jon favreau

As you know, we love graduation time because of all the career inspiration packed into 20 minute speeches. Jon Favreau’s 2014 commencement address at his alma mater, Holy Cross, is no exception. Its one of our favorites this year because his advice applies no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Jon, who spent 8 years writing speeches for Barack Obama, begins his address by sharing the story of his first big career pivot. When faced with pursuing a profession that he thought he should be, he instead chose to do something he loved. He took a risk and did something most people don’t do – he factored fulfillment into his decision-making process:

“A mentor of mine once told me there are two kinds of people: people who want to be something, and people who want to do something. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I didn’t love studying law, and it wasn’t really my strong suit, but lawyers seemed important, impressive, and successful—three things I also wanted to be.

Law school was my plan until about 12 hours before Holy Cross graduation, when I received an offer to be the press office assistant on John Kerry’s presidential campaign for a salary of $20,000 a year.

Now, I didn’t really want to be anyone’s assistant, nor did I want to be someone who made $20,000 a year. But the job involved writing, and writing was something I loved to do. It also involved campaigning, which was something I wanted to do. So two weeks later, I moved into a dingy basement apartment on Capitol Hill in a city where I had only one friend. It was the best decision of my life.

Plenty of considerations go into choosing a job, and sometimes the most important is simply the fact that you receive an offer and a salary that will pay off your loans. But the chase to be something—to be rich, famous, powerful, praised—that is a race without a finish line, because there will always be more money to make, or a fancier title to pursue, or a higher accolade to achieve.

And then our favorite part of his speech:

In my experience, you are far more likely to find lasting fulfillment if these fleeting pleasures are the byproduct of a decision to do something—something that interests you; something you’re good at; something your gut is just begging you to try.”

Towards the end, Jon very candidly admits that he is still ripe at the age of 32 and hasn’t come close to figuring out life, “I still wonder if I’m focused on what I want to do instead of what I want to be.”

It’s a very striking thought coming from someone who’s achieved such recognition in such a short time. The real lesson Jon leaves us with is that no matter what stage you’re in in your professional life, reflect on your work and make sure you are doing what you love.


Watch the full speech below or read the transcript here.


[Image: College of the Holy Cross/Facebook]

1 Comment

  • Debbie Barkowski

    It’s perfect timing to receive this message now, when I feel most people are re-energized by the season of spring and are often finding themselves full of inspiration to make changes, even more so than at that time of the dreaded yet hopeful New Years Day. It’s little bits of stories like these that continue to offer me hope to find the right path, even at the age of 40.

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