


Hi. I gave an “occasional address” for a graduation ceremony at my old Uni, The University of Western Australia. Here is the video. The text is below. Hope there’s something in it for you.

“In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational – it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cos he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cos… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now – at the ripe old age of 38 – bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense.

So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

Here we go:

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream.
Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness
Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck
You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise
I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions
A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher.
Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love
I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You.
I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush.
You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be
old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.”

Photo courtesy of UWA (photographer – Ron D’Raine)

Photo courtesy of UWA (photographer – Ron D’Raine)

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199 Comments

Nikki on 2nd of January 2019

Thank you for such an inspirational speech. It’s very refreshing and grounding. I may not 100% know if I can buy all of it… but it sure is thought provoking. Or at least, stop thinking and starting living provoking!

Lan on 27th of October 2018

I just scrolled down over so many comments just to make one. THank you for saving me from my 28-year-old crisis of finding meaning of my life. This article deserves to be printed and framed in many of the struggling youths out there. All the best with you, Tim!

Marquita on 6th of September 2018

Flipbooks can be customized based on requirement.

Desislava Hristova on 16th of March 2018

Thank you, dear Mr. Minchin, for that wonderful and truly inspiring speech. I am literally posting it everywhere and even took a quote from it for my Master Thesis’ beginning! Such brilliant, wise words to encourage broken-hearted, struggling young people… Thank you sincerely and many smiles from one Bulgarian student in Germany. :)

Ben on 6th of December 2017

Wish there was a kid friendly version of this, there are classes I would like to show this to, but its not quite appropriate.

Mohammad Alfarah on 29th of November 2017

Well done well said, please do more of that youre amazing.
Best wishes to everyone
Mohammad?

Peter Doherty on 5th of November 2017

I wish Tim had given this speech at my UWA graduation. It has taken me years to learn the lessons he imparted. This video should be shown to every student, not just university students.

Jess on 3rd of November 2017

Damn,Tim… never knew you were on my wavelength.

Herlien van Rooyen on 2nd of November 2017

At 51 years old I find I’m at a place where I have to reinvent myself. Thank you for this. It has inspired me beyond measure.

Roz Manly on 9th of October 2016

Dearest most excellent Mr Minchin!
I am about to go into an interview at my high school for the Leadership role of Professional Development person, teaching the teachers. I WILL be quoting you in my interview, and if I get the role, will again be quoting you to the teachers as well.

Keegan Ennis on 16th of September 2016

I am nineteen years old and was dealing with extreme existential dread, this speech helped me learn that I can be grateful instead of afraid all the time. The crippling fear which rendered me unable to function sufficiently as a sociable, productive human-being has finally found a source of comfort which I can rationalize.

That is largely thanks to you, Tim Minchin. I’ve stated this before but I will state it again: the further my existential dread relapses into the back corners of my mind, the less I will need a role model. My adoration of you will eventually fade, but for now I’ll simply be an adoring fan losing himself in your insightful and absolutely hysterical art.

JD on 15th of May 2016

All my life I felt that something was wrong because I didn’t have dreams. I made the best of everything that presented itself, but had no dreams. Thank you for your wonderful words on the subject.

Meredith on 6th of March 2016

Long may you live, dear Tim – your voice in this world is immensely important. People listen to you because you share your insights so cleverly, and listening to you speak and sing is like hearing my own brain’s thinking (except with much more eloquence and rhyme!). What a thrill that is for an average citizen! I used to have the same feeling listening to the comedy of Bill Hicks, and sadly his voice was silenced by life’s random misfortune and I miss it so much. So, good health to you, friend.

michelle owen on 5th of March 2016

An absolutely brilliant speech, and genius to boot!

We all adore you Tim, & wait with anticipation for future happenings.

Lisa on 19th of February 2016

This moved me the first time I heard it a couple of years ago, and now I’m revisiting it after listening to your Enough Rope interview with Andrew Denton. Thank you for ‘spraying’ your wisdom and for all the amazing creativity you share with the world.

Shoppal Blog on 25th of May 2015

Remarkable Speech !!! Totally superb

Diane Overcash on 23rd of March 2015

Well said, Tim. I have heard this speech before and every time time I read it I get a delightful, “ping” in the center of my head. Number 1, “pinged” me this time. Every now and then, I feel short changed because I think that I have not given proper service to my life. But when I realize that I don’t have to have a calling, I have MANY. I look back at my teaching career, my painting career, my music that I love, playing the fiddle, and now embarking on a career in acting and am so grateful that there are these wonderful pursuits just for me. What a glorious life I live.

Molly Hope Williams on 12th of March 2015

BOOBS!

(I hoped that would get your attention so you would read what I have written, though I’m not holding my breath since I doubt you have the time nor the patience to read all these MILLIONS of comments! I can always hope though.)
I’m not even close to being as articulate as you, so I’m not going to attempt to be. But, in my own humble words, I find this speech truly inspirational. I know everything I’m thinking and saying is very cliché but I would like you to know that honestly, you have made a difference to my life. I think you’re wonderful, talented and fucking hilarious. I admire your confidence in speaking your mind and not being afraid to share your opinions. Your honesty and uniqueness has inspired me to be proud of the person I am and embrace my individuality… and my ginger hair.

Thank you.

Arthur on 6th of January 2015

Recently was referred to Tim’s speech. As a 71 year old who has seen a fair bit of “stuff” in my life, I can only endorse his great advice and wisdom. Oh and yes, run! Did a marathon a few months back – best thing for the year with so many great memories and health benefits.

Verity on 4th of January 2015

I really, really needed to read this again. Thank you, Tim.

Mary Z. on 3rd of January 2015

This speech is brilliant. My favorite point is #8. Why is it that powerful people think it’s ok to step on the least powerful? I’m impressed that Tim still remembers the importance of treating all people well.

Benjamin on 17th of December 2014

So, in all this, one can only share in hopes of creating a chain reaction of realizing the worth of words here. I am sending this to some friends, family and colleagues. My therapist asked me keep a journal between October and January or just to write my thoughts down even if it’s just a page. I am surviving bipolar II disorder, I can’t say its been an easy one or even “one” at all most of time. The inflammation of such a mental state is some times a daunting task to control and refocus. My rubber tires are finally hitting that road as they say. I work two jobs, supporting my only loves, my wife and 2 daughters. I am thankful for my day job, working with a local elementary school and my night job as bicycle mechanic. It’s luck, it is the peripheral flash of gold or silver, it is small steps in life that get you going in a direction. I thank you for the time you spend making life happen.

Behzad Tabatabai on 26th of November 2014

Brilliant, funny and charming speech… You’re dead-on… Life is meaningless by default. However, by doing the other things you mentioned – by being passionate, teaching, respecting others – we make sense of it for ourselves; we add our own meaning to it.

Grace on 9th of October 2014

I have been forever touched. Never shall i forget the message in that speech (well, at least i hope i never forget)
I’ll have it memorized in anticipation of my own graduation…. in case i ever find my self within a position to give The Speech.
Thanks a bunch Tim!

Kim on 9th of October 2014

Brilliant. Its October of 2014. I’m in California. 44 y/o, staring at the ocean today, trying to figure out…once again…what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with my life. A dear friend of mine just posted the link to the video of this transcript. Ah, just to hear these things so eloquently put out into the universe. Thank you for the reminders. Yes, there WAS something in it for me, too.
With gratitude,
Kim

Philippa on 30th of September 2014

Wish I’d found this site yesterday. A friend shared your speech on facebook, but without a link, so I resorted to typing it all out so I could share it with my children! Now I’ve found the site, I’ll share a link to it. I loved the speech. I prefer to believe there is some meaning to our lives (not in a guided way, or in a religious sense) but that doesn’t negate everything else you have said. I don’t have the education you have to argue my view, so I won’t try. The other 99% of what you have said has more than earned my standing ovation. Thank you!

Marco Guardigli on 26th of September 2014

Mr. Minchin, you are great! i am sending your word to my children, hoping that they will be able to fully understand them, one day.

We need more people to understand the deeper meanings, being able to appreciate the power of critical thinking!

thank you!

marco

Roger T Storm on 20th of September 2014

Great! Some of life’s most profound mysteries and truths are best understod and dealt with by metaphore, circumstancial reasoning, and by opening the humurous sides of our minds. You’re a master .. . so thank you for sharing .. from the Scandinavian corner of this our universal home.

RTS

kim on 18th of September 2014

Profound, inspiring, beautiful, gorgeous, awesome, wonderful. This all took me 31 years to come close to discovering and to hear it so brilliantly conveyed with such heart warming passion and conviction! I salute you sir. You are an absolute genius and poet among men. I literally don’t have enough words to convey the admiration for this. You’re incredible.

Liz conner on 17th of September 2014

As per your speech- be enthusiastic, write thank you cards, give standing ovations! Thank you for such a superb comment and critique on life.

Stephanie Petras on 16th of September 2014

Having never heard of you before, I happened to see this on a Facebook post. I, as I am sure others, frequently feel ‘lost’ in life, wondering what happened to the person I once was and looking to find my way back. Your speech reminded me that the person I was looking for was right here. Your words are inspiring and incredible. This world might be a better place if more people could actually ‘hear’ them. I can only hope for the best for others, but your speech has inspired me to pass along my own words, thoughts, and learnings to my children. Thanks for the inspiration, for sharing who you are, and for making a difference.

Chris on 16th of September 2014

Thanks for this. Entertaining, sensible and brilliant. My only quibble would be that your fashionable climate view tends to place arts/politics above science…leave climate and the response to it to science, not to politics and consensus. Still, while I am certain you and I would disagree on plenty, this was a wonderful speech and I am pleased to be able to share it with others…including my sons on their way up…and my mother, a teacher, who has lived this all of her life….CK

Susan Rees on 14th of September 2014

BRILLIANT… “We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.”

Albena on 12th of September 2014

You really are a genius, Tim. Thank you! I’m putting the transcript on my wall.

Jerry Minyard on 10th of September 2014

I showed your speech to one of my high school classes.
Giggles and contemplative silence…all in the right places, mate.
Good work.
Best wishes.

D.L. on 10th of September 2014

Very well done. Thanks for the impressively deep thoughts and for the transcript so that we can share them. Please do keep speaking.

Pro on 8th of September 2014

Pretty amazing speech that applies to everyone of all ages. We’re relegated to pick a career at 17 or 18 years as that is the time when we have to withdraw our parents’ investment in education savings in hopes that we made the right decision. Then we seek employment with the false sense of security in “arriving” at financial independence. Then we fall in love but quickly realize that love merely doesn’t pay the bills and our primary energies and waking hours pass us quickly while our kids grow up faster than our own childhood. Then after many 5-year intervals, we find that many of our 5-year plans either get kicked down the road or never come to fruition. Then we become disgruntled with others over slight differences or oblivious to the grand scheme of things. Then in our old age our souls are encapsulated by regret and grudges because we feel like we need to resolve the wrongs to achieve a perfect life. The most difficult thing to do in life is to not think about it.

Graham Roberts-Phelps on 8th of September 2014

I work as professional business trainer and motivational speaker (non mountain climbing type). I love this, saw it for the first time this morning. Watched it 3 times already. Thanks Tim.

Maryam on 3rd of September 2014

Man, the speech was incredible, it rescued me right at the middle of my PhD crisis.
wish you a more happy , meaningful , passionate , encouraging life … please don’t rush to get old.

Ward on 15th of August 2014

I have fun with, cause I discovered just what I used to be looking
for. You have ended my 4 day lengthy hunt!
God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

Luciana on 16th of June 2014

Muito bom, como sempre.

avinash on 5th of June 2014

I loved every bit of it. Made me laugh all throughout but at the same time it was indeed deep and nuanced; not to forget very realistic. It covers all the aspect of our existence, billion years back when it all began whose product we’re today till the day we gonna die. This has become my favorite “address” now.

Monika Jain on 25th of April 2014

Nice speech.

Monika Jain on 25th of April 2014

The speech is really inspiring. A number of very important life lessons; how I so much wish that I received such advice at the time of graduation.

David Laven on 11th of March 2014

Splendid. I have just sent this to all my final year students as some of the wisest advice I have encountered. If they follow his advice they will be happy … or, at least, happier.

Of course, I am a huge fan: he is the second finest mind to come out of Western Australia. (I am, of course, the finest, but have only been back once since leaving in 1968 … aged four.)

What a great and humane man. That’s Minchin, not me. I am simply vainglorious and middle-aged and deluded.

Lisa on 26th of February 2014

Yes.

Markus on 19th of February 2014

I like this stuff. Bravo.

Dissertationbuzz.co.uk on 20th of December 2013

Excellent!I think this is a very inspirational article, and clearly written.

beth jones on 12th of December 2013

Tim – while I like hour words very much indeed, I disagree with hour assertion that life is meaningless. It us about relationships with your yellow man – from those closest to you, to those less fortunate or in lesser positions of power, or even those who do us wrong – and you seem to get that, so therefore it cannot be meaningless, can it? and it is about finding and sharing joy – which is where the lifelong learning and teaching comes in… Much love and respect from a fellow traveler and a former teacher <3 <3

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