For some school has started, for other it's on the way. It was a busy graduation season for me and I always appreciate the chance to talk and mentor the young adults through my commencement speeches. This year in particular my messages have been centered around recognizing the value each of us has as unique human beings.
I realize that when I stand in front of room full of students that there are future CEOs, doctors, entertainments, maybe even the president sitting there. It's exciting to see the potential right before my eyes even if they don't see it in themselves.
With that in mind, in the beginning of my speech, I paraphrase this well known story:
A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 dollar bill in a room of 200 people. He asked the group, "Who wants this $20 dollar bill?" Of course hands started going up.
Next, he crumpled the $20 dollar bill and asked, "Who still wants it?" The hands remained up in the air.
"Well," he replied, "what if I do this?" He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty and asked, "Now who wants it?" Still the hands remained in the air.
"My friends, you have all learned a valuable lesson. No matter what I do to this $20 dollar bill, you still want it because it doesn't decrease in value. It's still worth $20.
Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances we're in.
And it doesn't matter where you are in life - this can affect anyone.
We may feel worthless; but remember that no matter what happens you will never lose your value."
This illustration is a good reminder that we are valuable and we are valued by those who love us.
Sometimes we may feel crumpled and worthless; but the tough times we go through make us stronger, better people.
If we never experience hurt or frustration, how can we ever know when things are really good? And how can we ever really appreciate those good times?
The answer is that we can't.
And let's make an import distinction. We hear a lot about teens suffering from low self-esteem. Self-value is very different from self-esteem. Self-value is what you are born with. As one of the creations of the universe you are worthwhile and have value, which cannot be taken from you. You can't lose it, but you can lose sight of it. You can forget your value. Self-esteem may go up or down depending upon what's happening to you. Self-esteem is changeable. Self-value is not. Don't ever forget your value.
But if there are ups and downs, remember to look for possible opportunities that result from that experience. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, says "every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit." Look for the opportunity and the benefit. Life in and out of school is full of potential learning moments. Take advantage of them.
Even without struggle though, life is made up of a series of transitions; with the end of each phase bringing about the beginning of another. Each transition with its own challenges; challenges that may make you feel crumpled or worthless.
But just like the dirty $20 bill your value as a person never decreases.
So to the students, I say congratulations on a job well done! Be proud of your accomplishments and of the fact that the struggles you may have had over the past few years have made you a stronger person today. Know that no one can take away your value as a person and as in the words of former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Good luck next year and remember dirty or clean, crumpled or creased, you are priceless to those who love you.