I’m a member of the University of New South Wales Toastmasters, and I actually studied at that university for 4 years. I graduated with a science degree, majoring in nanotechnology. So after 4 years of studying cutting edge science, I decided to look for a job. So I’m at home in front of the computer, I log onto Seek.com.au and type “nanotechnology” into the search box. 0 search results. I log onto CareerOne, MyCareer, Jobsearch.gov, etc. Nothing. So eventually I get a job in a chemistry lab, doing some every day routine lab testing, cleaning test tubes… that sort of thing. But you’ve gotta start somewhere right?
I’ll never forget a man named Ken who worked on the lab bench next to mine. He was in his sixties… he was tall, thin… he wore a white lab coat everywhere he went. He was a veteran of the organisation; he’d worked in the same job for forty years. He was very particular… he meticulously kept a diary of his every day tasks, and sometimes just to show off, he’d pull out his old diary and tell you what he was doing on this exact day 30 yrs ago.
One morning I arrive at work, and there’s an envelope with my name on it. Now I don’t usually get mail, so the first thing I did was open it. Inside the envelope was a box. I open the box to find a letter and some scattered pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. The letter was an invitation to a day of golf held by a partner organisation. The jigsaw puzzle had to be assembled, and the picture would reveal the details as to where and when the golf day was to be held. Free golf, my lucky day!
So I get to work on the jigsaw puzzle. As I assembled the puzzle, making connections and fitting pieces together, I started to feel intrigue; a desire to find the hidden messages, to discover the greater picture unfolding. And when all the pieces were in place, I felt a sense of satisfaction, but also a sense of loss, that the puzzle is over for now, and it’s time to move on to other things.
I mentioned it took me 4 years to get my science degree. Well in my 3rd year of the degree, I actually decided to drop out. “This degree isn’t what I expected… I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.” I told my parents (who weren’t too happy about the situation), I told the school coordinators, and just as the paperwork was being finalised, I had a sudden change of heart. I was scared. I knew that I didn’t want to do this degree anymore, but I didn’t know what else I was going to do. I convinced myself to keep at it and finish what I had started. So I continued on with science class.
Now in science class… that’s where you learn about all things great, on the smallest scales to the biggest. The energies that make up atoms, atoms fitting together to form molecules, molecules which form cells, cells which make up all living things, animals, plants, the continents and oceans that make up our Earth, the Earth which sits in own perfect spot just the right distance from the Sun, in harmony with the other planets. On every scale, as everything seems to fit its own perfect way, a greater picture unfolds. Just like the pieces to a puzzle.
Could we just be pieces to another puzzle? Is there a greater picture to all of this?
I picked up the puzzle pieces and placed them back into the box, along with the letter that I had received in the envelope. I remember feeling tired that day, which is usually how I’d feel if hadn’t had much sleep the night before. You see, there were times where I would wake up, drive to work, be focused on the task at hand all day long, leave work, drive home, and as soon as I’d get home, I’d get straight into doing those things I love most: creating music, videos and writing speeches. You know that feeling where you get so into something, you lose track of time? It’s like nothing else matters except you and that thing that you’re doing. What is it that drives us to these things… these things that we love?
Shortly after I decided to continue on with my degree, I had a conversation with a fellow studying the same degree, but he was in the year ahead of me. He was in the same situation. He’d decided the degree wasn’t for him… his true passion was business. He was fascinated by a man named Sir Richard Branson, a man who had poor academic performance as a student and at the age of 16, dropped out of school. But because of his ability to connect with others, he was able to take ideas and turn them into businesses that delivered genuine value to many people. He is now a billionaire, founder of Virgin Records, Airways, and Mobile, amongst other things.
How did a man with poor academic performance succeed, purely because of his ability to connect with others? He did not follow a typical path to success. But he did do one thing… he realised his unique ability. And through harnessing his strengths, he was able to live as his true self.
To live as your true self. All those times I would be up all night working on my own creations… could that be a reflection of my true self? I admit, I have many things to learn, but I do know one thing. I have a natural desire to do these things that I love. When I do these things, I get to express my unique abilities. When I share this with others, I feel worthwhile. I feel like I can really help people. If we’re just pieces to a puzzle, then it feels good when I’m being my own piece.
To be your own piece. You see, if you hide your abilities or try to be something other than you really are, that’s like trying to disguise your individual piece to the puzzle. When you disguise your piece, it makes it hard for you to connect with others. But when you be your own piece and cherish your unique abilities, you can more effectively contribute to the greater picture… you can more effectively help others, by connecting with them in your own unique way.
Follow your desires, and be your own piece. Whether you’re destined to be a billionaire founder of many successful businesses, or a 40 year veteran working the same job in the same organisation… let your unique abilities shine, harness your strengths, and share with the world the gift of your true self.
And when your piece to the puzzle is in place, help others remove their disguise and be their own piece. Give others the chance to be their true selves… to really feel worthwhile. Or you could just invite everyone you know to a day of golf. That’s where it started for me. And this is where I am. I want to thank you for being a significant piece to the puzzle that reveals this wonderful picture we have in front of us. This wonderful picture, of a friendly, supportive environment, where you can be your own piece.
(This speech was inspired by a blog post which can be read here)