Originally published on the Shirlaws Business Coaching Blog, 2007-2010.

This is a copy of a speech I gave to a group of high school seniors recently. That’s an experience I’ve wanted to have for some time, and I hope to do similar events often in the future. As with all speeches, I learnt a lot from giving it. This one can be improved – it starts too slowly, for example – and I would love your feedback and comments to help improve it as well.

Choose Magnificence

Good evening all, and thank you for the opportunity to talk. I’ve sometimes thought about what important lessons from my life I would like to share with high school students. Tonight I get an opportunity to do so. And I realise that they all revolve around one core theme: your ability to choose magnificence in your life.

So who am I and why should you listen to me? Like many of you here, I am a product of boarding school. As with most boarders I’ve met, that was the point at which I grew up fast, truly took responsibility for my life … and had a lot of fun.

Boarding gave me a head start for achieving some other pretty cool things so far. I set a Guinness World Record. I hosted my own tv show. I’m listed as an author in the State Library of Queensland, and (far more coolly) as an actor on IMDB.com. I’m building a great business career that, in parts, allows me to work from home, pays me to use Facebook, and means that later this year I am moving to London to help change people’s lives all over the world.

Some of what I’ve done may sound exciting to you. Or not interesting at all. You see, we all want different things. So when I say something like ‘Choose Magnificence’ what I’m really saying is that you have the opportunity to choose whatever is magnificent for you. Be yourself. There’s nobody better qualified to live your life.

Life isn’t Fair – So Be Yourself and Learn from Experience

Here’s the first lesson I wanted to share: Life is not fair. Get over it! Some people are born rich, some people win lotto, some people work hard their whole lives. Kids, jobs, money – it won’t all fall into your lap, though chances are you will meet people in your life who do get all the breaks. I tell you to get over fairness because, when life feels unfair, you have a choice – you can wallow in blame, blaming life, blaming luck, blaming everybody else, or you let go of that, focus your attention on your own life, and creating the magnificence you want for you. Nobody else will give you your dreams. Only you are responsible.

Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t matter because we don’t all want the same things. I’m not here to tell you all to become astronauts, hairdressers, rocket surgeons or politicians. Especially not politicians. So how do you know what’s right for you? Trust me – you know.

Your dreams live here, in a space at the depth of who you are. It’s sometimes called your intuition, or your knowing – what I’m trying to say is that some of the most important decisions in life are not made in your head but rather through our gut instinct. It can be easy in a busy life for the head and the heart to make a lot of noise, to the point where we can’t hear what our instinct is saying. But if you pause sometimes, you can feel it. When you are connected to your dreams, those quiet moments will feel enthusiastic, like you’re on track. When you’re not connected, you might feel uncertain, even a little depressed. Those are normal feelings – the solution is asking yourself the tough question. What do I really want in my life?

Now that doesn’t have to mean what do you want to do with your life. It may be that you want a certain job. It will probably be something like wanting an island holiday, or a shed to call your own. Your dreams will grow as you get older, as you achieve one dream after another and get the opportunity to set new goals.

At your heart there is no right or wrong. There is only guidance.

Now, that guidance may not always take you to a good place. Your instinct isn’t perfect, it learns from experience, in the same way your brain learns from teachers. We all make mistakes – so here’s a thought. If we make mistakes while we’re connected, then those mistakes are perfect. They represent the experience, the lesson we needed to learn to help our instinct guide us somewhere greater.

This is most noticeable in regards to your career. It may surprise you to learn that there are actually two types of jobs you can have. About half of the jobs are what I call “High School Jobs”- these are jobs that you’ve all heard of by the time you finish high school: journalists, accountants, firefighters, mechanics. The other half are jobs you’ve never heard of: designing charts of electricity generators, managing online distribution channels, being a botox nurse, or working as a business coach. Which is what I do.

Because your instinct learns from experience, the right job for you is likely to evolve, especially over the next ten years. You’ll probably have some awful jobs, that teach you what you don’t want to do. And some great ones that aren’t quite right, but help correct your instinct and keep you on track.

Take me. I trained as a journalist. I took a part time university job in a real estate office. I was the best Saturday Girl you ever saw. And I fell in love with the real estate industry and stopped journalism.

Fast forward a few years, I was the state operations manager for a leading real estate franchise. Who the heck in year 12 says ‘when I grow up I want to be the state operations manager for a leading real estate franchise’? Whenever we opened a new office, it was my job to fly out to Cairns or drive to the Gold Coast and train the business in systems, processes, and ways to help their clients.

While I was there I went to a course run by a business coaching firm. And I realised that was my opportunity to work in many industries, not just one, and at all stages of a business, not just the beginning.

My combination of skills – writing, training – meant I was perfect for a role that’s just been created in, of all places, London. The decision I made in high school – to study journalism – somehow evolved via a part time job into a global career.

I guess what I’m saying is that you might end up doing exactly what you’re thinking, right now. And you’re just as likely to end up in a job that you’ve never heard of, doing something you’ve never thought of. Life will open doors that take you from one to the other, and maybe back again.

If you don’t know what you want to do, that’s fine too. You have a lifetime of perfect mistakes to help you find out.

If you trust your intuition; if you listen to yourself; and if you act on what you believe inside; then you will find yourself working somewhere that excites you – a magnificent job that adds to, rather than takes time away from, your life.

You may even decide to run your own business. If you need a coach, call me.

Think about giving for the future, rather than taking for right now

The second lesson I wanted to share has to do with decisions, money, and really creating magnificence. It’s the immediate mind set versus the future mindset.

The decisions we make today, create results for us in the future. If we are constantly thinking about today, and never about tomorrow, we run the risk of never achieving our dreams. We need to create the balance – we can’t only be thinking of the future – but most people only think of the short term. I would encourage you not to be one of those people.

Year 12 is a great example of the future thinking. Many of you would rather be spending every night partying, sleeping through English class. There’s a few guys over there who could use a manicure. Instead, you are investing your time in studying, striving for the grades you want, maybe even learning something. You are passing over fun opportunities today, for a greater life in the future. Trust me – there are as many parties as you want in the future.

After high school only ten percent of people stick with that future thinking. There are a lot of unhappy people in life, working jobs they hate and never going on holidays, because they are only thinking short term. I saw an ad on TV the other night where a man proclaimed “I really want a flat screen right now, but my financial situation isn’t good”. Well no duh Sherlock. The solution in the ad was to rent a television. Incidentally, renting that television will cost him 2-3 times as much as buying it, and he won’t even own it at the end. But I really want it now!

I mentioned that I hosted my own tv show. That opportunity was created by my friend Brett. He spent twelve months, countless hours, volunteering at a television station, not being paid. He loved doing it, he built a great relationship with the station manager, and after a year they offered him a timeslot to make his own show. And he got me involved.

Would he have got that opportunity if he called the station manager and said “I really want my own tv show now!”? No, of course not.

I said before that life isn’t fair. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean you have no say in the matter. If you really want to be magnificent, if you have a dream, write it down somewhere. It might be a job you want. It might be a holiday. It might be that you want to start your own internet company and be a millionaire at 21. Make the right decisions that will help you achieve that dream, not always the decisions that are the most fun now. Especially when those decisions – like a flat screen – will cost you money today, and hold you back in the future.

You are who you hang with

The last thing I wanted to share is actually a lesson from my dad. My dad’s given me probably two great lessons in my life. The first of these is don’t get drunk in the morning, or the day before an exam. Yeah, I was 12 at the time. It took me six years to fully appreciate how right he was with that one.

The second, and more important, lesson is that you are who you hang with. So far I’ve told you to listen to your instincts, learn from your experience, and plan for the future rather than sacrificing the future for immediate pleasure. If you spend all of your time with other people, doing the same thing, that will be easy; if you spend all of your time with people who hate work, think their boss is a jerk, and want to blow their paycheque on a weekend of grog, then it will be very hard for you to be different. You are who you hang with.

Think of it as peer pressure for adults.

How do you avoid building a friendship group that’s wrong for your magnificence? You’ve got to be yourself. If you trust your gut and think about the future, and don’t pretend otherwise, then you will only want to spend time with similar people, and they will want to spend time with you.

Plenty of people hate high school because they don’t fit in. The great thing about life is that there are a lot more people out there, and you have your place. You will find it, as long as you don’t settle for friends that deep inside you kinda don’t actually like.

I promised to share my world record story. It started in a book shop with a friend of mine, just as latest Guinness Book came out. I opened it up to a random page and there, catching our eyes simultaneously, was a record we had never seen before: World’s Longest Movie Marathon.

Movie Marathon. Who hasn’t done a movie marathon? And in 2003 the record stood at only 59 hours. We could watch movies for 59 hours. We could be world record holders!

This is not something I could have done alone. And it’s not something I could have done without the support of my friends. Not only did some of us attack that record, but the rules were very clear – we needed witnesses, we needed medical personnel, we needed to do it in a public place. Through six months of planning and the actual event, more than fifty people helped the three of use who eventually broke the record to do it. They gave up their immediate plans to be part of history.

Slightly off topic, I’m often asked what the hardest part about the record was, and with apologies to your dinner here it is: the rules specified that we were only allowed to leave the room to go to the bathroom after every third movie. Three movies. Now, I don’t necessarily go to the bathroom every six hours, but what if I’m not ready at the right time? What if I’m only halfway through The Godfather Part 1? And what happens if I need coffee to stay awake – because coffee makes you, you know.

We started at 9am on a Saturday morning. If we were to break the record we would need to watch movies, without falling asleep, until at least 8.28pm on Monday night. As the movies blended into each other and the bathroom breaks spread apart, we developed a routine; the first movie of any set was easy; in the second film, a light snack to boost energy might be in order; only during the third film would one consider a beverage – usually water. We all made it past 36 hours without a single coffee.

Then, tragedy struck. In the wee small hours of Monday morning, I got tired. Really tired. It was only the first film in a set, but a coffee was required.

The caffeine was instantaneous. So too was the movement of all bodily fluids to my
bladder. I needed to go. Badly. And there were still more than five hours, and at least one Adam Sandler film, before I could use the bathroom.

Five hours. 300 minutes. 18,000 seconds. At least three lifetimes. We counted down the hours. The sun started to come up. I thought – I’m going to survive this.

And in walked an ABC Radio journalist with only one question on her mind. You will be pleased to learn that in addition to holding a world record, I have been interviewed live on ABC Radio about my incredible need to pee.

How badly did I need to go? How many minutes until I could? They even called a doctor to discuss the damage I was doing to my kidneys – he advised my bladder was bearing the brunt of any lasting injury. But I survived.

With this treacherous incident behind me, I knew the record would be mine. 8pm Monday passed. The place was packed. Phone calls were rolling in. I got a text
message from Scotland. And the crowd began the countdown.

Nothing I have done before or since can properly compare with the magnificent moment the room erupted. We had done it. We had watched more films, under tighter conditions, than any person in history. Any person. Ever.

Our record – 63 hours and 27 minutes – was approved and acknowledged by Guinness World Records. We never made the book; our effort has been surpassed and the record now stands at almost twice our milestone.

That’s life. I have no desire to re-set the record. I’ve achieved that dream, and had the chance to set a new one my gut could connect to. And the memory of those days, and that magnificent moment, is something nobody can ever take away.

So think about your life? Would you like it to be filled with moments that feel that great? The great news is that you can.

  • Agree to choose magnificence, whatever that means for you.
  • Listen to your instinct, your knowing, and give it the experiences it needs to learn and grow.
  • Life may not be fair, but if you plan for the future and hang with the right people then fairness doesn’t matter. 
  • You will be happy.

Congratulations on your magnificent lives so far. Cheers to your future!

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