Jerry Seinfeld’s Commencement Speech (My Notes)

"Fascination Is Way Better Than Passion"

Jerry Seinfeld’s Commencement Speech (My Notes)

Commencement, in case you forgot, means to start. As in to kick-off a new beginning. They do it at the end of one thing to signify the beginning of another. 

And if Jerry Seinfeld is available to give that speech, you take him. 

Because he’ll make a point like, 

Most things do not work. Most things are not good. You know this already from your short lives. You leave the house. You come back. How was trying hard? Eh, it was okay.

You don’t need to be talked down to. The beginning isn’t a put you in your place thing. It’s a put-you-in-a-peer perspective thing, and Jerry’s on the assignment. 

The “you’re in the real world now” mentality can be a killer. It can make a young person panic. I know, it happened to me. It’s a lot to swallow. But even if you can’t take it all in right away, you need to hear (emphasis added), 

Let go of this idea that you have to find this one great thing that is “my passion, my great passion,” with your shirt torn open and your heaving pec muscles. It’s embarrassing. Just be willing to do your work as hard as you can with the ability you have. We don’t need the heavy breathing and the outstretched arms from your passion. It makes coworkers uncomfortable in the cubicle next to you. Find fascination. Fascination is way better than passion. It’s not so sweaty.

Fascination even might be too big of a word. Curiosity is probably too small to make the point too. But, the idea that you don’t have to know AND solve the entire “rest of your life” problem immediately, you just need enough to drive you to find the next bit of a problem worth focusing on, it’s kind of everything. 

Of course, recognizing the bigness of finding your fascination, he comes back with three things to do. Because it’s still too big. So he wants to focus the students in on less bigly things. 

Make an effort. 

Pay attention. 

Fall in love. 

On the last point, he’s aiming bigger than romantic love too - 

I have truly spent my life focusing on the smallest things imaginable, completely oblivious to all the big issues of living. Find something where you love the good parts and don’t mind the bad parts too much. The torture you’re comfortable with. This is the golden path to victory in life. Work, exercise, relationships, they all have a solid component of pure torture, and they are all 1,000 percent worth it.

In between your tortures of choice, you make yourself. This is hard. But learning to talk about what shaped us matters. He says more about “privilege” from this perspective. How we are products of our environment and how,  

we’re embarrassed about things we should be proud of and proud of things that we should be embarrassed about.

If something contributed to making you better… you can talk about it. You don’t have to hide it. It’s better on the table than walled off and resented. 

And, the best way to keep walls from walling things off, 

do not lose your sense of humor. You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you are going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to survive it without humor. And I know all of you here are going to use all of your brains and muscle and soul to improve the world, and I know that you’re going to do a bang-up job. And when you are done, as I am now, I bet the world, because of you, will be a much better place. But it will still not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. It will be a better, different, but still pretty insane mess. And it is worth the sacrifice of an occasional discomfort to have some laughs. Don’t lose that. Even if it’s at the cost of occasional hard feelings, it’s okay. You gotta laugh. That is the one thing at the end of your life you will not wish you did less of. Humor is the most powerful, most survival-essential quality you will ever have or need to navigate through the human experience.

That’s a lot of bold, for a good reason. 

A very-Seinfeld reminder on how to begin. 

It’s all a mess. We’re all a mess. The best of us want to make it better. 

So we try, even though it’s hard, and even though we fail. 

And the only way we keep trying, is if we keep laughing along the way. If we keep looking for what fascinates us and draws us in, and even after it spits us out, we have a laugh and get back at it. Or some other version of it. 

This is it. Resilience. Humor. 

As good for the graduate as it is for guys and gals pulling it up on YouTube.