Letter: On Success

Good luck at Emory Harvard and Berkeley this weekend! (As you can tell, I wrote this a while ago).

As you start rounds, I want you to keep something in mind.

Each day you compete, you get up early in the morning and put on a formal outfit to deliver speeches to an audience you’ve never met. Perhaps you compete to have your voice heard in uninterrupted 7-minute spells and to broaden your knowledge of domestic and foreign affairs. Regardless of your motivation, you weave argumentation from high-quality sources and articulate prose from your mind with consummate grace and skill. Equally important is that you have the requisite passion and drive to fight for something larger than yourself. 

This drive alone makes you exceptional. Few people your age possess it. 

You may compete to gain competitive success and recognition. If you’re competing nationally, that’s usually a factor in how you see yourself as a speaker. Two things. First, comparing yourself to other speakers is less relevant than you think. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Focus on your journey. Competitive success isn’t as accurate of a metric for where you are on that journey as much as your feeling of self-improvement is. Second, if you judge yourself based on how you were the day before, you will grow faster and achieve more success as you will have greater confidence in yourself. 

Don’t let your faith in yourself fade when you speak on the outskirts of town.

Ask yourself what you fight for and what you believe in. Determine why you want to achieve the success you do. Success for success’s sake is meaningless. You may want to become President someday. Why? You may believe that you have a greater contribution to offer the world. You may want to get into a solid career and travel to pet and see a coconut dog (capybara). Your goals are all reasonable and you have the right to pursue them. It is never too late to start believing in yourself. It is never too late to reinvent yourself. If you want to try out different styles of speaking or different events, go for it. We only have so much time in speech and in life, so try out different things before you specialize in one thing. 

“Today is never too late to be brand new.”

Remember that you are all speakers in the top one percent of the nation’s population. Not just in speech, either! Most of you will head to top universities and/or go on to cross great strides. (What that last part means is up to you, not anyone else). The opinions of your judges matter less than you think they do. You are the speaker. It is your voice that is speaking and your words that make the difference. The audience is there to bask in the light and learn from the knowledge you project. Judges merely attempt to guess whose light shines the brightest in a particular moment. Walk to your rooms with the conviction that you are brilliant, and shine as bright as you can. 

You’re only damned if you do give a damn what other people say.

You may be going through a tough time right now. We’re smack dab in the middle of the worst mental health crisis teenagers in the United States have ever endured. Life can be overwhelming. I know you all have lofty goals, but remember this; all the greatest people in human history struggled too. They made their fair share of mistakes and erred harshly. We tend to recall “never surrender” and forget Gallipoli. But I promise you, the speeches you’ve tripped up on, the bad grades you’ve gotten, and all the times you’ve failed do not amount to who you are. Look back through your 15-19 years of life and remember the joy you’ve experienced and brought to other people. Take a moment to rest and see the flowers bloom. You have plenty of time left to become President. And if you need help, please, seek it out.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

I leave you with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, who once said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Rooting for you in competitive speech and in life,


Leave a Reply