I was very lucky that I knew from the time I was in high school that I wanted to make my living in sports television. My dad is the well-known sports broadcaster Jim McKay, so I grew up going to great sporting events like the Olympics, Indy 500, Kentucky Derby and many others…so the excitement of presenting great sporting events on television to the American public was in my blood.
After Duke University, I was hired as a production assistant at ABC Sports….the absolute lowest man on the totem pole. A PA is responsible for everything from booking the hotel rooms, picking out the music for the broadcast, coordinating all of the on-screen graphics, setting up interviews with the players and a thousand other tasks.
The job forced me to be totally organized, creative and to always be anticipating the next pitfall. During the live broadcasts I was yelled at constantly, and as the lowest member on the team took the brunt of the verbal abuse from the volatile producers, directors and all the others. To say that it was a trial by fire is a vast understatement.
But it taught me to really think on my feet, to react well under pressure and to be always thinking three steps ahead. As an example, when I picked up executives at the airport I would have already checked them into the hotel so they could go right to their room.
It also taught me to work harder than anyone else, and if that meant sweeping out the studio or getting coffee for the producer, I would do that. From the early days of my career, I was always the first person in the office to turn on the lights in the morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day. Although now that I have a family, I leave at a more reasonable hour.
A saying that you often hear in commencement speeches is…step out of your comfort zone. I was certainly out of mine constantly as a PA. Years later I was given the job as President of CBS News and once again was in a professionally uncomfortable position.
Likewise, you will be forced out of yours a lot in the coming years. Going off to college will be a great experience for you, but at times it will also be uncomfortable. Whether it’s your studies, your finances, your family relationships, your athletic endeavors or your social life, that comfort zone will dessert you often and without warning.
I actually love being out of my comfort zone, because it makes you adapt, be creative and even take risks. It sounds counter-intuitive but expect and be prepared to be a bit uncomfortable and be ready to use that to your advantage. Push yourself to be a leader at your next school, take the harder courses in your area of interest, be the first one to start a new business on campus.
I was fortunate in my career that after my PA experiences, I was promoted at a very quick pace and was often way out of my comfort zone, but you know what, I loved it. By good fortune and hard work, I was made Vice President of NBC Sports when I was 27 and was scared out of my mind for the better part of a year, but I don’t think anyone knew it…and, in the end, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
It made me prepare and work harder, forced me to take the initiative and enabled me to truly reach my professional potential much more quickly than I could have imagined. I pride myself on having that same work ethic as Chairman of CBS Sports.
My former boss, Mark McCormack, created the business of sports marketing and wrote a book called the 110% Solution that addresses both being out of your comfort zone and thinking ahead.
The 90% solution is if you are suddenly sharing the elevator with the CEO of the company that you are quick enough to find the right thing to say.
The 100% solution is that you have thought enough ahead so that if you ever happen to be in the elevator with the CEO that you have thought ahead and have something to say to him that will make a good impression.
The 110% solution is that you find out exactly what time the CEO rides the elevator so that you are there to greet him.
I’d like to leave you with 4 rather simple thoughts that I hope will help you as you go forward in life.
First, the path your life will take will be to a large extent based on the decisions that you make. That sounds so simple, but it is so true. For sure, you can’t control everything in your life.
My dad used to say to me that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. But I have learned from observing accomplished athletes, politicians and leaders that to a large extent how successful we are, how happy we are and how we will be remembered in this world will be largely determined by the decisions we make.
The best and most successful people are not just the ones who are the most talented or best prepared, but the ones who make the right choices. And conversely, the ones who make bad decisions almost always end up paying the price.
I only need to mention Tiger Woods to illustrate this. His choices cost him dearly both professionally and personally. No one did Tiger in, he did it to himself. Though it’s also true that you can recover from your bad choices by doing the right thing just as Tiger is doing now.
In the coming years, each of you will be forced to make thousands of decisions. Will I get behind the wheel after a few drinks, will I take my studies seriously, will I decide to behave honorably or borrow the answers on an exam, will I decide to treat others with dignity and respect, will I decide to give back in some way. And the choices you make will determine how fulfilling, successful and meaningful your life will be.
You won’t always make the right decision, but the great thing is that no one else is making these choices for you…you are, and you are in control. Always try and think three steps ahead…what can happen if I make the right or wrong decision? Think ahead, and I know that more often than not you will make the right decision.
A second lesson I have learned is that the most accomplished people have all succeeded by finding something they are passionate about and following that passion. And none of them made their career decision based on how much money they could make. It's no accident that LeBron James, Tom Brady and Serena Williams have had their greatest successes after they have made more money than they can ever spend. It’s also no accident that Steve Jobs revolutionized three industries with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad after he had made more money than he could have ever imagined.
So, as you go off to college and begin to decide what you want to do with your professional life, find something that you love to do, something that excites your soul. Don’t base your decision on what will provide you with the most dollars, but one that will provide you with the most satisfaction and joy. It’s the satisfaction and not the money that will be the most meaningful to you. If you choose your career with that in mind, you won’t just be working, you’ll be doing something that you love to do.
I know that a major reason for whatever success I have had professionally is to a large extent because I found something that I love doing. My passion for sports television has never diminished, and it’s why I continue to work as hard as I do and why I get so much satisfaction from my job.
The third idea I would like to leave with you is the importance of giving back. I keep a card on my desk with a quote attributed to Winston Churchill…We make a living out of what we get, but we make a life out of what we give. As you go forward into what will be the most exciting, invigorating and challenging times of your lives, please remember the importance of the common good.
It can be working at a soup kitchen, giving a helping hand to a friend or better yet a stranger. A smile for someone who is having a bad day; mentoring a child. I really do believe that each of us can make a difference in this world…in so many big and small ways.
There’s a saying that to those who have been given much, much is expected. You have all been given great opportunities in life and at Millbrook, so it is only right and expected that you get involved in causes that benefit others. So, contribute to society and do so on a regular basis…it really can change a life and maybe one day the world.
Or to put it in terms that you are familiar with…Your school motto…Not for oneself, but for all. You certainly need to take care of your own needs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still look out for others as part of the whole and not just an individual.
And you know what…you’ll feel really good…about yourself and your place on this earth. I love this quote from Mother Theresa, maybe the most unselfish and charitable person the world has ever seen…The miracle is not that we do this work…but that we are happy to do it. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to have a positive effect on this world…you just have to occasionally think and act as she did.
And finally, I recently listened to a talk by General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he has a box on his desk with the words Make it Matter engraved on it. So I would say to you, Make it Matter. Make the relationships with your friends and family matter, and cherish them. Make your career matter and find something that you are passionate about and follow your dreams. Make your life matter, live honorably and with generosity. Or as Drew likes to say live a life of meaning and consequence.
There are exactly 86,400 seconds in every day…and at midnight they’re all gone and you never get any of them back. Try and make every one of those days matter.
You live in the greatest country in the world, and yes we are facing enormous challenges and what sometimes seem like insurmountable problems. Please don’t lose sight of those challenges, but also take the time to enjoy your friends, your family, your freedom, the outdoors, wherever you find pleasure and peace…and keep your perspective… things are seldom as bad or as good as they seem.
Have a good laugh with your friends, throw a Frisbee on the quad, enjoy your favorite meal or play your car radio really loud…just not when you are filling up with gas, as that’s really annoying.
You’re young, well educated and you have your entire life ahead of you….and if you make the right decisions more often than not, you’re going to do great…and maybe even do great things.
In the coming years, you probably won’t remember much of what I said today, but you will always remember this day. You did the work, you earned it…and when you get that diploma, please take a moment and enjoy your accomplishment…you worked hard for this moment and you should be very proud.
And one last thing…thank your parents at some point today, and give them a big hug…let them take your picture as often as they want…and appreciate how much they love you and what they have done for you. In their own way, they will always be there for you, and you will still want them and need them during both the good and the bad times...and remember, in the blink of an eye, you may very well be sitting at another commencement ceremony one day watching your son or daughter graduate…and you’ll want them to hug you.
You have the great luxury of youth and you have so many good and meaningful times ahead. I wish you nothing but success, good fortune and most of all…happiness! Graduating class of 2018…Congratulations!!!