Life Lessons from Comedian Tim Minchin

Comedian Tim Minchin recently shared 9 inspiring life lessons with a college graduating class.  For brevity, below is my annotated version of his talk.  Please … don’t leave your life to chance!

Enjoy these lessons, and please give thought to how you might include them in your life.

You don’t have to have a big dream. There’s nothing wrong with having a big dream.  And if it’s a big enough one, it will take you most of your life to achieve, so that by the time you get to it you wind up staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement.  Meaning, you must live your life today.  Peace of mind is not something you will experience at some far off point when you’ve achieved a big goal. Why?  If you aren’t at peace today, you’re unlikely to magically become at peace when big dreams are finally realized.

Instead, I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals.  Be micro-ambitious.  Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.  You never know where you might wind up.  Just be aware that your next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams.  If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing waiting for you that’s just out of the corner of your eye.”  Live today.

Don’t seek happiness.  If you think about happiness too much it goes away.  Instead, keep busy and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you get some happiness as a side effect.  We didn’t evolve to be constantly content.  Contented Homo Erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

Remember, it’s all luck. You are lucky to be here.  You were incalculably lucky to be born.  Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate.  Empathy is intuitive, but it is also something you can work on intellectually.

Exercise. I’m sorry, but you simply have to exercise. Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but make sure you take care of your body.  You’re going to need it.  Most of you are going to live to nearly 100, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of.  This long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to challenge you, so be ready for it.

Be hard on your opinions. Our opinions should be constantly and thoroughly examined.  We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others.  Be hard on your beliefs.  Take them out onto the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous.  Identify your biases, your prejudices, and your privileges.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance.  We tend to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

Be a teacher. Please, please, please be a teacher.  Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world.  Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.  Share your ideas.  Don’t take your knowledge and wisdom for granted.  Rejoice in what you learn and share it widely.

Define yourself by what you love. We have a tendency to define ourselves by what we’re opposed to or don’t want.  Instead, express your passion for things that you love.  Be demonstrative and generous to those you admire.  Send thank you cards and give standing ovations.  Stand for what you love, not against what you don’t.

Respect people with less power than you. Important decisions, big decisions, are often based on personal traits such as how people treat the wait staff in restaurants.  I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, you may be judged on how you treat the less powerful

Finally, don’t rush. You don’t always need to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.  Don’t panic. Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and it can be very tedious and tiring.  You will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and sooner than you think you’ll find yourself growing older.  There is only one sensible thing to do with your life and that is to fill it.  

How?  Life is best filled by learning as much as you can, about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, and having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic, and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff.  It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one life of yours.

So good luck, and make the most of it you can!