Grateful for the opportunity to speak at Genesee Community College’s Commencement….Thank you GCC! President Sunser and Trustees, Cliff Scutella, Kristen Mruk, Cathy Costello, Valerie Hale, Donna Rae Sutherland, Ashley Zaleppa, Tom Priester, Christina Bakos and David Dodge!

Here you go – take a look if you have a moment…My face shows up at the podium at 27 minutes or so 🙂

Thank you President Sunser and Greetings Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students, Family, Friends, Alumni and Guests of Genesee Community College! What an honor to be here with all of you to celebrate this milestone of new beginnings.

Graduates! I’ve been thinking about you! How hard you’ve worked and the obstacles you’ve overcome. I can picture the successes you’ve had, the happiness and the fun of your time at GCC! Well done – we’re so proud of you – my heartfelt congratulations to you all.

Take a deep breath and look around – take a moment to appreciate this celebration…take it all in and remember how you got to this day…

Thinking back…maybe there was a day when you wanted to give up….or maybe you wanted to sleep in and not come to class…or you wanted to put off the final pages of the paper you were writing…

A day when there was too much happening…you had doubts…a day that nothing was going right and your plate was overflowing…maybe you questioned your commitment to your education…a day you weren’t sure you would make it….

This is not that day!

This is the day you realize it was all worth it…the hours spent studying, reading, organizing events, leading a club…the day you understand your favorite professor was preparing you to think critically beyond doing your homework requirements…the day you appreciate that your advisor had your back the whole time, the day you recognize how the years of hard work have set you up for this success…

This is the day you honor yourself for your dedication and persistence and look ahead to the next steps of your journey…the day you release your fears, forgive your missteps and start fresh once again…

This is the day you thank your family and friends who supported you AND the day you affirm your strengths, your hopes, and your plans…

This is Your Day! Savor. Every. Moment.

If it were easy, everyone would get a college degree! But very few people in the world are able to do so because it’s NOT easy. It’s financially, intellectually and often emotionally challenging to pursue a college degree – and most people don’t have access to the privileges of higher education.

It’s not EASY – AND you did it!

I’ve come to know that running a small business has similar privileges. The financial, intellectual and emotional requirements to start a business are not always easy to come by. The requirements of maintaining a business often feels like a chore, or a hardship, and at times seemingly impossible to sustain.

AND if it were easy everyone would start a business – well that’s what I’d tell myself anyway on the days I needed a pep talk! Self-employment requires daily living on what I call the “Terror-Joy Continuum” of entrepreneurship. “Yay I am self-employed – what fun! (on one end) to “I do not know why I have chosen this horrible lifestyle” (on the other end). Maybe this was you – “Yay, I’m a college student” to “What have I done”? In addition, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (F. U. D. – FUD) can be a constant distraction – which is no good for me because I can be the Queen of Procrastination – anyone share a similar title? And FUD produces a WHAT IF mindset that gets in the way of taking action.

WHAT IF I can’t support myself? WHAT IF they don’t like my programs? WHAT IF I can’t learn how to file these forms correctly? WHAT IF the federal government calls me with scary questions I can’t answer? WHAT IF I don’t’ finish my book on time, WHAT IF they don’t like my book? WHAT IF they don’t like me?

I’m pretty sure I was born this way – as a “What If Worrier” – with this wrinkle right here already in formation while I was in the womb There is a picture of me as a 1 year old with what my friends and family now call the “Worried Kristin Look.” My classic WHAT IF question as a kid was “What if it rains?” Such a blessing that rain was my main worry! Many kids in this world have way more complex and more scary What If’s than I did. Maybe you did too.

The worries of what MIGHT happen presented themselves often in my youth as it does for many kids trying to navigate their growing up years. I could have stayed on the worry path….BUT! Thanks to loving parents, smart teachers and the Girl Scouts (!) I learned how to plan, to be prepared and to better go with the flow. I am now THAT friend who always has the extra towel, mints, a first-aid kit, a flashlight and maybe even an extra rain poncho for you. The best part? I’ve learned over the years that most of the stuff I worry about never actually happens. Sure, I still worry but it’s in clearer perspective – with less stress and way more faith.

Even when you are presented with more complicated questions than “What if it rains?” – seeking the simple answers can offer profound comfort to help you remain fearless in the face of adversity. When “life happens” seek the simple answers to keep your fears in check and stay grounded in what you know to be true.

I hope you can use the following 4 Fearless Factors to stay on course and to help you move yourself further along your path with ease….

First – Shift Your “What Ifs” to “What’s Next”

Asking “What If” in a worry mindset can limit you and sets you up for doing nothing – except more worrying. Think about your WHAT IFs for a moment…What if I get a bad grade? What if I can’t get to class on time? What if I don’t finish? What if I can’t find the right job or any job? What if I don’t get accepted at my next school? What if, what it what if…forget about it!! Shift your fearful What Ifs to a hopeful What’s Next. Fear immobilizes and inhibits you. Action prepares and propels you.

Focusing on What’s Next instead of wallowing in What Ifs gets you into an action mindset. It gets you to the desk, to open the book, to prioritize your projects, to concentrate on what you can start and what you can finish. No time for worry!

What’s next for you? Ooooo the big question everyone asks you when you at graduation! Prepare yourself with a Plan A and a Plan B (and a Plan C?) and just start! In fact, start before you’re ready! Start the project, the paper, the resume, the cover letter, the conversation – whatever it is – start!

I subscribe to the “leap and the net will appear” philosophy. There are a thousand reasons to delay and you could wait forever to be completely ready – even if there is such a thing. Get ready to take a different approach, a new tack or a road less traveled. To quote Kid President – “What if you take the road less traveled and that road leads to awesome”? What’s next??? You get to decide. And now your degree from GCC you will give you even more roads to travel!

Second – Make Friends with Your Fears

“Well, hello Fear! Welcome – have a seat, here’s your nametag – let’s see what you’ve got and let me introduce you to my friends so we can learn more about you”.

Recognizing fear is good – Learning how to recognize REAL fear is priceless – it’s good to be fearful of events or situations that could cause you harm…but so often we allow ourselves to be afraid of things that are not real. Only you can determine this. Real fear was the angry shouting seagulls chasing me last week while I was working at a camp…actually, they were stalking me – they came so close I could see their little eyes blinking! They were demanding the surrender of my veggie burger. I was running from them needless to say and hoping no one saw that scenario. Real fear was getting lost in the woods by myself without a compass in the Pennsylvania wilderness as the sun was setting and I remembered I didn’t leave a note and wasn’t sure encountering the hunters with bow and arrows was going to be a good thing – yup – that happened.

Thankfully there were no headlines the next day – “Lady Lost in Woods – What was She Thinking”?

Is your fear real? Or is it made up? Sometimes we forget to determine the difference. Ask yourself – Is this real? FEAR is F–E–A–R…False Evidence Appearing Real – knowing the difference can make all the difference. Fear is the scary stories we tell ourselves. Unpack the fear, take it apart and look at it from all sides. Will this matter 1 year from now? 5 years from now? If not, then the fear of what might happen is not real and serves no purpose. Remember to focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot control.

Sharing your fears with a trusted friend gets your worry thoughts out into the light and makes it easier to release them. Let go of fear and give it a new nametag like Adventure or Opportunity or Possibility. I’ve found that most times what I thought I was afraid of brought me exactly what I needed in the end. Going through the storm was necessary for the learning process…

Making friends with your fears removes the unknown, takes the mystery away and diffuses the doubt.

Third – Stay Where Your Feet Are

Don’t worry about the past or the future…worry is a waste…Free yourself from having to be anywhere but right here right now and focus on the present. Replace your worry with a prayer, a mantra, or a theme song! I think my feelings about staying in the moment can best be expressed by the Philip Philips song “HOME”. I will not sing it to you – you’re welcome – but the lyrics are, “Settle down, it’ll all be clear…don’t pay no mind to the demons that fill you with fear…” What’s your theme song that gets you through?

Work hard to ALWAYS learn something from your experiences – especially from the challenging ones! Did you learn anything? My dad – John Skarie – would usually ask us this simple and profound question after my brother or I had done something unwise, unusual or unexpected. It was asked with the emphasis on LEARN and with the assumption that something was indeed to be learned. The answer needed to be “yes” and we would be prompted from there to explain even though he already knew what he wanted us to learn. If he were around today, “Did you learn anything?” would have been Dad’s first question to me about my Year of Nothing New.

Be aware of who you are and what you are thinking, doing, saying and learning right here right now – there is no Back button, no Forward button, only Play.

My Mom – Marcia Skarie – shared with me recently that one of her in-the-moment Fearless Factors is the willingness to be vulnerable. At age 70 she auditioned for her first community theatre role with her special rendition of the Beatles song “When I’m 64” including a few funny hand motions to go along with the lyrics. She wasn’t sure how it would go over – “What if they don’t like my sense of humor? What if they don’t think I’m right for the part, what if they don’t like my voice? what if they don’t like me? In spite of her FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) she kept the funny stuff in. As she finished the audition, Mom said, “Thank you and by the way I’m Marcia Skarie – Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”! Needless to say, she got the part. Being present, taking a risk and being unfazed by made up fears has huge rewards.

What is for you will not pass you. Stay where your feet are.

Fourth – Be the Match

If you celebrate birthdays with your family and friends, it often goes like this: The candles on the cake are lit by the match – usually in the kitchen – and the sparkling result is brought out ceremoniously to the birthday person. The song is sung, the wish is made and the candles are blown out. At that moment, the focus is on the person or on the CAKE – especially if is chocolate with chocolate frosting. As the pieces are divvied out, the conversation is about the pending treat, the plans for the new birthday year or trying to get the birthday person to reveal their wish.

Rarely if ever does the conversation go like this: How about that match? What an excellent job the match did back there in the kitchen! What a beautiful job it did lighting the candles – did you notice how every candle got lit so beautifully? It was stunning – I am so proud to know that match”.

The birthday cake celebration can’t happen without the match. And after the candles are lit, the focus shifts and the match can move back to enjoy the unfolding celebration. The match doesn’t have to worry about the quality of the cake, whether the singing is on key, or how good the cake tastes. The match is free to know that the candles were lit well and can be proud to have launched the party. The match can take pride in a job well done.

Being fearless is like being the match…Do your part and do it well…then let go of your expectations so things can unfold as they should. Be the Match – think about what you can spark in others to help them to be fearless. Be the Match – remind yourself of your ability to affect others in a positive and lasting way. Be the Match – and release your fears so you can be exactly who you need to be at exactly the right time.

It’s easy to be fearless when you know you are being your best self and your being your best allows others to do the same. Be the match.

I’ll leave you with this inspiration from the the book, Start Today by M.H. Clark:

“You’ve been waiting for today even though you might have been calling it something else. You might have been calling it “tomorrow”, “someday” or even “the future.” But now it’s the present and the best thing to do with any present is to open it, delight in it and appreciate it for what it is. Begin something – something small or something bold, something that will grow bigger with time. This might just be the day you’ve been waiting for. So start here, start now. Start today.

Congratulations Genesee Community College Class of 2015! This is the day! This is your day!

Be kind, Be careful, Be your best self…and Be Fearless!