An extraordinary life, as I've come to understand it, has three simple elements. And these elements are common to everyone who has ever taken that journey. An extraordinary life is a life of Achievement, a life of Meaning, and a life of reflection.
Achievement begins with imagination. If you only take one thing from this precious time we have together today; remember this -- what you imagine has value. What you imagine has value. It is as tragic as it is true, but the greatest plans on earth still lie in the minds of people who still think that everybody else has a better idea than they do. Dream large, dream small, but trust what you imagine, because what you daydream about is what you are supposed to do. What you imagine is one of the only ways God can talk to you.
When you trust what you imagine amazing things happen. You become willing to make the leap to achieve what you imagine. I say "leap" because nothing worth achieving is ever close at hand. It's always farther away than a comfortable reach. It involves risk. But, believe me, if you leap the net will appear. When you leap, the net will appear.
When you learn to value what you imagine, you will also learn to finish what you start. You will take the ball across the goal line. You will put the ball through the hoop. You will put the puck in the net. As you will soon experience, the world is littered with ideas that were dropped at the five yard line. The world that you are inheriting is too competitive, too uncertain, and too hair-triggered to place any value in half hearted attempts. Choose to be a champion because a champion always closes the deal.
But Achievement alone, does not an extraordinary life make. Achievement, alone, is not enough. Hollywood and the rest of entertainment world are filled with people who seem to accomplish much, but live lives that are otherwise without much value, except for their ability to fill the pages of magazines that seem to dedicate themselves weekly to their confusion.
An extraordinary life has meaning, and meaning comes only from love. Love for another, love for God, and love for yourself. When we learn to love another we experience the joy of selflessness because we extend ourselves for their good. When we love God we experience the gift of humility, and the comfort of knowing that we are never alone. When we love ourselves, and perhaps this is the toughest kind of love, we learn that we are a gift. We protect that gift and avoid destructive behavior. We develop a sense of humor about ourselves and the world around us. As G.K. Chesterton so poignantly wrote, "Angels fly, because they take themselves lightly"
The final aspect of the extraordinary life is what makes it all worthwhile, and that is perspective. You have heard people tell you "Never look back, always look forward." I say, nonsense -- always look back and as often as you can. It is the only way you know how far you have come. Like today. That half-look over your shoulder at the child you were and the person you've become, and all that you have achieved in between is your story, your history. The enjoyment of that progress will make you appreciate all those who were part of your story -- your parents, your family, your friends, your teachers and places like Providence College.
And from your appreciation will come what is perhaps the greatest virtue of the extraordinary life -- and that is generosity. You will give back, because you know you have been given so much.
So there you have it -- the Peterman Guide to the Extraordinary Life. I invite you to consider it and make it your own. But I will share this one thought -- the moment that I realized the choice of an ordinary life or an extraordinary life; the day that I realized what I imagined had value, that if I leapt, the net would appear, that I must finish what I start; the day that I realized that there is only meaning in who we love and how we love; the day that I realized that by looking back over my shoulder was the only way I could ever see how far I've come; that was the day that I began the slow, deliberate walk to this podium, because until then, I had nothin' to tell ya'.
Monday, May 22, 2006
It's now official: yesterday I graduated from Providence College with an MA in History. The commencement speaker was actor John O'Hurley ('76 grad), though he's probably better known asthe Seinfeld character J. Peterman, the over-the-top, mail-order clothing outfitter with a famous catalogue (and subject of at least one apparently scholarly piece). O'Hurley's address had it's humorous parts, but the most important was THE PETERMAN GUIDE TO THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE: