Vote For You: A Commencement Address for Graduating to the Next Level of Your Work and Life


Last week, I had the great honor of delivering the Commencement Address at one of my alma maters: California State University Bakersfield, where I did my undergrad and master's degrees, before getting my law degree from UC Berkeley. I've shared the speech script privately, and those who have seen it have urged me to share it publicly. Enjoy.

You might have heard that this is an election year. Ok - I'm seeing fear on your faces. Don't be afraid! I'm not going to name any names or tell you who I think you should vote for.  But there is one vote that you will make this year, this month and possibly even this week that will have a much greater impact on your life than who you vote for for President. And I am going to campaign for you to make that vote in a very particular direction, for a very particular candidate.

If you leave here today remembering nothing else, remember that I told you to vote for you. Vote for you.

Let's talk about:
  • why I want you to vote for you
  • how you can do that
  • what it will take to consistently vote for yourself going forward, and
  • what will happen in your life when you start consistently voting for yourself.
Why Vote for You

The word vote comes from the Latin votum and vovere, which mean vow, to promise or wish. What I love about vow and promises and wishes is that they all imply future. They imply a commitment to or a hope for the future. And they all imply transformation. They all suggest the belief that there will come a time when things will be different and better than they are right now.

That is inherently optimistic and energizing. That is WHY you should vote for you.

How to Vote for You

But you're probably wondering HOW you can vote for you, or what I mean by "vote for you".

There are two different things you'll need to do, over and over again, to vote for yourself in life:
  1.  You will need to pick yourself at times when no one else would or no one else will or no one else has yet
  2.  Voting for you also includes choosing situations that are beneficial for yourself and your long term ability to live into your dream for the future. Even when it's really hard, make the choices, small and large, that create conditions conducive to your long term growth and your ability to do what you were put here on this planet to do.
, but it wasn't always like that. I met a professor here at CSUB named Dr. Beth Rienzi, who became my mentor. The day I met her, when I was 16 and very pregnant, she said: "It's clear to me that you'll be going to grad school." And she started doing things then to prepare me for that, and did in fact involve me in doctoral level research and publishing, expose me to academic conferences and generally groom me for a bigger universe of possibility than I could have even imagined at the time.

She voted for me. And from then on, I made it my own job to vote for myself, to pick myself, to insert myself and say yes to opportunities and situations where no one else would. At some point, the rest of the world caught on, and started voting for me, too.

When you leave here and enter the workplace, you might see an opportunity or role or future that you would love to have, but don't think you're ready for. Maybe no one in your family has ever done anything like that before. Or maybe you just don't know how to do the thing you'd love to do.

Let me let you in on a secret. NO ONE really knows how to do big things before they do them! Really, no one. I've worked with some of the best and brightest CEOs in the world, and I'll tell you: they're all guessing. They study and build skills and recruit really smart teams and get wise counsel and then they guess.

This is the definition of an executive decision: to be willing to guess, wisely, but make the decision when others would freeze up in fear or dither in uncertainty.

The takeaway is that If you have a dream in your heart, a spirit of excellence, a commitment to always learning and the opportunity arises, the only question you need to ask is "why not me?"

That doesn't mean you say yes to everything. But it does mean you do things you're not yet ready for, things you're not yet qualified for, and things you haven't done before. And it does mean that when you're starting something big and new for you, and you feel really uncomfortable, or like you're afraid of exposing yourself or being rejected,  or like you're an imposter, you resist the urge to turn back. You resist the urge to crawl back into your comfort zone. And instead, you tell yourself that this imposter feeling--this freak-out moment--is a sign.

It's a sign that life is about to get really interesting.

It's a sign that you're onto something good: something that will grow and develop you.

So, vote for you.

Vote for you when you face new opportunities, or the opportunity to create a new opportunity

Vote for you when you pick mates

Vote for you when you interview bosses (that's how I think about taking jobs)

Vote for you by taking care of yourself, and not overextending yourself

Vote for you by building good habits around your health and your finances

Vote for you by building the habit of ruthless prioritization. Understand that that means you will say no to lots of things that are amazing, in order so you can say yes to things that really matter.

What it takes to VFY

Now. There are a couple of things you'll need to be able to consistently vote for yourself:

1. First, know what you believe in. That's how we pick the people we vote for, right? They give us these manifestos, and that helps us have clarity that they want and will work for the same future we want. Well, you need to cultivate that level of clarity about what you believe in, what you stand for, what future you want to create and WHY in order to consistently vote for yourself.

You don't have to sit in a room and wrack your brain to think up a clear vision or get clarity on your purpose. Cultivate clarity about what you stand for and believe in through activity. Be out there, doing and trying lots of things.

Remember the miracles of biology, chemistry, cell replication and divine creative power that got you here, and take seriously the idea that you are here for a reason. Over time, you will learn what kinds of things you don't want to work on, people you won't work for, things you won't do, not because you don't like them, but because it pulls you out of your purpose

2. The second thing you need to vote for yourself is this: the power to vote.

In politics, the power to vote is called "enfranchisement". Franchise is from the french word for "freedom".

You might not always feel like it, but you have SO much freedom. You get to pick anything you want to do with your life, with your time, and you get to pick it every single day - even if you have been told you couldn't, or your family has never done that before, or whatever - those limits only have the level of power you give them.

If you want to live a life of engagement, be on fire about your life, and be a person of growth and impact, I'll give you one rule of thumb for how to choose what you do with that freedom: look for the problems, the frictions, and the sticking points in the world. And devote your time to eliminating them.

Look for the problems in your own life, your limiting factors, and focus your energy on eliminating them.

Look for problems in the world that make you angry or things you wish were different, and focus on making them different.

At work, look for the frictions in your company or in your customers lives--then get good at spotting and removing those frictions.

Then, team up with other people who are focused on looking for the problems in the world and who are on fire about getting rid of them.

I believe this is the single most powerful way to become a person of service, influence and impact.

3. The third thing you need to vote for yourself is to stop being your own opposition.

We've all heard negativity and critique and internalized that over the years. In order to consistently vote for you, you'll need to rewire the way you talk to yourself. Learn how to bless yourself and your vision with your words, and slowly you'll find yourself extinguishing your limiting beliefs
  • You vote for yourself every time you reject mediocrity, even your own.
  • You vote for you every time you refuse to settle for less, from the world or from yourself.
  • You vote for yourself when you master your habits. Stop letting bad habits create emergencies in your health and your finances that pull you out of your power and your purpose.
  • Vote for yourself by surrounding yourself with people who are for you, who will champion you, and will say so, about you and to you.
What happens when You Consistently Vote For You

Think about what happens when we vote a politician in. That night, they have a victory party. They express gratitude to everyone who helped them get there. That's like today for you.

But what happens next? They stop campaigning and start using the powers of their new office, their new capabilities, to take on the future that they envisioned when they first asked for the vote.

Just like a newly elected politician, you are just getting started on your most powerful days, your most prosperous season. You can leave here and take your new capabilities out into the world and start consistently voting for yourself, every day, to take on your new future.

So do me a favor, when you have to choose between one thing or another, don't play small or give into the urge to stay in what's comfortable. When you have to cast a ballot for where to work, what to do, who to work with, whether to start a business or write a book or put yourself out there in a way that is vulnerable or scary, remember that you are here to bring something to this world that nobody else could bring, and vote for yourself. I'll be voting for you, too.

This is an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared at Subscribe to Tara's newsletter on her blog, or follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.