I gave a speech at Pitt yesterday (11/26/12). I have no idea if they’ll put the video or audio online, so this text version will have to do for now.
The basic idea of the speech is simple: what can a college student do, right now, to prepare themselves for a world that they are utterly unprepared for?
What You Need To Know About Life, But Haven’t Been Taught
Let me ask you a question: Do you feel ready for your life? Do you feel prepared to face whats coming when you leave here?
I doubt it. And if you think you are, shit, just look around you. How capable do you think the people around you are? I doubt most of the guys in here can even get all their cum in the sock, forget something that requires actual skill.
Seriously though, do you know any of the basic skills that you will need in life–how to negotiate a rent? How to get a job? How to even develop the skills you’ll need at a job? Do you know how to manage your finances? I know you don’t–how many of you have under $100 in your checking account?
You’re all totally fucked!
But I bet you hear this all the time don’t you? You hear it from your parents, you hear from your professors, from administrators, from the press…from everyone. They all tell you how fucked up you are, they all tell you what you need to change about yourself.
Here’s the difference: I’m not going to tell you its your fault. That’s always the implicit accusation, isn’t it? Whenever you hear about the failures of young people, all those breathless New Yorker articles about 27 year olds with masters degrees living at home, the implication is that it’s the kids fault. It could never be the parents, no of course not, they cared so much. Thats what you’re always told, that its your fault, right?
It’s not. Your parents and your educational institutions have completely and utterly failed you. They really have only one job, and that’s to educate you. For what? Fun? No, for life. They need to teach you the things that matter in an honest, truthful way. But they haven’t. They have failed you, and THAT is why you are so fucking unprepared for whats coming.
I know, because they failed me too. I went to a better undergrad, and a better grad school than most of you will, and when I left school at 25, I was still a child. I was utterly unprepared for ANYTHING I would face in life. You read my books, you know all the stupid shit I did in my twenties–you do realize I did ALL of that AFTER college right? Unlike you drunken fuck-ups, I studied and did real well. And yes, you can be brilliant and awesome at the same time, but the point is, I was a complete fuck up after school. I got fired not once, but twice, and one of the times was by my OWN FATHER. I couldn’t function as an adult.
This is fucked up. We did what we were told–I sat where you sat, went to same schools you went too, I know–and what do we have to show for? Debt and unpreparedness. That’s our fault? Fuck that.
You aren’t prepared for life, and its not your fault.
Don’t start crying Matt Damon. This isn’t that sort of speech. I’m not here to bitch at them, because even though they failed us, we still have to clean up the mess. Ultimately, its up to us to solve our problems, even if we didn’t make them.
That’s what the speech is about: I don’t feel prepared for life, so what the fuck do I do now?
If this were a high school audience, I’d tell all you not to go to college, that for most of you its a waste of time and money, that you can learn everything faster and better elsewhere, and that you should apprentice or start a company instead…but you’re already here. We can’t put that shit back in the horse, can we?
I can’t even teach you all the skills you need to know. You motherfuckers have Google, you can read on your own. What I am going to try to teach you is how to think about your life and your problems, so you can solve them on your own:
1. Get drunk and fuck (take risks)
I’m exaggerating a little, but for effect. You need to push every boundary, try all kinda of new things, and figure out who you are and who you are not. Experiment, go a little wild, thats what college is about, right?
You know that though. In fact, you probably hear that a lot from speakers dont you? You know what makes me laugh though is that those same people then sneer and look down their noses when they see you reading “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.” They want to you experiment, but only in ways that they think are “appropriate.”
Fuck that. It’s not an experiment if you already know whats going to happen. And its not a risk if there is no chance of failure. If you really want to get the most out of this period of experimentation in your life, you really need to do things that are slightly unsafe. For example, don’t fuck me without a condom, but definitely fuck me.
Seriously though, why does experimentation and taking risks matter? Because the only way you can figure out the bounds of both the world you live in and yourself as a person is to push yourself into places you have never been, to see and explore and feel. Basically, experimentation helps you to get over fear, and learn to take risks and fail safely. Why does that matter?
Because everything in life worth having requires risk: Money, love, respect–all of it. You want lots of money? You need to take lots of risk. You want great love? You need to be willing to be vulnerable, to let someone in and risk them hurting you. You have to learn how to take risks, you have to learn courage, and you do that by demonstrating to yourself that you can safely try new things, and college is the BEST time in you life to do that, because you can recover from failure so easily and cheaply. This is the time in your life where the consequences of your actions are lowest.
You know why so many people like my books? You think its about the drinking and the fucking and the crazy stories, but its not. You’re all going to have stories like that when you get through your 20s, if you don’t already. You think its about the humor, and that is a big part of it. But the real reason Ive sold millions of books and inpired countless people is because I’ll say and do the things they want to do and say, but don’t feel like they can. You know what that is? Courage.
But courage is not fearlessness. Fearlessness is stupid and dangerous. Courage is the recognition of your fear, and the decision to face it anyway. How do you get courage? Demonstrated performance. I developed courage by experimenting, taking risks, failing, and then trying again and again until I succeeded. Through risk and failure, I found my courage, and that’s how you can do it too.
2. Ask questions (don’t just accept the rules)
Have you learned the fundamental truth of adulthood? We all have to face it at some point in our life, do you even know what it is? Of course not, they don’t teach Socrates at Pitt.
The fundamental truth that every young adult must face is the realization that the rules of society do not help you. The rules are made by those in power for their benefit, not yours, and this is hidden by rationalizations and lies. Essentially, everything you are told by the institutions that are supposed to be protecting you is bullshit.
Your parents are all in on this. Everything they told you is bullshit. Its not on purpose, they aren’t being mean or doing any of this consciously–really, they are just repeating the lies they were told. It starts with Santa Claus, it extends through the close door buttons on elevators, and it culminates with all the implied life lessons they give you; go to college, get a job, work hard for retirement, be good and then you will get rewarded in heaven. It’s all lies that exist to perpetuate the existing power structure.
You want an example? Let’s start with the easiest one: Santa Claus. Why do parents tell the tale of Santa? Get their kids to behave. They perpetuate a lie to control them (because thats the only way you can control people is to lie to them).
You probably think that’s ridiculous, right, Santa Claus is for kids, and I’m an adult, I don’t believe that. OK, thats fine. Here’s a fun thought experiment: Imagine you are talking to an alien. Now imagine explaining two things to them: Santa Claus and Christianity. Would they be able to tell the difference between what a parent tells a child about Santa Claus…and what Christianity tells you about heaven? Obey your parents or you don’t get presents…obey your church or you don’t go to heaven. Whats that you say, religion is true, but Santa isn’t? Really? So what would you show an alien to prove this?
Exactly. They’re both lies that control you.
You want another, maybe less ideological example? Why do you think drug trials exist? We’re told they are about protecting the public good. Hmm, OK. Well, they don’t have them in Europe. Are the Danes less human than us? No. In America, we have huge and very powerful pharmaceutical companies, and they actually WANT it to be difficult to create new drugs, because it limits competition. If there is only one statin on the market, they can charge WAY more. It keeps the small guy out. How do they justify this? They lie.
The rules are made by those in power for their benefit, not yours. They say its for your own good, but its not. Thats a lie. Thats how they get you to accept shit that is obviously bad for you. The rules are for their benefit.
Here’s another great example: College athletics. Why the focus on amatuerism? If you start pulling on the why thread, and follow it all the way back, you see where it leads: Football makes a ton of money for schools, but only if the players are amateurs. By having college athletics operate under amateurism, it restricts labor costs and the colleges don’t have to pay taxes on the profit. Do you ever hear this? No. Why not? Because the only way they can get people to accept this is to lie to them, to convince them that its about other things, while they make all the money.
I’m not telling you this to be depressing, I don’t mean that we live in a vast orchestrated conspiracy to controls our thoughts. I don’t have a tinfoil hat on. This is a natural evolution of all institutions and bureacracies, it happens everywhere that humans exist in modern societies. Most people who tell these lies don’t even know what they’re doing. They’re just repeating what they were told, because they never asked why.
I’m telling you to ask why so that you have a way to get to the truth and understand which rules are bullshit, so that you can take control of your own life. Its not foolproof, but instead of blinding accepting what a parent or a school or a professor tells you, asking “why” forces them to explain. If the explanation makes sense, then accept it. A lot of rules are great–the rule against drunk driving for instance. I understand why and I’m all for it. But a lot don’t make sense, like the rule that you have to go to college to get a good job or that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Why?
Remember this: If someone can’t explain “why”, then they are a pawn in someone elses game. There is always a reason why…the only question is if you know it. Like the poker saying–if you dont know who the sucker at the table is, then the sucker is you. If you don’t know why you’re doing something, then someone else is probably profitting from your effort more than you are. You are the sucker.
Be like a child. Remember how you used to do as a child, you’d constantly ask “why” and your parents would labor to answer you and get frustrated and yell at you, so you stopped asking. You know why they yelled at you? Well, you were probably an annoying little shit, but also because they don’t even understand why it is they do the things they do, and your questions made them face that fact, and its too emotionally painful for them to deal with, so they yelled at you. But now you’re an adult and if you keep asking why, you can get to the truth on your own.
If you want to be real legit, don’t just ask why–demand proof. Picture or it didnt happen, right! Great example: How many of you want to see proof of my stories? Thats fine, thats legit, I have no issue with that. But let me ask you something in return–Why do you demand proof of my stories, but you dont demand proof of why you have to follow all these rules from your school, or your religion, or your parents, or any of the institutions around you? Just because they are in charge doesn’t mean they know what they are doing or that they have your best interests in mind. Ask why, and see.
3. Don’t go trying to find; learn how to make
Whats the biggest piece of career advice you probably get? Find your passion, right?
That is TOTAL BULLSHIT.
You can’t “find” your passion, that doesn’t make sense. What’s always the follow up question: How do I find my passion? I don’t have any fucking idea, and I’ve never seen anyone explain how to find your passion. Every answer Ive ever seen, when you break it down, its just some goofy mystical bullshit. It’s no different than telling someone to be Frodo, and go on a quest through Middle Earth. Maybe that hot elf queen has it, that’d be pretty nice. I’d fuck the shit out of every elf in those movies. That’d be something to put on my Sexual To Do list–mythical elves.
There is no finding passion, just like there is no finding yourself. You don’t find yourself, you make yourself. You don’t find passion, you make passion.
I mean this very literally: You decide who you become by what you do. The accumulation of decisions you make about where you focus your time and effort is what determines who you ultimately become. Excellence is not a single act, it is a habit. I dont think most people really understand this.
Let me tell you a story about me–you have read my books, you know who SlingBlade is. He’s the smartest, funniest, most brilliant person I’ve ever met. He has everything it takes to be a star, but yet…I’m the star. Why? Because I decided that I was going to become one, and I worked towards doing it. What did he do? Nothing. Took the easy, safe, normal route. I’m not saying what he did is bad or wrong, not at all. In fact, it was probably the right path for him. What I’m telling you is that me being “Tucker Max” was not destiny. I didn’t go on some quest where we all knew how it was going to end. I had a little talent, a little luck, and a lot of hard work. I made myself into “Tucker Max,” and the only way you can be who you want to be to make yourself into that person.
You want to know how to do this, it’s very easy: Decide who you want to be in the future, then start acting like him or her right now. Do what it is that makes them who they are. Lets use me as an example. Say you want to be me; not precisely me, but something like me–an author who writes funny stories about his life. Then you need to ask yourself–what does Tucker Max do that I don’t do? He writes well, he tells great stories, he’s really funny, and unlike most writers or artists, he runs his own business. OK, well, then figure out how to do those things. Learn how write a well-told story that entertains people. Its hard, as all of you who have tried to write a fratire story know very well. Its especially hard to be funny to people who weren’t there and don’t know you. If you don’t like it, maybe being what I am shouldn’t be your goal–thats not your passion. It can be done, but you have to decide to make it happen, and that takes dedication, hard work, and a willingness to do fun things, and fail at them–and if you love doing it, then you’ve not found your passion, you’ve developed it.
This can apply to anything. You’re passionate about video games? Great, thats a huge business. Learn to program, learn story structure, learn graphic design, etc, and you can do all sorts of cool shit with video games. Fashion? Food? Gardening? Sex? These are all great places to develop passion through dedication and mastery of a skill.
But you develop passion by developing your skills at what you love. And you use those skills to create value for other people…and thats how you either get a job, or create a new job where one didn’t exist before, and how you do cool things with your life, how you create meaning.
Let me stress, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know everything. No one does. IF SOMEONE TELLS YOU THEY HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS, THEY ARE TRYING TO SELL YOU SOMETHING.
In fact, I don’t even know if I have ANY answers. I highly doubt there is anything that is always right. I think maybe there are just certain facts that are more right than others at certain times in certain places.
I stand here on stage, a fucking star, telling you this is how it worked in my life: 1. I took risks and learned how to fail so I could develop courage, 2. I constantly questioned why things were the way they were to understand life and didn’t accept bullshit answers, and 3. I worked my ass off to make myself into who I wanted to be.
I’m simply trying to teach you what no one else has: How you can find the answers that make sense for you on your own. College isn’t teaching you this. Your parents aren’t teaching you how to think. They want you to just follow the rules, to do the same things everyone else does, because thats what they did. They don’t know how to think, because they never have. If they did, they’d have taught you, and you’d be prepared for your life, and you wouldn’t need to listen to some asshole tell you this.
Here’s the thing: No ones going to do this for you. No one is going to hold your dick for you while you piss. The world is a cold, hard, uncaring place, and your parents and institutions have failed you. You can make a life, or you can just follow the rules, and become just another zombie. If you want to live a meaningful life, if you want to be the best version of yourself possible, you can. Its not too late, but what happens with your life is up to you.