As part of our extended orientation program for freshmen, the college brought in a speaker to talk to them about success in both higher education and life. It wasn’t until I entered the dark auditorium—a few minutes after the show started—that I realized the speaker was actually a comedian. A funny and sometimes vulgar comedian, but he was definitely the right person to connect with young students. Most of the ones I know seem to enjoy profanity and adult humor, perhaps a little too much.
The comedian, David-something, spent quite a bit of time doing material that didn’t seem to mention college success—or even college at all—and he drew some suspicion from our Dean of Students. Fortunately, he quickly moved past his “warm up” and jumped right into the tips and advice. David even made things interactive by asking questions of the young and sometimes unruly audience, but this was soon interrupted by an insulting student remark.
It was during a stint on “work” and David had just asked a young woman about her worst job ever. Before she could respond, some jackass chimed in with “she was a whore” or something to that effect. The auditorium immediately went silent—David included—and a swarm of student orientation leaders descended on the section of seats where the comment originated. Moments later, the offending student was escorted out by the dean and orientation leaders stationed themselves up and down the aisles. Finally, the show could resume.
David started things up again, but the mood in the place was much more restrained for a while. Students finally loosened up and I could tell David was hitting his stride. All of his “advice” was good—consider the future, get involved, go to class—and he punctuated it with hilarious personal experiences. My favorite involved his first-year advisor, who scared the crap out of him by yelling questions at him the first day they met in his office—“Whose education is this? Whose future is this? Whose life is this?” Incidentally, the expected response to each question was “mine” or even “mine, damn it.”
His advisor sounded like quite a character. In fact, I believe his name was Dr. Yoder. David made a few jokes about him being Yoda, but the “Star Wars” reference went over most students’ heads, much to my chagrin (I love Star Wars). At any rate, Dr. Yoder must have made an impression on David, who used the same exchange of questions with our students several times, even at the end of his presentation.
Of course, David also told us what his advisor said moments later, once they both sat down to chat. He asked David about his dream career, his passion, and David told him it was to make people laugh. That’s when Dr. Yoder dropped three little words on him that changed his life: do your thing.
I know it sounds like some catch phrase or song lyric from the 1970s—“It’s your thang! Do what you wanna do!”—but this is great and powerful advice.
DO YOUR THING
David talked about the decisions he made that inevitably led to him standing on the stage before us. He used college to sharpen his skills, choosing to major in theater and English, and to get some experience, acting in plays and doing stand-up during open mike nights. He followed his dreams and now does something that he loves for a living.
To illustrate this last point, David shared a story about famed inventor Thomas Edison. In his later life, Edison was to be honored with a lifetime achievement award for his work. He attended the ceremony and when the appropriate time came, refused to accept the award. “I never did a day’s work in my life,” he said. “It was all fun.”
Personally, I thought this was some of the best advice college students—especially college freshmen—could receive: do your thing, follow your passion and work won’t even seem like work. It can be fun and also successful, even financially successful. A little earlier in his bit, David mentioned how Bill Gates’ one regret was never finishing college. And this is a guy who makes millions of dollars each minute!
I hope our students learned something valuable from David and take his advice to heart. I know he made me think about whether or not I truly followed my passion. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do, but am I really doing my thing? Better yet, are any of us?
It makes you wonder…